The American High (First Turning, 1946–1964) witnessed America’s ascendancy as a global superpower. Social movements stalled. The middle class grew and prospered. Churches buttressed government. Huge peacetime defense budgets were uncontroversial. Mass tastes thrived atop a collectivist infrastructure of suburbs, interstates, and regulated communication. Declaring “an end to ideology,” respected authorities presided over a bland, modernist, and spiritually-dead culture.
- Lost entering elderhood
- G.I.s entering midlife
- Silent entering young adulthood
- Boomers entering childhood
American Revolution (Fourth Turning, 1773–1794) began when Parliament’s response to the Boston Tea Party ignited a colonial tinderbox—leading directly to the first Continental Congress, the battle of Concord, and the Declaration of Independence. The war climaxed with the colonial triumph at Yorktown (in 1781). Seven years later, the new “states” ratified a nation-forging Constitution. The crisis mood eased once President Washington weathered the Jacobins, put down the Whiskey Rebels, and settled on a final treaty with England.
- Awakeners entering elderhood
- Liberty entering midlife
- Republicans entering young adulthood
- Compromisers entering childhood
The Armada Crisis (Fourth Turning, 1569–1594) began when the powerful Duke of Norfolk was linked to a Spanish plot against the English throne, a discovery which galvanized newly-Protestant England against the global threat of the Catholic Hapsburgs. A crescendo of surrogate wars and privateering culminated in England’s miraculous victory over the Spanish Armada invasion (in 1588). The mood of emergency relaxed after the successful resistance of Holland and the breaking of Spanish control over France.
- Reformation entering elderhood
- Reprisal entering midlife
- Elizabethans entering young adulthood
- Parliamentarians entering childhood
The Arthurian Generation (Hero, born 1433–1460) grew up during England’s demoralizing retreat from France, an era of a rising pessimism and civil disorder. Raised amid elder hopes that they might save the kingdom, the Arthurians came of age with a civil war that did not end until 28-year-old Henry Tudor established his “new monarchy.” Entering midlife, they closed ranks around a manly new era of prosperity (led by wool exports), social discipline (led by busy local magistrates), and strong central government (led by the new Star Chamber). Entering old age, they enclosed fields, printed books, and planned voyages to the New World—securing a reputation for chivalric teamwork immortalized in Morte Darthur, their generation’s treasured epic. (ENGLISH: King Edward IV, King Henry VII, John Cabot, William Grocyn, John de Vere; FOREIGN: Leonardo da Vinci, Christopher Columbus)
Augustan Age of Empire
The Augustan Age of Empire (First Turning, 1704–1727) witnessed the first confident flowering of provincial civilization—with booming trade, rising living standards, recognizable (northern) urban centers, and massive (southern) imports of African slaves. Lauding social discipline, Americans took pride in the growing might of Britain’s empire. Socially, this was the periwigged apogee of colonial politesse; culturally, it was an age of credentials, wit, and Royal Society rationalism.
- Cavaliers entering elderhood
- Glorious entering midlife
- Enlighteners entering young adulthood
- Awakeners entering childhood
The Awakening Generation (Prophet, born 1701–1723) arrived as the first colonial generation to consist mostly of the offspring of native-born parents—and the first to grow up taking peace and prosperity for granted. Coming of age, they attacked their elders’ moral complacency in a spiritual firestorm. By the 1750s, after breaking the social order of their parents and rendering the colonies ungovernable, they pushed the colonies toward pessimism—yet also toward civic renewal. They became eighteenth-century America’s most eminent generation of educators, philosophers, clergymen, and abolitionists. In old age, they provided the Revolution with its dire sense of moral urgency, dominating colonial pulpits and governorships until independence was declared. (AMERICAN: Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Sam Adams, Eliza Pinckney, John Woolman, Crispus Attucks; FOREIGN: Jean Jacques Rousseau, Queen Maria Theresa)
