How Long Does a Generation Last? A Comprehensive Guide

Questions like “How many years make a generation?” and “How many generations in 100 years?” are commonly explored in search engines by those conducting family and sociological research. However, figuring out answers to questions like these may not be as straightforward as you think, especially given that the length of a generation is fiercely debated.

So, what does this mean for you as a family researcher? Here’s everything you need to know about how long a generation lasts.

What Is a Generation?

The concept of a generation is studied at multiple levels, familial and sociological.

There are several ways to look at the idea of a generation. Most people associate the term with describing family ties. However, it is also a sociological term for identifying and tracking whole groups of people.

Most people refer to a generation as a collective born at roughly the same time.

As previously mentioned, the length of a generation is widely debated. Most people agree that a generation falls between 20 and 35 years old. The issue is that the older definition of a generation no longer applies due to changes in societal norms and life expectancies.

If someone asks, “How many generations are there?” it is best to opt for an estimate rather than a definitive answer. You also need to be aware of whether you are talking about a family or a social generation.

How Many Years in a Generation Explained

When it comes to the question “How long does a generation last?” there is no universal standard. The lack of an established standard means that answering questions like “How many generations are in 100 years?” or “How many years is 4 generations?” becomes tricky.

First is the family generation, whose length is about 20-30 years. Secondly, the social generation lasts for 15-20 years.

For genealogical purposes, you will be looking mainly at the family generation.

Several recent sociology studies have shown that the 20 to 25-year generations chart is a modern concept we continue to perpetuate today.

When discussing “How long is a generation?” scientists typically believe that male generations are a third longer and female generations are longer by around half that amount. Here are three studies that discuss how long is a generation in years:

  • Nancy Howell studied the !Kung people of Botswana and Namibia. The study found that mothers gave birth to their first child at 20 and their last at 31, leading to a mean of 25.5 years per generation. Husbands saw a generational interval of 31-38 years.
  • The commonly cited Quebec study analyzed couples between 1899 and 1974 and found that the average generational interval was 31.7 years.
  • An Icelandic study using DeCODE genetics data that houses the family trees of most of Iceland had a generational interval of 31.93 years.

This work has shown that our traditional answers to “How long is a generation?” and “What is a generation in a family?” may be false.

Family Generations

Family generations are easy enough to understand. They are a single rung on your family tree. Natural descent defines the passing of the generations, so if you wanted to ask, “How long is 3 generations in your family?” you would say it is from your grandparents to you.

Your parents are one generation, and their children are the next generation. Family generations have always been viewed as lasting from 20 to 30 years since this is the time it takes for a new generation to appear.

Note that cultural norms will alter what a family generation is to people. Getting a clear answer to “How long does a generation last?” is becoming more difficult because of longer life expectancies and people putting off having children until later in life.

Social Generations

If a generation is regarded in a social context, it is nothing more than a group of people born and living roughly the same time. Sociologists view a social generation length as the average time it takes for a generation to be born, grow up, and have children.

In other words, this is where the idea of a 20-year generation length originates. Some researchers claim that a generation could last for as little as 15 years.

Calculating how long a generation lasts is no exact science, and there are no simple formulas to follow. Generally, most people agree that there have been six generations over the last century.

For example, in a search engine, you may type “How many years in 10 generations?” and would likely assume that going back ten generations would take you into the late 1800s.

Remember that the concept of viewing people in social generations is a new one. It only entered the mainstream in the late 1900s. Since then, the names of generations have most often been coined by writers.

Biblical Generation

How long is a generation based on the Bible’s teachings?

Generation names today usually pertain to a 20-25-year period, but the Bible may define it differently. This book has a lot to share regarding the experience of those people at the time. A full study reveals that biblical generation years were around 30 years.

Although the Bible fails to provide a number that defines a generational length, this was the average lifespan of people 2,000 years ago. By examining the context of how the Bible speaks of generations, most scholars safely assume that this was the moment the length of a biblical generation was defined.

Today’s sociological research reveals that the biblical answer to how long is a generation might be more correct than our modern definition.

So, what social generations exist today?

The Greatest Generation

Also known as the GI Generation, these were the men and women born in 1924 or earlier. Tom Brokaw coined the term “The Greatest Generation” in 1998 to reference the generation that experienced both the Great Depression and the Second World War.

Sadly, the last of the Greatest Generation is gradually dying off.

The Silent Generation

The Silent Generation is viewed as people born from 1924 to 1945 or 1925 to 1942, depending on whom you ask. It was Time Magazine that coined the term in a 1951 essay. Researchers view this generation as lasting roughly 17 years.

The name arises from the fact that children of this generation grew up expecting to be seen and not heard.

Baby Boomers

The U.S. Census Bureau uses the term “Baby Boomers” to denote those who were born immediately after World War II, from 1946 until 1964.

The generation spans 18 years and has recently received a disproportionate amount of media attention.

