What Is 'The Greatest Generation'?

The Greatest Generation is a term used to describe those who grew up during the Great Depression and fought World War II, or whose labor helped win it. The Greatest Generation was coined by onetime NBC Nightly News anchor and author Tom Brokaw in his book by the same name. The Greatest Generation profiled people who came of age during World War II and was inspired by Brokaw's attendance at the 40th-anniversary commemoration of the D-Day invasion of mainland Europe. Brokaw's profiles focused on the soldiers who fought the war, as well as the workers whose labor provided the essential material and services in support of them. The Greatest Generation is also known as the "G.I. Generation" or the "WWII Generation."

Understanding The Greatest Generation

There are no precise dates that define when the Greatest Generation was born, though many give a range of the early 1900s to the mid-1920s. The common theme of the Greatest Generation is that its members lived through and experienced the hardships of the Great Depression and later either fought in World War II or worked in the industries that contributed to winning the war. In Australia, the Greatest Generation is known as the "Federation Generation."

Key Takeaways

  • The Greatest Generation refers to those Americans who were born in the 1900s through1920s.
  • These folks lived through the Great Depression and many of them fought in World War II.
  • These also tend to be the parents of the baby boomer generation.

The Greatest Generation: How Many Remain?

The youngest members of the Greatest Generation, if using 1925 as the last year they were born, would be well into their 90s as of 2018. As for veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as of 2016 there were only about 620,000 left out of the 16 million who served in World War II. About 372 Greatest Generation veterans are lost every day to old age. According to research by the Washington Post, the final member of the Greatest Generation should die around 2046 given advances in health care and improvements in life expectancy.

The Greatest Generation and Other Demographics

Generally speaking, the Greatest Generation are the parents of the "Baby Boomers" and are the children of the "Lost Generation" (those who grew up during or came of age during World War I). They preceded what is known as the "Silent Generation," a cohort born between the mid-1920s to the early-to-mid 1940s. The grandchildren of the Greatest Generation are members of Generation X, Generation Y, and the Millennials. Members of the Greatest Generation currently fall into the "retirees" demographic and are currently collecting Social Security benefits. The differences between generations have been extensively studied and socio-economic models have been created to help plan for future government expenditures and programs to plan for changes in current demographics.