Strauss–Howe generational theory
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The Strauss–Howe generational theory, also known as the Fourth Turning theory or simply the Fourth Turning, which was created by authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, describes a theorized recurring generation cycle in American history. According to the theory, historical events are associated with recurring generational personas (archetypes). Each generational persona unleashes a new era (called a turning) in which a new social, political, and economic climate exists. Turnings tend to last around 20–22 years. They are part of a larger cyclical "saeculum" (a long human life, which usually spans between 80 and 90 years, although some saecula have lasted longer). The theory states that after every saeculum, a crisis recurs in American history, which is followed by a recovery (high). During this recovery, institutions and communitarian values are strong. Ultimately, succeeding generational archetypes attack and weaken institutions in the name of autonomy and individualism, which ultimately creates a tumultuous political environment that ripens conditions for another crisis.
Strauss and Howe laid the groundwork for their theory in their 1991 book Generations, which discusses the history of the United States as a series of generational biographies going back to 1584. In their 1997 book The Fourth Turning, the authors expanded the theory to focus on a fourfold cycle of generational types and recurring mood eras in American history. They have since expanded on the concept in a variety of publications. It was developed to describe the history of the United States, including the Thirteen Colonies and their British antecedents, and this is where the most detailed research has been done. However, the authors have also examined generational trends elsewhere in the world and described similar cycles in several developed countries.
Academic response to the theory has been mixed—some applauding Strauss and Howe for their "bold and imaginative thesis" and others criticizing the theory as being overly-deterministic, non-falsifiable, and unsupported by rigorous evidence. Criticism has focused on the lack of rigorous empirical evidence for their claims, and the authors' view that generational groupings are far more powerful than other social groupings such as economic class, race, sex, religion and political parties.
Many academic historians dismiss the work of Strauss & Howe as "about as scientific as astrology or a Nostradamus text." Strauss–Howe generational theory has been described by some historians and journalists as a "pseudoscience" and "an elaborate historical horoscope that will never withstand scholarly scrutiny."
- 1 History
- 2 Works
- 3 Defining a generation
- 4 Timing of generations and turnings
- 5 Current position of the U.S. in the cycle
- 6 Critical reception
- 7 In popular culture
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Bibliography
- 11 External links
William Strauss and Neil Howe's partnership began in the late 1980s when they began writing their first book Generations, which discusses the history of the United States as a succession of generational biographies. Each had written on generational topics: Strauss on Baby Boomers and the Vietnam War draft, and Howe on the G.I. Generation and federal entitlement programs. Strauss co-wrote two books with Lawrence Baskir about how the Vietnam War affected the Baby Boomers (Chance and Circumstance: The Draft the War and The Vietnam Generation (1978) and Reconciliation after Vietnam (1977)). Neil Howe studied what he believed to be the US's entitlement attitude of the 1980s and co-authored On Borrowed Time: How America's entitlement ego puts America's future at risk of Bankruptcy in 1988 with Peter George Peterson. The authors' interest in generations as a broader topic emerged after they met in Washington, D.C., and began discussing the connections between each of their previous works.
They wondered why Boomers and G.I.s had developed such different ways of looking at the world, and what it was about these generations’ experiences growing up that prompted their different outlooks. They also wondered whether any previous generations had acted along similar lines, and their research discussed historical analogues to the current generations. They ultimately described a recurring pattern in Anglo-American history of four generational types, each with a distinct collective persona, and a corresponding cycle of four different types of era, each with a distinct mood. The groundwork for this theory was laid out in Generations in 1991. Strauss and Howe expanded on their theory and updated the terminology in The Fourth Turning in 1997. Generations helped popularize the idea that people in a particular age group tend to share a distinct set of beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors because they all grow up and come of age during a particular period in history.
In Generations (1991) and The Fourth Turning (1997), they discussed the generation gap between Baby Boomers and their parents and predicted there would be no such gap between Millennials and their elders. In 2000, they published Millennials Rising. A 2000 New York Times book review for this book titled: What's the Matter With Kids Today? Not a Thing, described the message of Millennials Rising as “we boomers are raising a cohort of kids who are smarter, more industrious and better behaved than any generation before”, saying the book complimented the Baby Boomer cohort by complimenting their parenting skills.
In the mid-1990s, the authors began receiving inquiries about how their research could be applied to strategic problems in organizations. They established themselves as pioneers in a growing field, and started speaking frequently about their work at events and conferences. In 1999, they founded LifeCourse Associates, a publishing, speaking and consulting company built on their generational theory. As LifeCourse partners, they have offered keynote speeches, consulting services, and customized communications to corporate, nonprofit, government, and education clients. They have also written six books in which they assert that the Millennial Generation is transforming various sectors, including schools, colleges, entertainment, and the workplace.[promotional language]
On December 18, 2007, William Strauss died at the age of 60 from pancreatic cancer. Neil Howe continues to expand LifeCourse Associates and to write books and articles on a variety of generational topics. Each year Mr. Howe gives about 60 speeches, often followed by customized workshops, at colleges, elementary schools, and corporations. Neil Howe is a public policy adviser to the Blackstone Group, senior adviser to the Concord Coalition, and senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Steve Bannon, former Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to President Trump is a prominent proponent of the theory. As a documentary filmmaker Bannon discussed the details of Strauss–Howe generational theory in Generation Zero. According to historian David Kaiser, who was consulted for the film, Generation Zero “focused on the key aspect of their theory, the idea that every 80 years American history has been marked by a crisis, or 'fourth turning', that destroyed an old order and created a new one”. Kaiser said Bannon is "very familiar with Strauss and Howe’s theory of crisis, and has been thinking about how to use it to achieve particular goals for quite a while." A February 2017 article from Business Insider titled: "Steve Bannon's obsession with a dark theory of history should be worrisome", commented: "Bannon seems to be trying to bring about the 'Fourth Turning'."