The Boom Generation (Prophet, born 1943–1960) basked as children in Dr. Spock permissiveness, suburban conformism, Beaver Cleaver friendliness, and Father Knows Best complacency. From the Summer of Love to the Days of Rage, they came of age rebelling against the worldly blueprints of their parents. Even as they proclaimed themselves “flowerpower” arbiters of public morals, youth pathologies worsened—and SAT scores began a 17-yearslide. In the early 1980s, many young adults became self-absorbed “yuppies” with mainstream careers and perfectionist lifestyles. In the early 1990s, they entered midlife and national power, trumpeting values and visions, touting a “politics of meaning,” and waging scorched-earth Culture Wars. Today, their net worth blighted by the Great Recession, most Boomers are postponing “retirement”—and preparing for an elderhood in which wisdom and meaning will have to substitute for creature comforts. (AMERICAN: Bill & Hillary Clinton, George & Laura Bush, Steve Jobs, Cornel West, Robin Williams; FOREIGN: Tony Blair, Binyamin Netanyahu)
The Cavalier Generation (Nomad, born 1618–1647) grew up in an era of religious upheaval and family collapse. In New England, they were the isolated offspring of spiritual zealots; in the Chesapeake colonies, they were the indentured English youth whose parents’ death or poverty consigned them to disease-ridden ships bound for the tobacco fields. Notoriously violent and uneducated, they came of age taking big risks—many dying young, others becoming the most renowned merchants, trappers, mercenaries, rebels, and pirates of their century. In midlife, they struggled bravely against threats to their communities from Old World tyrants and New World native tribes. As politically-tainted elders, they seldom protested the vendettas (such as the Salem witchcraft frenzy) that mainly targeted their own peers. (COLONIAL: Increase Mather, William Stoughton, Benjamin Church, Metacomet, William Kidd, Nathaniel Bacon; FOREIGN: King Louis XIV, John Locke)
The Civil War (Fourth Turning, 1860–1865) began with a presidential election that many southerners interpreted as an invitation to secede. The attack on Fort Sumter triggered the most violent conflict ever fought on New World soil. The war reached its climax in the Emancipation Proclamation and Battle of Gettysburg (in 1863). Two years later, the Confederacy was beaten into bloody submission and Lincoln was assassinated—a grim end to a crusade many had hoped would “trample out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.”
- The first Transcendentals entering elderhood
- The first Gilded entering midlife
- The first Progressives entering young adulthood
- The first Missionaries entering childhood
The Compromise Generation (Artist, born 1767–1791) grew up (recalled Henry Clay) “rocked in the cradle of the Revolution” as they watched brave adults struggle and triumph. Compliantly coming of age, they offered a new erudition, expertise, and romantic sensibility to their heroic elders’ “Age of Improvement.” As young adults, they became what historian Matthew Crenson calls “the administrative founding fathers”—and soldiered a “Second War for Independence” whose glory could never compare with the first. In midlife, they mentored populist movements, fretted over slavery and Indian removal, and presided over Great Compromises that reflected their irresolution. As elders, they feared that their “post-heroic” mission had failed and that the United States might not outlive them. (AMERICAN: Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Washington Irving, Dolley Madison, Tecumseh; FOREIGN: Napoleon Bonaparte, Ludwig van Beethoven)
The Consciousness Revolution (Second Turning, 1964–1984) began with urban riots and campus fury and swelled alongside Vietnam war protests and a rebellious “counterculture.” It gave rise to feminist, environmental, and black power movements—and also to a steep rise in violent crime and family breakup. After the fury peaked with Watergate (in 1974), passions turned inward toward New Age lifestyles and spiritual rebirth. The mood expired during Reagan’s upbeat reelection campaign, as onetime hippies reached their yuppie chrysalis.