Generation Jones

Some researchers consider the Baby Boomers generation to cover such a long, changing period that they prefer to split the generation into two distinct groups: Boomers I and Boomers II.

The Boomers II designation, also known as Generation Jones, covers 1955 until 1965. The name comes from the fact that this was when America’s mass consumerism truly became a force of nature.

Generation Jones was able to enjoy modern luxuries without the shadow of war.

Generation X

Generation X goes by many names, including the Baby Busters and the Lost Generation. The term was first coined in a 1991 book by Douglas Coupland, and the term has stuck ever since.

Anyone born between 1965 and 1980 is considered Generation X, meaning this generation officially lasted for 15 years.

Generation Y/Millennials

Generation Y, or the Millennials, are also referred to as Echo Boomers. Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996. Only since 1993 did advertisers begin to describe this generation as a distinct entity.

Generation Y failed to stick, so the term Millennials was born since this was the generation that primarily experienced the turning of the millennium in their youth.

Generation Z

Generation Z is the most recent generation identified. Some researchers have also termed them the iGeneration. Anyone born into Generation Z was born between 1997 and the present day.

Sociologists consider Generation Z one of the most intriguing generations because they are the first in human history not to know what the world was like before the digital revolution.

How to Find Information on Past Generations

Now that you know how long a generation lasts and can answer questions like “How long is 4 generations?” how should this inform your research?

You can discover your family story by going back through the generations and uncovering where you came from and who your family members were.

Let’s look at some tips for finding information on past generations.

DNA Testing

Many people begin their search for history with a DNA test. Genealogical DNA testing helps to determine information about your personal history. Compare your results with others from the same or similar ethnic groups.

These tests can help you find information about any specific family diseases or conditions. It can also be used to figure out where your ancestors may have come from.

DNA tests are far from perfect, but they effectively indicate where to search next.

Look at Old Newspapers

Newspapers today have lost much of their social relevance in the digital revolution. Many people forget that they were once the voices of a community. Every piece of news, from local interest stories to marriage bans, was communicated via the newspaper.

Historically, the U.S. had far more newspapers, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, than exist today. Looking up newspaper records can tell you more about who your ancestors were and what sort of people they were.

Searching local newspaper records is an excellent source for obituaries, local stories, and even acts of valor in war.

GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives are the most extensive collection of digitized newspaper records. You can search over 300 years of American history for your ancestors and find everything from birth to death announcements.

Create your account with GenealogyBank now and gain access to a world of history at your fingertips.

U.S. Census Records

The U.S. census is another valuable source of information about previous generations. All previous censuses up to 1950 have been digitized so that you can access every publicly available census from the comfort of your own home.

Census records will tell you who a person was and where they lived. It is often the first port of call for discovering family members you never knew anything about.

U.S. census records serve as a starting point for future, more in-depth research.

Military Records

Some generations fought more wars than others. If you are looking into the Greatest Generation or the GI Generation, you may wonder where the men in your family served.

Public military records can tell you everything about where a soldier served, when they served, and any decorations they received.

If you want to look through the eyes of your ancestors and discover what they might have done to change the history of the world, look up the name in our selection of military records.

Birth Certificates

The birth certificate is the one documentation that proves who you are.

Digital birth certificate records can help you determine exactly when someone may have been born. In the past, many people forgot their actual ages and birth years, meaning that later entries may have been incorrect.

Birth certificates will tell you not only the specifics about a particular person but also about their parents.

Marriage Records

Marriage was essential to being an adult in previous generations. You can find out more about somebody’s marriage in several locations.

Official marriage certificates filed with the local authorities will tell you a variety of information about the bride, groom, and their parents.

Delving into old newspapers to learn more about a specific marriage can add some color to your ancestors’ stories. While official records may only contain basic information, newspapers tended to reveal more.

You might find out where your ancestor got married, on which day, whether it was a large gathering, or even whether it rained. There may even be a picture of the bride and groom in some scenarios. These sources are more valuable than you may think because this might be the one time an American in the past had their picture taken.

Seeing your ancestors and how they looked is the holy grail of family research. With the help of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives from across the nation, you may be able to see things like what your great-grandmother or great-grandfather looked like on their wedding day.

Death Certificates

Finally, death certificates confirm the day one of your relatives died and how they died. Make sure you explore the newspapers to learn more about the circumstances of a death. It could have been an automobile accident, an industrial disaster, or even a mysterious death.

Old newspapers will usually provide detailed obituaries on your relative, describing where they came from and whom they left behind.

Remember, combining vital statistics from official records with stories found in newspapers helps you form a complete picture of your ancestors.

Learn More about Previous Generations with GenealogyBank

Still wondering, “How long does a generation last?” In short, the length depends on whether you are referring to a family or social generation.

During your research, you will be using the family generation definition. If you are curious about previous generations, look up your ancestors with the support of our cutting-edge research tools.

Join GenealogyBank and access more than 300 years of newspaper archives and additional obituary search resources. Discover your family story when you create your account with GenealogyBank.

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