Strauss and Howe's work combines history with prophecy. They provided historical information regarding living and past generations and made various predictions. Many of their predictions were regarding the Millennial Generation, who were young children when they began their work, thus lacking significant historical data. In their first book Generations (1991), Strauss and Howe describe the history of the US as a succession of Anglo-American generational biographies from 1584 to the present, and they describe a theorized recurring generational cycle in American history. The authors posit a pattern of four repeating phases, generational types and a recurring cycle of spiritual awakenings and secular crises, from the founding colonials of America through the present day.
Strauss and Howe followed in 1993 with their second book 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, which was published while Gen Xers were young adults. The book examines the generation born between 1961 and 1981, "Gen-Xers" (which they called "13ers", describing them as the thirteenth generation since the US became a nation). The book asserts that 13ers' location in history as under-protected children during the Consciousness Revolution explains their pragmatic attitude. They describe Gen Xers as growing up during a time when society was less focused on children and more focused on adults and their self-actualization.
In 1997, the authors published The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, which expanded on the ideas presented in Generations and extended their cycles back into the early 15th century. The authors began the use of more colorful names for generational archetypes - e.g. "Civics" became "Heroes" (which they applied to the Millennial Generation), "Adaptives" became "Artists" - and of the terms "Turning" and "Saeculum" for the generational cycles. The title is a reference to what their first book called a Crisis period, which they expected to recur soon after the turn of the millennium.
In 2000, the two authors published Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. This work discussed the personality of the Millennial Generation, whose oldest members were described as the high school graduating class of the year 2000. In this 2000 book, Strauss and Howe asserted that Millennial teens and young adults were recasting the image of youth from "downbeat and alienated to upbeat and engaged". They credited increased parental attention and protection for these positive changes. They asserted Millennials are held to higher standards than adults apply to themselves and that they're a lot less vulgar and violent than the teen culture older people produce for them. They described them as less sexually charged and as ushering in a new sexual modesty, with increasing belief that sex should be saved for marriage and a return to conservative family values. They predicted that over the following decade, Millennials would transform what it means to be young. According to the authors, Millennials could emerge as the next "Great Generation". The book was described as an optimistic, feel-good book for the parents of the Millennial Generation, predominantly the Baby Boomers.
Defining a generation
Strauss and Howe define a social generation as the aggregate of all people born over a span of roughly twenty years or about the length of one phase of life: childhood, young adulthood, midlife, and old age. Generations are identified (from first birthyear to last) by looking for cohort groups of this length that share three criteria. First, members of a generation share what the authors call an age location in history: they encounter key historical events and social trends while occupying the same phase of life. In this view, members of a generation are shaped in lasting ways by the eras they encounter as children and young adults and they share certain common beliefs and behaviors. Aware of the experiences and traits that they share with their peers, members of a generation would also share a sense of common perceived membership in that generation.
They based their definition of a generation on the work of various writers and social thinkers, from ancient writers such as Polybius and Ibn Khaldun to modern social theorists such as José Ortega y Gasset, Karl Mannheim, John Stuart Mill, Émile Littré, Auguste Comte, and François Mentré.
While writing Generations, Strauss and Howe described a theorized pattern in the historical generations they examined, which they say revolved around generational events which they call turnings. In Generations, and in greater detail in The Fourth Turning, they describe a four-stage cycle of social or mood eras which they call "turnings". The turnings include: "The High", "The Awakening", "The Unraveling" and "The Crisis".
According to Strauss and Howe, the First Turning is a High, which occurs after a Crisis. During The High, institutions are strong and individualism is weak. Society is confident about where it wants to go collectively, though those outside the majoritarian center often feel stifled by the conformity.
According to the authors, the most recent First Turning in the US was the post–World War II American High, beginning in 1946 and ending with the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
According to the theory, the Second Turning is an Awakening. This is an era when institutions are attacked in the name of personal and spiritual autonomy. Just when society is reaching its high tide of public progress, people suddenly tire of social discipline and want to recapture a sense of "self-awareness", "spirituality" and "personal authenticity". Young activists look back at the previous High as an era of cultural and spiritual poverty.
Strauss & Howe say the US's most recent Awakening was the “Consciousness Revolution,” which spanned from the campus and inner-city revolts of the mid-1960s to the tax revolts of the early 1980s.
According to Strauss and Howe, the Third Turning is an Unraveling. The mood of this era they say is in many ways the opposite of a High: Institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing. The authors say Highs come after Crises, when society wants to coalesce and build and avoid the death and destruction of the previous crisis. Unravelings come after Awakenings, when society wants to atomize and enjoy. They say the most recent Unraveling in the US began in the 1980s and includes the Long Boom and Culture War.
According to the authors, the Fourth Turning is a Crisis. This is an era of destruction, often involving war or revolution, in which institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation's survival. After the crisis, civic authority revives, cultural expression redirects towards community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group.
The authors say the previous Fourth Turning in the US began with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and climaxed with the end of World War II. The G.I. Generation (which they call a Hero archetype, born 1901 to 1924) came of age during this era. They say their confidence, optimism, and collective outlook epitomized the mood of that era. The authors assert the Millennial Generation (which they also describe as a Hero archetype, born 1982 to 2004) show many similar traits to those of the G.I. youth, which they describe as including: rising civic engagement, improving behavior, and collective confidence.
