In the middle of the 1950s, a seemingly spontaneous revolt against the prevailing conformist values of the country erupted among its youngest generation, the somewhat inappropriately titled, "Silent Generation." In the early 1950s members of this cohort, born between 1925 and 1945, were mostly known for their willingness to go along to get along. Suddenly, in 1955, its coming of age movie, Rebel Without a Cause, made James Dean an iconic symbol of the generation's inchoate angst. Then, within a decade from the time Alan Ginsberg published his poem, "Howl," other members of this generation, most notably the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., completely upset the country's norms on race relations and ignited the Civil Rights Revolution.
That cause ultimately led to the election of the nation's first African-American president by the time most Silents had become senior citizens. Ironically, they were the only generation to cast a majority of its votes against Barack Obama and his Silent Generation Vice-President, Joe Biden.
This repeated historical pattern of early accommodation to prevailing norms followed by significant, if initially unfocused, rejection of key aspects of the nation's culture has given this type of generation its name: "Adaptive." Now, evidence of the arrival of America's newest adaptive generation has surfaced in recent research, which is beginning to define how and why this latest Adaptive generation differs from the older Millennial Generation.
The market research firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, suggests this emerging adaptive generation will be known as the "Pluralist Generation" and its members as "Plurals," reflecting the overwhelmingly distinguishing demographic of American's newest generation -- its ethnic, racial, and religious diversity. (Disclosure: Michael D. Hais worked for Magid for more than 22 years, retiring as its Vice President of Entertainment Research in 2007.)
Magid's research shows that Plurals are more likely than older generations to have friends and acquaintances from different ethnic groups, races, and religions than their own. Even as this year's presidential campaign reveals heightened tensions over America's increasingly diverse demography, this new generation is making clear its preference for even greater diversity. A majority of the members of this generation say they want their social circle to be even more diverse than it is now.
Furthermore, according to Magid, it is clear that the women's liberation movement of the 1970s and 1980s has created a generation where girl power dominates. Girls between the ages of eight and fifteen now have greater expectations for earning a college degree, care more about their grades, and are more interested in getting feedback from parents and teachers to help them do better in school than boys. The vision of gender equality that Gloria Steinem, another member of the Silent Generation, promoted is likely to come true during Plurals' lifetime.
Plurals are also experiencing this blurring of gender roles in their homes. With both parents fully involved in both careers and families, employers who wish to attract top talent will have no other choice but to accommodate demands for telecommuting, flexible hours, child care, and round-the-clock access to technology to create a seamless blend between working and raising a family.
It will take at least another decade, and probably more, before members of the Pluralist Generation are old enough to begin making their own mark on the society that the Millennial Generation is, itself, just beginning to remake. If the Plurals follow the precedent of their Silent Generation forbearers, their childhood and adolescent years will be spent accepting society pretty much as they find it. But, as young adults, they are likely to lead a revolt against too much conformity, first in pop culture, and later in how the country respects the rights of each individual, regardless of their background. Inevitably, Plurals will remake the society Millennials will have created as we witness yet another generational shift in the nation's attitudes and beliefs.