The COVID Generation

[ Posted Thursday, September 30th, 2021 – 15:44 UTC ]

[Before I begin today, a program note is in order. I am currently so frustrated with watching the "What are Manchin and Sinema thinking?" show that I really needed a break. So today, I am eschewing politics altogether to opine upon a subject I admittedly know next to nothing about. In the first place, I do not regularly talk to schoolchildren (although I do talk to some parents, so I get secondhand information, at the very least). I don't even know what to call the subject today -- sociology, maybe? (The fact that I'm not even sure of the right term to use should be a good indication of my ignorance.) Branding and marketing? Some combination of these, most likely. In any case, consider yourselves duly warned.]


I recently read an article which defined and explained a not-so-impressive neologism for the current generation of American children:

In 2005, social researcher Mark McCrindle coined the term "Generation Alpha" to identify the group born after Generation Z. He defines the generation as those born from 2010 to 2024, while Gen Z spans 1995 to 2009 and Gen Y spans 1980 to 1994 (though many push the millennial birth years back a bit later).

This is taking silliness to an entirely new level. This entire sequence of "let's just give generations letters" began a long time ago, mostly pushed by Baby Boomers who (perhaps) didn't want any other generation to have a label cooler than theirs. After all, for a good decade or so, the Baby Boomers themselves were referred to (disparagingly) as "the Me Generation." Everything always had to be about them, in other words, so the following generations would just have to make do with "X," "Y," and "Z."

This was always nonsense, really. Generations are defined by shared experience, not alphabet letters. The "Greatest Generation" was defined by their experiences winning World War II. Earlier, the Depression defined an era and a generation. Baby Boomers were labelled for something they didn't personally experience -- the post-war explosion of childbearing. But Generation X is (as the article does point out) much better defined as "the MTV Generation" because we can all still recall when "Music TeleVision" actually meant precisely what it said -- nothing but endless music videos, presented by "veejays." Think: Beavis and Butthead on a couch, watching videos. And it wasn't just MTV, it was the whole explosion of cable television and VCRs that defined a nation of children. Entertainment expanded enormously, compared with what the Baby Boomers had had to make do with.

The next generation was defined by a shared date on the calendar, as they are not the "Y Generation" so much as they are Millennials. They remember Y2K, for instance, and they were the first generation to grow up with personal computers just about everywhere. This was also a revolution in media and entertainment, albeit in its infancy.

But this is where I begin to disagree with the rest of the mavens of generational labels. Because I don't think there's going to be any sharp divide between "Generation Z" and younger kids today -- I think instead they are going to be their own generation, together. I would say that anyone who, right now, is college age or younger (down to perhaps age 6) is forever going to be "the COVID Generation." People born from the late 1990s through about 2015, in other words.

The pandemic and response to it will truly be the shared experience of a lifetime, for them. At least, one hopes so, because that assumes no future worldwide pandemic will put us through what we've all been experiencing for the past two years.

Now, adults had their own problems adapting to the pandemic. Some adapted better than others. But adults had a radically different experience than their kids. Throughout the entire pandemic and lockdown, I have tried to put myself in the place of a kid who had to spend all of (say) ninth and tenth grades sitting at home talking to a computer screen.

That is mind-boggling, or it should be. Think of the formative experiences that just didn't happen for that child. Think of all the high school socializing that just didn't happen -- or, if it did, was an online poor substitute. Imagine yourself at age 15 or 16 confined to your house with your parents, 24-7.

That is beyond traumatic. It's so sad it's hard to even accurately picture. And I just chose that age arbitrarily -- think of all the high school seniors that didn't get a prom and didn't get a graduation ceremony. Think of all the college freshmen who didn't get to experience dorm life and on-campus learning. Think of the younger schoolkids too, who missed out on two of the most formative years of their lives -- no socialization, no being in classrooms full of kids their own age, just a computer screen.

As I said, I can barely imagine such a thing. If I had been forced into such a lockdown when I was in high school, it would have been a race as to whether I went stark staring mad or had driven my parents to the same destination. And that's not really much of an exaggeration, as I was not the world's most well-behaved teenager (to put it mildly).

So I cannot even really imagine what these kids have all just gone through. It's really almost inconceivable to me. But here's the key -- they all experienced it together. They will have shared memories from this crisis for their entire lives. They will be separate from everyone who didn't go through the lockdown while still in school. Their generational definitional moment has happened, and it ignored the mavens who draw neat little lines saying: "This year through this other year will henceforth be their own generation!" Because the lines got drawn by shared experience -- which, after all, is what "a generation" is all about.

I am no sociological trendsetter, I fully admit. So my suggestion might just be ignored. But it doesn't really matter, because whether the label ever gains widespread usage or not, it will still be true. Whether the generation that went through the past two years while still in school even accepts the label or not, it still will define them for the rest of their lives.

Forget "Generation Z" and (shudder) "Generation Alpha." The newest generation has already been defined. And whether they wind up calling themselves this or not, the newest generation will always be the COVID Generation. Their shared experience means they earned this title.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


12 Comments on “The COVID Generation”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Hey, Chris!

    Sorry to be off topic but I just listened to a very interesting conversation on Chris Cuomo's show. He was talking with Rep. Ro Khana (sp?) who believes there won't be a vote tonight but that's okay 'cause progress is being made ... well, despite the progressives. Ahem.

    But, what caught my ears was when Chris and Ro started talking about why not scrap the cap on Social Security taxes. They both loved the idea! Said it would rake in a lot of revenue.

    Would Manchin be okay with that? Neither one of them knew. Maybe they should ask him!

    Why doesn't Biden talk about this!?

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Couldn't they scrap the cap in a reconciliation bill?

  3. [3] 
    MyVoice wrote:

    Geez, and I thought X wasn't some random letter given instead of a name, but a number. The birth years from 1965 to 1979 or 1980 nicely bracket the 200th anniversary of the founding of the US. Given that generations are roughly 20 years, that would have made this cohort the tenth generation born in the US.

    Maybe the story came after the moniker – I don't know – but, frankly, I like that explanation better than just some random letter that landed and stuck. I'm right there with you on the silliness of Y, Z, and Alpha.

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    LizM -

    Dunno... the scrap the cap idea has been around for a long time, but it doesn't really help. If they did scrap the cap, all the money would still go into Social Security, and would just prolong the projected life of the fund. I think that money would be completely separate from the rest of the budget, though, so it wouldn't really help the math.

    Pelosi just blinked, and punted...


  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    MyVoice -

    Never heard that one before, but it makes a certain degree of sense...


  6. [6] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    (just answered some comments from earlier in the week, too...)


  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, if it wouldn't really help the math, then, forgetaboutit. Whatever.

  10. [10] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    What the hell CW?? How can there even BE a "covid generation"??? Unless there is a new system for these things I haven't heard about, that just ain't compatible with "social distancing"!!!

  11. [11] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Scrapping the cap won't help the deficit but it funds Social Security for the rest of the century with NO cut in benefits.

  12. [12] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    i think liz meant that since it's technically a budget issue, why not throw it in with the rest?


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