The authors describe each turning as lasting about 20–22 years. Four turnings make up a full cycle of about 80 to 90 years, which the authors term a saeculum, after the Latin word meaning both "a long human life" and "a natural century".
Generational change drives the cycle of turnings and determines its periodicity. As each generation ages into the next life phase (and a new social role) society’s mood and behavior fundamentally changes, giving rise to a new turning. Therefore, a symbiotic relationship exists between historical events and generational personas. Historical events shape generations in childhood and young adulthood; then, as parents and leaders in midlife and old age, generations in turn shape history.
Each of the four turnings has a distinct mood that recurs every saeculum. Strauss and Howe describe these turnings as the "seasons of history". At one extreme is the Awakening, which is analogous to summer, and at the other extreme is the Crisis, which is analogous to winter. The turnings in between are transitional seasons, the High and the Unraveling are similar to spring and autumn, respectively. Strauss and Howe have discussed 26 theorized turnings over 7 saecula in Anglo-American history, from the year 1435 through today.
At the heart of Strauss & Howe's ideas is a basic alternation between two different types of eras, Crises and Awakenings. Both of these are defining eras in which people observe that historic events are radically altering their social environment. Crises are periods marked by major secular upheaval, when society focuses on reorganizing the outer world of institutions and public behavior (they say the last American Crisis was the period spanning the Great Depression and World War II). Awakenings are periods marked by cultural or religious renewal, when society focuses on changing the inner world of values and private behavior (the last American Awakening was the "Consciousness Revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s).
During Crises, great peril provokes a societal consensus, an ethic of personal sacrifice, and strong institutional order. During Awakenings, an ethic of individualism emerges, and the institutional order is attacked by new social ideals and spiritual agendas. According to the authors, about every eighty to ninety years—the length of a long human life—a national Crisis occurs in American society. Roughly halfway to the next Crisis, a cultural Awakening occurs (historically, these have often been called Great Awakenings).
In describing this cycle of Crises and Awakenings, they draw from the work of other historians and social scientists who have also discussed long cycles in American and European history. The cycle of Crises corresponds with long cycles of war identified by such scholars as Arnold J. Toynbee, Quincy Wright, and L. L. Ferrar Jr., and with geopolitical cycles identified by William R. Thompson and George Modelski. Strauss and Howe say their cycle of Awakenings corresponds with Anthony Wallace's work on revitalization movements; they also say recurring Crises and Awakenings correspond with two-stroke cycles in politics (Walter Dean Burnham, Arthur Schlesinger Sr. and Jr.), foreign affairs (Frank L. Klingberg), and the economy (Nikolai Kondratieff) as well as with long-term oscillations in crime and substance abuse.
The authors say two different types of eras and two formative age locations associated with them (childhood and young adulthood) produce four generational archetypes that repeat sequentially, in rhythm with the cycle of Crises and Awakenings. In Generations, they refer to these four archetypes as Idealist, Reactive, Civic, and Adaptive. In The Fourth Turning (1997) they change this terminology to Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist. They say the generations in each archetype not only share a similar age-location in history, they also share some basic attitudes towards family, risk, culture and values, and civic engagement. In essence, generations shaped by similar early-life experiences develop similar collective personas and follow similar life-trajectories. To date, Strauss and Howe have described 25 generations in Anglo-American history, each with a corresponding archetype. The authors describe the archetypes as follows:
Prophet (Idealist) generations enter childhood during a High, a time of rejuvenated community life and consensus around a new societal order. Prophets grow up as the increasingly indulged children of this post-Crisis era, come of age as self-absorbed young crusaders of an Awakening, focus on morals and principles in midlife, and emerge as elders guiding another Crisis. Examples: Transcendental Generation, Missionary Generation, Baby Boomers.
Nomad (Reactive) generations enter childhood during an Awakening, a time of social ideals and spiritual agendas, when young adults are passionately attacking the established institutional order. Nomads grow up as under-protected children during this Awakening, come of age as alienated, post-Awakening young adults, become pragmatic midlife leaders during a Crisis, and age into resilient post-Crisis elders. Examples: Gilded Generation, Lost Generation, Generation X
Hero (Civic) generations enter childhood after an Awakening, during an Unraveling, a time of individual pragmatism, self-reliance, and laissez-faire. Heroes grow up as increasingly protected post-Awakening children, come of age as team-oriented young optimists during a Crisis, emerge as energetic, overly-confident midlifers, and age into politically powerful elders attacked by another Awakening. Examples: Republican Generation, G.I. Generation, Millennials
Artist (Adaptive) generations enter childhood after an Unraveling, during a Crisis, a time when great dangers cut down social and political complexity in favor of public consensus, aggressive institutions, and an ethic of personal sacrifice. Artists grow up overprotected by adults preoccupied with the Crisis, come of age as the socialized and conformist young adults of a post-Crisis world, break out as process-oriented midlife leaders during an Awakening, and age into thoughtful post-Awakening elders. Examples: Progressive Generation, Silent Generation, Generation Z
- An average life is 80 years, and consists of four periods of ~20 years
- Childhood → Young adult → Midlife → Elderhood
- A generation is an aggregate of people born every ~20 years
- Baby Boomers → Gen X → Millennials → Homelanders
- Each generation experiences "four turnings" every ~80 years
- High → Awakening → Unraveling → Crisis
- A generation is considered "dominant" or "recessive" according to the turning experienced as young adults. But as a youth generation comes of age and defines its collective persona an opposing generational archetype is in its midlife peak of power.
