The Greatest Generation: Definition and Characteristics

What Is the Greatest Generation?

The Greatest Generation is a term used to describe those Americans who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in World War II, or whose labor helped win it. The term "the Greatest Generation" is thought to have been coined by former NBC Nightly News anchor and author Tom Brokaw in his book by the same name.

The Greatest Generation is also known as the "G.I. Generation" or the "WWII Generation."

Key Takeaways

  • The Greatest Generation commonly refers to those Americans who were born in the 1900s through the 1920s.
  • The Greatest Generation members all lived through the Great Depression and many of them fought in World War II.
  • These individuals have often been described as driven, patriotic, and team-players.
  • The Greatest Generation members also tend to be the parents of the Baby Boomer generation.
  • There are fewer than 100,000 of the Greatest Generation left today in the U.S.

Understanding the Greatest Generation

There are no precise dates that define when members of the Greatest Generation were born, though many give a range of the early 1900s to the mid-1920s. The common characteristic of Greatest Generation members is that they 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.

Newsman Tom Brokaw is often credited with popularizing the term through his book, The Greatest Generation, which 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.

In Australia, the equivalent of the Greatest Generation is known as the "Federation Generation."

How Many Remain?

The youngest members of the Greatest Generation, if using 1925 as the last year they were born, would be nearing their 100s, Today, there are just under 100,000 centenarians living in the United States.

As for WWII veterans, in 2022 there were only about 250,000 left out of the 16 million who served in World War II. And, around 372 Greatest Generation veterans are thought to be lost every day to old age. According to research by the Washington Post, the final member of the Greatest Generation should die around the year 2046 if they can reach age 120 given advances in health care and improvements in life expectancy.

Characteristics of the Greatest Generation

While every individual is unique, demographers and sociologists have identified some common characteristics that often vary from generation to generation.

Among the Greatest Generation, individuals tend to have the following characteristics:

  • They are patriotic
  • They are driven and motivated
  • They show a strong work ethic
  • They live modestly
  • They are frugal consumers and prudent savers
  • They are committed and loyal

Many of these are thought to stem from living through World War I and the Great Depression as children, and then fighting in or living through World War II after that.

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 their great-grandchildren tend to be Millennials and Gen Z.

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.

Why Are They Called the Greatest Generation?

"The Greatest Generation" was popularized by former NBC Nightly News anchor and author Tom Brokaw in his book by the same name. The term was meant as a tribute to the resilience and patriotic spirit of those who lived through the Great Depression and then fought in World War II.

What Are the Seven Living Generations?

  1. Greatest generation (b. ~1900-1925)
  2. Silent generation (~1925-1945)
  3. Baby boomers (~ 1945-1965)
  4. Generation X (~1965-1980)
  5. Millennials (~1980-1995)
  6. Generation Z (~1995-2010)
  7. Generation Alpha (~2010- )

How Many Americans Remain From the Greatest Generation?

The youngest members of the Greatest Generation, if using 1925 as the last year they were born, would be approaching their 100s as of the year 2022. As of 2022, there are estimated to be around 100,000 centenarians living in the United States.

The Bottom Line

The Greatest Generation refers to those Americans born between 1900 and 1925, many of whom fought during World War II. These individuals grew up during WWI and lived through the Great Depression and are often the parents of the Baby Boomer generation. All of this has led these people to be characterized by a great deal of patriotism, commitment to work and family, frugal lifestyles, and motivation to work hard to succeed. The term itself was popularized by a book by newsman Tom Brokaw, entitled The Greatest Generation, which was first published in 1998.

Article Sources
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  1. World Economic Forum. "There are now more than half a million people aged 100 or older around the world."

  2. National WWII War Museum. "WWII Veteran Statistics."

  3. The Washington Post. "Here’s how much longer each generation will be sticking around."

  4. University of South Florida. "Generational Differences Chart," Page 1.

  5. Linda Gravett. "Bridging the generation gap." Red Wheel/Weiser, 2007.

  6. Tom Brokaw. "The greatest generation." Random House, 2000.

  7. Suzanne Mettler. "Soldiers to citizens: The GI Bill and the making of the greatest generation." Oxford University Press on Demand, 2005.

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