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Generations (re)Defined

Mar 15, 2018 • Colorado State Demography Office

Generations (re)Defined

In 2014 the State Demography Office released a short publication defining the social generations used by the media and others to describe the cohorts of people born within a range of dates. These cohorts identify people who may have similar cultural experiences. In Colorado in 2010 many of the discussions surrounded the “Aging of the Baby Boomers” as they were the social generation approaching age 65 at the time. Recent news in Colorado has been focused on Millennials and their contribution to the total population and more specifically to the labor force as they are the most recent social generation to fully enter working age groups.

On March 1, 2018, the Pew Research Center defined the “Millennial” generation as persons born between 1981 and 1996. Delimiting a generation raises multiple questions, not the least of which is what do you call people born after 1996? At the moment, Pew declined to assign a label to the cohort born after 1996, preferring to call this cohort the “Post-Millennials”. While we recognize the diversity of, and within, birth cohorts, we also note that generational labels provide convenient labels (e.g., “The Greatest Generation”, “Baby Boomers”, “Generation X”, “Millennials”, etc.) for discussing large population groups –especially over time. For the time being, we will continue to follow the recommendations of the Pew Research Center in defining “Millennials” as the cohort of persons born between 1981 and 1996 and “Post-Millennials” for people born afterwards.

The significant change in the age structure in Colorado has lent itself to several questions related to the size and magnitude of Colorado’s different generations. Understanding the current and future age distribution of a community is important and gives us an opportunity to plan for potential changing demands in health services, education programs, transportation, housing, and labor supply. The purpose of this document is to describe and delineate through data the time periods of the “social generations” in Colorado.

· The Greatest generation, those born 1901 to 1927, are known to have been born and come of age in the “American Century” of economic growth, technological progress, and mostly military triumph.

· The Silent generation describes adults born from 1928 through 1945. Children of the Great Depression and World War II, their “Silent” label refers to their conformist and civic instincts. It also makes for a nice contrast with the noisy ways of the anti-establishment Boomers.

· The Baby Boomer label is drawn from the great spike in fertility that began in 1946, after the end of World War II, and ended almost as abruptly in 1964, around the time the birth control pill went on the market. It’s a classic example of a demography-driven name.

· Generation X typically refers to people born from 1965 through 1980. The label long ago overtook the first name affixed to this generation: the Baby Bust. Xers are often depicted as savvy, entrepreneurial loners.

· The Millennial generation, also known as Gen Y, gets their name from the significant turn in the calendar and refers those born 1981 through 1996 – the first generation to come of age in the new millennium.

· The post-Millennial generation – born 1997 (through 2014 for our purposes) – is a work in progress. They will be followed by a generation yet to be defined who we will refer to as the Next generation. We are assigning this Next generation to begin in 2015 (a nice round number) and if the generation is defined similarly to earlier generations it will likely be approximately 15 years in length ending in 2030 (another nice round number).

Now that we have identified whom the generations include, where are they in Colorado?

The counties with the largest number and largest share of each generation:

Greatest – 1901-1927 - There are just over 36,000 members of the Greatest generation residing in Colorado in 2017 and all are currently ages 91 or older. Denver can boast it has the largest number of Greatest generation residents of any county in Colorado with over 4,600 residents followed closely behind by Jefferson (4,300) and Arapahoe (4,000). While Denver may have the largest number, Baca, Kiowa, and Phillips County (all located on the Eastern Plains of Colorado highlighted in the map below) have the largest share of their population as members of the Greatest generation at 2% of their total population compared to 0.6% statewide.

Silent - 1928 – 1945 - More of the 375,000 Colorado resident members of the Silent generation, ages 73 to 90 in 2017, call Jefferson County (44,000) home than any other county in Colorado, followed by El Paso (43,000) and Arapahoe (40,000). However, Huerfano (17%), Custer (16%), and Costilla (16%) counties, all located in Southern Colorado and a few of Colorado’s oldest counties, get to claim having the largest share of the Silent generation within their total population compared to 7% statewide. Most of the Silent generation was born during the Great Depression and World War II when fertility rates were relatively low. As a result, the Silent generation had fewer members than other generations.

Baby Boomer - 1946 - 1964 – The Baby Boomer generation significantly outnumbers the members of the Silent generation in Colorado with over 1.2 million Boomers residing in Colorado. This large generation, whose members started turning 65 in 2011, is the reason Colorado has been experiencing rapid aging as the Boomer population numbers dwarfed the number of older Silent generation members previously in those age groups. Jefferson County is home to the largest number of the Baby Boomer residents in Colorado (150,000) ages 54 to 72 in 2017 followed by El Paso County (144,000) and Arapahoe (136,000). Mineral (38%), Custer (37%), and Park County (36%) have the highest shares of Baby Boomers of their total population, while Statewide Baby Boomers are 22% of the total population.

Generation X - 1965 - 1980 (ages 38 to 53 in 2017) - More of the 1.2 million members of Generation X in Colorado currently call Denver (158,000) home than any other county in Colorado, followed by Arapahoe (135,000) and El Paso (131,409). While Denver may have the largest number, over one-quarter of San Miguel (26%), Gilpin (25%), and Douglas County (25%) residents are members of Generation X compared to 21% statewide.

Millennials - 1981 – 1996 (ages 22 to 37 in 2017) – The Millennials are the largest generation in Colorado and have represented the most mobile generation within Colorado for the past decade, as young adults are most likely to move of all other age groups. Of the over 1.33 million Millennials currently residing in Colorado, 216,000 call Denver home followed by El Paso (173,000) and Arapahoe (154,000). Statewide Millennials are 24% of the total Colorado population. The counties with the largest shares of their population within the Millennial generation include Summit (36%), Crowley (32%), and Denver (31%). Summit and Denver County experience young adult in-migration as a result of job, recreational, or educational opportunities while Crowley County has a significant young adult prison population.

Post-Millennials - 1997 – 2014 (ages 4 to 21 in 2017) – There are 1.3 million Post-Millennials residing in Colorado in 2017, a generation out numbered only by the Millennials. El Paso County currently has the largest number of the Post-Millennial residents than any other county in Colorado (177,000), followed by Arapahoe (152,000), and Adams (133,000). However, Alamosa (29%), Weld (27%), and Moffat County (26%) all have over a quarter of their total populations within the post Millennial generation while statewide 23% of the population is within the post-Millennial generation.

Next Generation - 2015 - 2029 (ages 3 and under) - The newest members of Colorado’s population, the ones we are calling the Next generation, currently has its largest start within El Paso County (28,000) while Morgan, Prowers, and Phillips Counties on the Eastern Plains get to claim the largest share of their total population is within this just starting generation at 5%. Statewide just over 200,000 or 4% of Colorado’s total residents are members of this Next generation.

Look to our projections for insight into where future generations will reside.

To view your County’s age structure and to watch your County’s generations age over time, visit the Age Animation application on the Interactive Data page on our website

Want to know more? Visit our website at or send questions to

Data sources: State Demography Office

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