- Dominant: independent behavior + attitudes in defining an era
- Recessive: dependent role in defining an era
- Dominant Generations
- Prophet: Awakening as young adults. Awakening, defined: Institutions are attacked in the name of personal and spiritual autonomy
- Hero: Crisis as young adults. Crisis, defined: Institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation's survival
- Recessive Generations
- Nomad: Unraveling as young adults. Unraveling, defined: Institutions are weak and distrusted, individualism is strong and flourishing
- Artist: High [when they become] young adults. High, defined: Institutions are strong and individualism is weak
Timing of generations and turnings
|Generation||Generation Archetype||Generation Birth Year Span||Entered childhood in a||Turning Year Span|
|Late Medieval Saeculum|
|Arthurian Generation||Hero (Civic)||1433–1460 (28)||3rd Turning: Unraveling: Retreat from France||1435–1459 (24)0|
|Humanist Generation||Artist (Adaptive)||1461–1482 (22)||4th Turning: Crisis: War of the Roses||1459–1497 (38)|
|Reformation Saeculum (97 years)|
|Reformation Generation||Prophet (Idealist)||1483–1511 (28)||1st Turning: High: Tudor Renaissance||1497–1517 (20)|
|Reprisal Generation||Nomad (Reactive)||1512–1540 (29)||2nd Turning: Awakening: Protestant Reformation||1517–1542 (25)|
|Elizabethan Generation||Hero (Civic)||1541–1565 (24)||3rd Turning: Unraveling: Reaction & Restoration||1542–1569 (27)|
|Parliamentary Generation||Artist (Adaptive)||1566–1587 (22)||4th Turning: Crisis: Armada Crisis||1569–1594 (25)|
|New World Saeculum (110 years)|
|Puritan Generation||Prophet (Idealist)||1588–1617 (30)||1st Turning: High: Merrie England||1594–1621 (27)|
|Cavalier Generation||Nomad (Reactive)||1618–1647 (30)||2nd Turning: Awakening: Puritan Awakening||1621–1649 (26)|
|Glorious Generation||Hero (Civic)||1648–1673 (26)||3rd Turning: Unraveling: Restoration||1649–1675 (26)|
|Enlightenment Generation||Artist (Adaptive)||1674–1700 (27)||4th Turning: Crisis: Glorious Revolution||1675–1704 (29)|
|Revolutionary Saeculum (90 years)|
|Awakening Generation||Prophet (Idealist)||1701–1723 (23)||1st Turning: High: Augustan Age of Empire||1704–1727 (23)|
|Liberty Generation||Nomad (Reactive)||1724–1741 (18)||2nd Turning: Awakening: Great Awakening||1727–1746 (19)|
|Republican Generation||Hero (Civic)||1742–1766 (25)||3rd Turning: Unraveling: French and Indian War||1746–1773 (27)|
|Compromise Generation||Artist (Adaptive)||1767–1791 (23)||4th Turning: Crisis: American Revolution||1773–1794 (21)|
|Civil War Saeculum (71 years)|
|Transcendental Generation||Prophet (Idealist)||1792–1821 (28)||1st Turning: High: Era of Good Feelings||1794–1822 (28)|
|Gilded Generation||Nomad (Reactive)||1822–1842 (21)||2nd Turning: Awakening: Transcendental Awakening||1822–1844 (22)|
|Civil War Generation||Hero (Civic)1||3rd Turning: Unraveling: Mexican War & Sectionalism||1844–1860 (16)|
|Progressive Generation||Artist (Adaptive)||1843–1859 (17)||4th Turning: Crisis: Civil War||1860–1865 (5)|
|Great Power Saeculum (81 years)|
|Missionary Generation||Prophet (Idealist)||1860–1882 (23)||1st Turning: High: Reconstruction & Gilded Age||1865–1886 (21)|
|Lost Generation||Nomad (Reactive)||1883–1900 (18)||2nd Turning: Awakening: Missionary Awakening||1886–1908 (22)|
|G.I. Generation||Hero (Civic)||1901–1924 (24)||3rd Turning: Unraveling: World War I & Prohibition||1908–1929 (21)|
|Silent Generation||Artist (Adaptive)||1925–1942 (18)||4th Turning: Crisis: Great Depression & World War II||1929–1946 (17)|
|Millennial Saeculum (73 + years)|
|Baby Boom Generation||Prophet (Idealist)||1943–1960 (18)||1st Turning: High: American High||1946–1964 (18)|
|13th Generation (Generation X)2||Nomad (Reactive)||1961–1981 (21)||2nd Turning: Awakening: Consciousness Revolution||1964–1984 (20)|
|Millennial Generation (Generation Y)3||Hero (Civic)||1982–2004 (23)||3rd Turning: Unraveling: Long Boom & Culture Wars||1984–2008 (24)|
|Homeland Generation (Generation Z)4||Artist (Adaptive)||2005–present (age 14)||4th Turning: Crisis: Great Financial Crisis||2008–|
Note (0): Strauss and Howe base the turning start and end dates not on the generational birth year span, but when the prior generation is entering adulthood. A generation "coming of age" is signaled by a "triggering event" that marks the turning point and the ending of one turning and the beginning of the new. For example, the "triggering event" that marked the coming of age for the Baby Boom Generation was the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. This marked the end of a first turning and the beginning of a second turning. This is why turning start and end dates don't match up exactly with the generational birth years, but they tend to start and end a few years after the generational year spans. This also explains why a generation is described to have "entered childhood" during a particular turning, rather than "born during" a particular turning.
Note (1): According to Strauss and Howe their generational types have appeared in Anglo-American history in a fixed order for more than 500 years with one hitch, occurring in the Civil War Saeculum. They say the reason for this is because according to the chart, the Civil War came about ten years too early; the adult generations allowed the worst aspects of their generational personalities to come through; and the Progressives grew up scarred rather than ennobled.
Note (2): Strauss and Howe initially used the name "13th Generation" in their book Generations, which was published mere weeks before Douglas Coupland's Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture was, but later adopted "Generation X" when it became the more widely accepted term for the cohort. The generation is so numbered because it is the thirteenth generation alive since American Independence (counting back until Benjamin Franklin's).
Note (3): Although there is no universally accepted name for this generation, "Millennials", a term Strauss and Howe coined, has become the most widely accepted. Other names used in reference to it include Generation Y (as it is the generation following Generation X) and "The Net Generation".
Note (4): New Silent Generation was a proposed holding name used by Howe and Strauss in their demographic history of America, Generations, to describe people whose birth years began in the mid-2000s with an ending point around the mid-2020s. Howe now refers to them as the Homelanders.
Note (5): There is no consistent agreement among participants on the Fourth Turning message board that 9/11 and the War on Terror lie fully within a Crisis era. The absence of any attempt to constrict consumer spending through taxes or rationing and the tax cuts of the time suggest that any Crisis Era may have begun, if at all, later, as after Hurricane Katrina or the Financial Meltdown of 2008.
The basic length of both generations and turnings—about twenty years—derives from longstanding socially and biologically determined phases of life.[who?] This is the reason it has remained relatively constant over centuries. Some have argued that rapid increases in technology in recent decades are shortening the length of a generation. According to Strauss and Howe, however, this is not the case. As long as the transition to adulthood occurs around age 20, the transition to midlife around age 40, and the transition to old age around age 60, they say the basic length of both generations and turnings will remain the same.
In their book, The Fourth Turning, however, Strauss and Howe say that the precise boundaries of generations and turnings are erratic. The generational rhythm is not like certain simple, inorganic cycles in physics or astronomy, where time and periodicity can be predicted to the second. Instead, it resembles the complex, organic cycles of biology, where basic intervals endure but precise timing is difficult to predict. Strauss and Howe compare the saecular rhythm to the four seasons, which they say similarly occur in the same order, but with slightly varying timing. Just as winter may come sooner or later, and be more or less severe in any given year, the same is true of a Fourth Turning in any given saeculum.
Current position of the U.S. in the cycle
According to Strauss and Howe, there are many potential threats that could feed a growing sense of public urgency as the Fourth Turning progresses, including a terrorist attack, a financial collapse, a major war, a crisis of nuclear proliferation, an environmental crisis, an energy shortage, or new civil wars. The generational cycle cannot explain the role or timing of these individual threats. Nor can it account for the great events of history, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Kennedy’s assassination, or 9/11. What the generational cycle can do, according to Strauss and Howe, is explain how society is likely to respond to these events in different eras. It is the response, not the initial event, which defines an era according to the theory. According to Strauss and Howe, the crisis period lasts for approximately 20 years.
The Strauss and Howe retelling of history through a generational lens has received mixed reviews. Many reviewers have praised the authors for their ambition, erudition and accessibility. For ex., former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who graduated from Harvard University with Mr. Strauss, called Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 the most stimulating book on American history he'd ever read. He even sent a copy to each member of Congress. The theory has been influential in the fields of generational studies, marketing, and business management literature. However, it has also been criticized by several historians and some political scientists and journalists, as being overly-deterministic, non-falsifiable, and unsupported by rigorous evidence.
Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069
After the publication of their first book Generations, Martin Keller a professor of history at Brandeis University, said that the authors "had done their homework". He said that their theory could be seen as pop-sociology and that it would "come in for a lot more criticism as history. But it's almost always true that the broader you cast your net, the more holes it's going to have. And I admire [the authors'] boldness." Harvard sociologist David Riesman said the book showed an "impressive grasp of a great many theoretical and historical bits and pieces". The Times Literary Supplement called it "fascinating" and "about as vague and plausible as astrological predictions". Publishers Weekly called it "as woolly as a newspaper horoscope".
In 1991, Jonathan Alter wrote in Newsweek that Generations was a "provocative, erudite and engaging analysis of the rhythms of American life". However, he believed it was also "an elaborate historical horoscope that will never withstand scholarly scrutiny." He continued, "these sequential 'peer personalities' are often silly, but the book provides reams of fresh evidence that American history is indeed cyclical, as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and others have long argued." But he complained, "The generational boundaries are plainly arbitrary. The authors lump together everyone born from 1943 through the end of 1960 (Baby Boomers), a group whose two extremes have little in common. And the predictions are facile and reckless." He concluded: "However fun and informative, the truth about generational generalizations is that they're generally unsatisfactory." Arthur E. Levine, a former president of the Teachers College of Columbia University said "Generational images are stereotypes. There are some differences that stand out, but there are more similarities between students of the past and the present. But if you wrote a book saying that, how interesting would it be?"
In response to criticism that they stereotype or generalize all members of a generation the authors have said, "We've never tried to say that any individual generation is going to be monochromatic. It'll obviously include all kinds of people. But as you look at generations as social units, we consider it to be at least as powerful and, in our view, far more powerful than other social groupings such as economic class, race, sex, religion and political parties."
Gerald Pershall wrote in 1991: "Generations is guaranteed to attract pop history and pop social science buffs. Among professional historians, it faces a tougher sell. Period specialists will resist the idea that their period is akin to several others. Sweeping theories of history are long out of fashion in the halls of ivy, and the authors' lack of academic standing won't help their cause. Their generational quartet is "just too wooden" and "too neat," says one Yale historian. "Prediction is for prophets," scoffed William McLoughlin (a former history professor at Brown), who said it is wrong to think that "if you put enough data together and have enough charts and graphs, you've made history into a science." He also said the book might get a friendlier reception in sociology and political science departments than the science department.
Sociologist David Riesman and political scientist Richard Neustadt offered strong, if qualified, praise. Riesman found in the work an "impressive grasp of a great many theoretical and historical bits and pieces" and Neustadt said Strauss and Howe "are asking damned important questions, and I honor them."
In 1991, professor and New York Times writer Jay Dolan critiqued Generations for not talking more about class, race and sex, to which Neil Howe replied that they "are probably generalizations not even as effective as a generation to say something about how people think and behave. One of the things to understand is that most historians never look at history in terms of generations. They prefer to tell history as a seamless row of 55-year-old leaders who always tend to think and behave the same way -- but they don't and they never have. If you look at the way America's 55-year-old leaders were acting in the 1960s -- you know, the ebullience and confidence of the JFKs and LBJs and Hubert Humphreys -- and compare them with today's leaders in Congress -- the indecision, the lack of sure-footedness -- I think you would have to agree that 55-year-olds do not always act the same way and you're dealing with powerful generational forces at work that explain why one generation of war veterans, war heroes, and another generation which came of age in very different circumstances tend to have very different instincts about acting in the world.”
Responding to criticisms in 1991, William Strauss accepted that some historians might not like their theory, which they presented as a new paradigm for looking at American history, that filled a need for a unifying vision of American history:
People are looking for a new way to connect themselves to the larger story of America. That is the problem. We've felt adrift over the past 10 years, and we think that the way history has been presented over the past couple of decades has been more in terms of the little pieces and people are not as interested in the little pieces now. They're looking for a unifying vision. We haven't had unifying visions of the story of America for decades now, and we're trying to provide it in this book.
The kinds of historians who are drawn to our book -- and I'm sure it will be very controversial among academics because we are presenting something that is so new -- but the kinds who are drawn to it are the ones who themselves have focused on the human life cycle rather than just the sequential series of events. Some good examples of that are Morton Keller up at Brandeis and David Hackett Fischer. These are people who have noticed the power in not just generations, but the shifts that have happened over time in the way Americans have treated children and older people and have tried to link that to the broader currents of history.
The Fourth Turning
In his review for the Boston Globe, historian David Kaiser called The Fourth Turning "a provocative and immensely entertaining outline of American history, Strauss and Howe have taken a gamble". "If the United States calmly makes it to 2015, their work will end up in the ashcan of history, but if they are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets." Kaiser has since argued that Strauss and Howe's predictions of coming crisis seems to have occurred, citing events such as 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, and the recent political gridlock.
Kaiser has incorporated Strauss and Howe's theory in two historical works of his own, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War (2000), and No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War (2014). Michael Lind, a historian and co-founder of the New America Foundation, wrote that The Fourth Turning (1997) was vague and verged into the realm of "pseudoscience"; "most of the authors' predictions about the American future turn out to be as vague as those of fortune cookies". Lind said that the theory is essentially "non-falsifiable" and "mystifying," although he believed the authors did have some insights into modern American history.
Sean Wilentz, an American history professor at Princeton University, said, “'It’s just a conceit. It’s a fiction, it’s all made up,' Wilentz said about cyclical historical models. 'There’s nothing to them. They’re just inventions.'"
In 1993, Andrew Leonard reviewed the book 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?. He wrote “as the authors (Strauss and Howe) relentlessly attack the iniquitous 'child-abusive culture' of the 1960s and '70s and exult in heaping insult after insult on their own generation -- they caricature Baby Boomers as countercultural, long-haired, sex-obsessed hedonists -- their real agenda begins to surface. That agenda becomes clear in part of their wish list for how the 13th generation may influence the future: "13ers will reverse the frenzied and centrifugal cultural directions of their younger years. They will clean up entertainment, de-diversify the culture, reinvent core symbols of national unity, reaffirm rituals of family and neighborhood bonding, and re-erect barriers to cushion communities from unwanted upheaval."
Again in 1993, writing for The Globe and Mail, Jim Cormier reviewed the same book: "self-described boomers Howe and Strauss add no profound layer of analysis to previous pop press observations. But in cobbling together a more extensive overview of the problems and concerns of the group they call the 13ers, they've created a valuable primer for other fogeys who are feeling seriously out of touch." Cormier wrote that the authors "raised as many new questions as answers about the generation that doesn't want to be a generation. But at least they've made an honest, empathetic and good-humoured effort to bridge the bitter gap between the twentysomethings and fortysomethings."
In 1993, Charles Laurence at the London Daily Telegraph wrote that, in 13th Gen, Strauss and Howe offered this youth generation "a relatively neutral definition as the 13th American generation from the Founding Fathers,". According to Alexander Ferron's review in Eye Magazine, "13th Gen is best read as the work of two top-level historians. While its agenda is the 13th generation, it can also be seen as an incredibly well-written and exhaustive history of America from 1960 to 1981--examining the era through everything except the traditional historical subjects (war, politics, famine, etc)."
In 2011, Jon D. Miller, at the Longitudinal Study of American Youth, funded by the National Science Foundation, wrote that their birth year definition (1961 to 1981) of "Generation X" ("13th Gen") has been widely used in popular and academic literature.
David Brooks reviewed the follow-up book about the next generation titled Millennials Rising (2000). "Millennials" is a term coined by Strauss and Howe. Brooks wrote: “This is not a good book, if by good you mean the kind of book in which the authors have rigorously sifted the evidence and carefully supported their assertions with data. But it is a very good bad book. It's stuffed with interesting nuggets. It's brightly written. And if you get away from the generational mumbo jumbo, it illuminates changes that really do seem to be taking place.” Further, Brooks wrote that the generations aren't treated equally: "Basically, it sounds as if America has two greatest generations at either end of the age scale and two crummiest in the middle".
In 2001, reviewer Dina Gomez wrote in NEA Today that they make their case “convincingly,” with “intriguing analysis of popular culture” but conceded that it "over-generalizes". Gomez argued that it is “hard to resist its hopeful vision for our children and future."
Millennials Rising ascribes seven "core traits" to Millennials: special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving. A 2009, Chronicle of Higher Education report commented Howe and Strauss based these core traits on a "hodgepodge of anecdotes, statistics, and pop-culture references" and on surveys of approximately 600 high-school seniors from Fairfax County, Virginia, an affluent county with median household income approximately twice the national average. The report described Millennials Rising as a "good-news revolution" making "sweeping predictions" and as describing Millennials as "rule followers who were engaged, optimistic, and downright pleasant", commenting the "book gave educators and tens of millions of parents, a warm feeling, saying who wouldn't want to hear that their kids are special?"
In 2006, Frank Giancola wrote an article in Human Resource Planning that stated "the emphasis on generational differences is not generally borne out by empirical research, despite its popularity".
In 2016 an article was published that explains the differences in generations, observed with the employer's position, through the development of working conditions, initiated by the employer. This development is due to the competition of firms on the job market for receiving more highly skilled workers. New working conditions as a product on the market have a classic product life-cycle and when they become widespread standard expectations of employees change accordingly.
One criticism of Strauss and Howe's theory, and generational studies is that conclusions are overly broad and do not reflect the reality of every person in each generation regardless of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, or genetic information. For example, Hoover cited the case of Millennials by writing that "commentators have tended to slap the Millennial label on white, affluent teenagers who accomplish great things as they grow up in the suburbs, who confront anxiety when applying to super-selective colleges, and who multitask with ease as their helicopter parents hover reassuringly above them. The label tends not to appear in renderings of teenagers who happen to be minorities, or poor, or who have never won a spelling bee. Nor does the term often refer to students from big cities and small towns that are nothing like Fairfax County, Va., or who lack technological know-how. Or who struggle to complete high school. Or who never even consider college. Or who commit crimes. Or who suffer from too little parental support. Or who drop out of college. Aren't they Millennials too?"
In their 2000 book Millennials Rising they brought attention to the Millennial children of immigrants in the United States, "who face daunting challenges." They wrote "one-third have no health insurance, live below the poverty line and live in overcrowded housing".
In a February 2017 article from Quartz two journalists commented on the theory saying: "it is too vague to be proven wrong, and has not been taken seriously by most professional historians. But it is superficially compelling, and plots out to some degree how America’s history has unfolded since its founding".
In popular culture
- Historic recurrence
- Political midlife crisis
- Cyclical theory
- Dependency ratio
- Kondratiev wave
- Malthusian crisis
- Olduvai theory
- Peter Turchin - Cliodynamic researcher who stated that, based on previous trends, political instability will increase in the 2020s.
- Population cycle
- Social cycle theory
- Howe, Neil (1992). Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069. ISBN 978-0688119126.
- Strauss & Howe, 1997.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 119–121.
- Brooks, David (5 November 2000). "What's the Matter With Kids Today? Not a Thing". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- Parshall, Gerald (8 April 1991). "History's Cycle Ride". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- Lind, Michael (January 26, 1997). "Generation Gaps". New York Times Review of Books. Retrieved 1 November 2010.
The idea that history moves in cycles tends to be viewed with suspicion by scholars. Although historians as respected as Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and David Hackett Fischer have made cases for the existence of rhythms and waves in the stream of events, cyclical theories tend to end up in the Sargasso Sea of pseudoscience, circling endlessly (what else?). The Fourth Turning is no exception.
- Jones, Gary L. (Fall 1992). "Strauss, William and Neil Howe 'Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584–2069' (Book Review)". Perspectives on Political Science. 21 (4): 218. ISSN 1045-7097. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
- Hoover, Eric (11 October 2009). "The Millennial Muddle: How stereotyping students became a thriving industry and a bundle of contradictions". The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inc. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
- Giancola, 2006.
- Host: Brian Lamb (14 April 1991). "Generations: The History of America's Future". Booknotes. C-SPAN. Archived from the original on 3 July 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- Peters, Jeremy W. (8 April 2017). "Bannon's Views Can Be Traced to a Book That Warns, 'Winter Is Coming'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 6 February 2019. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
- Fernholz, Tim (27 May 2017). "The pseudoscience that prepared America for Steve Bannon's apocalyptic message". Quartz. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
- Greenberg, David (20 April 2017). "The Crackpot Theories of Stephen Bannon's Favorite Authors". Politico. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
- Alter, Jonathan (14 April 1991). "The Generation Game". Newsweek. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
- "Review: Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069". Publishers Weekly. 28 September 1992. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
- Bowman, James (April 5, 1991). "Another Grand Theory Comes of Age".
- Strauss & Howe, 1991. p. 14.
- Peterson, Peter G.; Neil Howe (1988). On Borrowed Time: How the Growth in Entitlement Spending Threatens America's Future. ISBN 9781412829991. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
- Millennials: A profile of the Next Great Generation (DVD). WMFE & PBS. ISBN 978-0-9712606-7-2.
- Strauss&Howe, 1997. p. 338.
- Brooks, David (5 November 2000). "What's the Matter With Kids Today? Not a Thing". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
- Howe, Neil (1992). Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069. ISBN 978-0688119126.
- Strauss, William (1997). The Fourth Turning. Three Rivers Press. ASIN B001RKFU4I.
- Ringle, Ken (22 December 2007). "Bill Strauss: He Was the Life of the Parody". The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 May 2010.
- "Neil Howe". International Speakers Bureau. Archived from the original on 27 November 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
- Kaiser, David (18 November 2016). "Donald Trump, Stephen Bannon and the Coming Crisis in American National Life". Time. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
- Von Drehle, David (2 February 2017). "Is Steve Bannon the Second Most Powerful Man in the World?". TIME. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
- Guilford, Gwynn; Nikhil Sonnad (3 February 2017). "What Steve Bannon really wants". Quartz. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
- Lopez, Linette (2 February 2017). "Steve Bannon's obsession with a dark theory of history should be worrisome". Business Insider. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
- Strauss, William (2009). The Fourth Turning. Three Rivers Press. ASIN B001RKFU4I.
- Strauss & Howe, 1993.
- Howe, Neil (1993). 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?. Vintage. ISBN 978-0679743651.
- Gomez, Dina (May 2001). "The next great generation" (PDF). NEA Today, V.19 No.4. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Strauss & Howe, 2000.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, pp. 58–68.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, pp. 433–446.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, p. 101.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 145–152.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, p. 102.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 171–179.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 102–103.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 103–104.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 254–260.
- Strauss & Howe 2007, pp. 23–24.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 2–3.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 14–15.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 58p62.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 40–41.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, pp. 69–72.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, p. 71.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, p. 93.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 36–41.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, p. 40.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 106–116.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, pp. 73–74.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, p. 70.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, pp. 357–365.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, p. 84.
- "Generations in Anglo-American History". LifeCourse.com. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 53–62.
- Simon, 2010.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 51–52.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 273–279; on the current Fourth Turning see Galland 2009.
- Piccoli, Sean (3 April 1991). "13ers; The story of the new 'lost generation' (and America's hottest sound bite)". The Washington Times. p. E1.
- Kaiser, David (January 12, 1997). "Turning and turning in a widening gyre" (PDF). The Boston Sunday Globe. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Kaiser, David (2012-07-04). "Confirmation". Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Kaiser, David (2009-06-06). "The President takes up the challenge of our time". blogspot. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Kaiser, David. "Is civilization in danger?". blogspot. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Hess, Gary. "American Tragedy; Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War (review)". Johns Hopkins University. Project Muse. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
- Kaiser, David. "No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
- Blumenthal, Paul; Rieger, JM (8 February 2017). "Steve Bannon Believes The Apocalypse Is Coming And War Is Inevitable". Huffington Post. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
- Leonard, Andrew (23 May 1993). "The Boomers' Babies". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- Cormier, Jim (8 May 1993). "A young whine, with a sharp bite 13TH GEN: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?". The Globe and Mail.
- Laurence, Charles (May 11, 1993). "The Bitter New Generation and Why They Are Criticizing Their Baby Boomer Parents". London Daily Telegraph.
- Ferron, Alexander (July 1, 1993). "13th Generational Malaise". Eye Magazine.
- "'Xplaining Generation X - An NSF-Sponsored Webcast". National Science Foundation. Retrieved November 6, 2012.
- Miller, Jon D. "The Generation X Report: Active, Balanced, and Happy: These Young Americans are not bowling alone" (PDF). University of Michigan, Longitudinal Study of American Youth, funded by the National Science Foundation. Retrieved October 30, 2012.
- Horovitz, Bruce (May 4, 2012). "After Gen X, Millennials, what should next generation be?". USA Today. Retrieved November 24, 2012.
- Gomez, Dina (May 2001). "The next great generation" (PDF). NEA Today, V.19 No.4. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Giancola, Frank (2006). "The Generation Gap: More Myth than Reality". Human Resource Planning. 29 (4): 32–37.
Research and expert opinion do not fully support the generational premise. For example, two Duke University sociologists have found that the three assumptions behind the premise are not always supported by a body of research (Hughes & O'Rand, 2005)...According to an independent review of the literature, there were no major published academic articles on the generation gap in the United States in the 1990s (Smith, 2000), and a search by this author of academic journals in the past five years did not locate articles supporting generational concepts.
- Brazhnikov, Pavel (2016). "The theory of generations in the HR policy, the employers competition in the labor market" (PDF). Trends and Management. 14 (2): 194–201.
- Giancola 2006. "Some experts believe that the model is limited in its application to minorities and recent immigrants to North America (Robbins 2003); others have questioned its relevance to women (Quadagno, et al., 1993). "
- Hart, Andrew (28 February 2018). "Against Generational Politics". Jacobin. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
- Strauss & Howe, 2000. p. 84.
- Battaglia, Andy. "Waiting for an Age Like You: Oneohtrix Point Never Takes Epoch Stand". ARTnews. Retrieved June 2, 2018.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (1991). Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069. New York: William Morrow & Company. ISBN 978-0-688-11912-6.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (1993). 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?. Vintage Books. ISBN 9780679743651.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (1997). The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny. New York: Broadway Books. ISBN 978-0-7679-0046-1.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2000). Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 9780375707193.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2007). Millennials & K-12 Schools: Educational Strategies for a New Generation. Great Falls: LifeCourse Associates. ISBN 978-0-9712606-5-8.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2007), "The Next Twenty Years: How Customer and Workforce Attitudes Will Evolve", Harvard Business Review: 41–52, archived from the original on 2009-12-28
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2008). Millennials Go to College: Strategies for a New Generation on Campus (2nd ed.). Great Falls: LifeCourse Associates. ISBN 9780971260610.