- G.I.s entering elderhood
- Silent entering midlife
- Boomers entering young adulthood
- Xers entering childhood
The Elizabethan Generation (Hero, born 1541–1565) benefited as children from an explosive growth in academies intended to mold them into “perfect paragons” of civic achievement and teamwork. Coming of age with the great wars against Spain, they soldiered with dazzling valor and courtly show. During their “Gloriana” midlife, they regulated commerce, explored overseas empires, built stately country houses, pursued “new” science, and wrote poetry that celebrated an orderly universe. Historian William Esler explains that “ambitious projects of breath-taking scope and grandeur” distinguished these “overreachers” from the “burned-out generation” before them. In old age, many lived to see their hearty and expansive “Merrie England” repudiated by prickly-conscienced sons and daughters. (ENGLISH: William Shakespeare, Walter Raleigh, Phillip Sidney, Francis Vere, Francis Bacon, Edward Coke; FOREIGN: Cervantes, Galileo Galilei)
The Enlightenment Generation (Artist, born 1674–1700) grew up as protected children when families were close, youth risk discouraged, and good educations and well-connected marriages highly prized. Coming of age, their rising elite eased into a genteel Williamsburg-style town-and-planter prosperity. As young adults, this “inheritor generation” provided the colonies’ first large cadre of credentialed professionals, political managers, and plantation administrators. In midlife, their Walpolean leadership style betrayed a fascination with youth, whose spiritual zeal they both welcomed and feared. Many elders lived to witness (in the Stamp Act furor) a repudiation of the tea-drinking politeness and rococo complexity on which their provincial world rested. (COLONIAL: William Shirley, John Peter Zenger, Alexander Spotswood, Samuel Johnson, William Byrd II, Elisha Cooke, Jr.; FOREIGN: George Frederick Handel, Voltaire)
Era of Good Feelings
The Era of Good Feelings (First Turning, 1794–1822) witnessed what Joel Barlow called The Conquest of Canaan an era of epical social harmony and empire building. Vast new territories were mapped and settled. Canals, steamboats, and turnpikes pushed back the wilderness. Even a blundering war (of 1812) ended up unifying the nation. Civil disorder was rare—as was spiritual curiosity in an era (wrote Emerson) “able to produce not a book…or a thought worth noticing.”
- Liberty entering elderhood
- Republicans entering midlife
- Compromisers entering young adulthood
- Transcendentals entering childhood
French & Indian Wars
French & Indian Wars (Third Turning, 1746–1773) was an era of unprecedented economic and geographic mobility. Swept into a final war against New France in the 1750s, the colonists hardly celebrated Britain’s total victory (in 1760) before renewing thunderous debates over how to salvage civic virtue from growing debt, cynicism, and wildness. With colonial leadership at a low ebb, popular fears soon targeted the alleged corruption of the English Parliament and empire.
- Enlighteners entering elderhood
- Awakeners entering midlife
- Liberty entering young adulthood
- Republicans entering childhood
Generation X (Nomad, born 1961–1981) survived a “hurried” childhood of divorce, latch keys, open classrooms, devil-child movies, and a shift from G to R ratings. They came of age hearing themselves denounced as so wild and stupid as to put The Nation At Risk. As young adults, maneuvering through a sexual battlescape of AIDS and blighted courtship rituals—they have dated and married cautiously. In jobs, they embraced risk and preferred free agency overloyal corporatism. From grunge to hip-hop, their splintered culture revealed a hardened edge. Politically, they have leaned toward pragmatism and nonaffiliation, and would rather volunteer than vote. Today, entering midlife battered by economic hardship, they ascend into political and corporate leadership roles feeling less like hailed winners than like resilient survivors, seeking out safe harbors for the sake of themselves and their families. (AMERICAN: Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Tom Cruise, Quentin Tarantino, Jeff Bezos, Michael Jordan; FOREIGN: Princess Di, David Cameron)
The G.I. Generation (Hero, born 1901–1924) developed a “good kid” reputation as the beneficiaries of new playgrounds, scouting clubs, vitamins, and child-labor restrictions. They came of age with the sharpest rise in schooling ever recorded. As young adults, their uniformed corps patiently endured depression and heroically conquered foreign enemies. In a midlife subsidized by the G.I. Bill, they built gleaming suburbs, invented miracle vaccines, plugged “missile gaps,” and launched moon rockets. Their unprecedented grip on the Presidency began with a New Frontier, a Great Society, and Model Cities, but wore down through Vietnam, Watergate, deficits, and problems with “the vision thing.” As “senior citizens,” they moved into busy Sun City communities safeguarded their own “entitlements,” but have had little influence over culture and values. (AMERICAN: John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney, Judy Garland, John Wayne, Walter Cronkite; FOREIGN: Willy Brandt, Leonid Brezhnev)
The Gilded Generation (Nomad, born 1822–1842) lived a hardscrabble childhood around parents distracted by spiritual upheavals. They came of age amid rising national tempers, torrential immigration, commercialism, Know Nothing politics, and declining college enrollments. As young adults, many pursued fortunes in frontier boom towns or as fledgling “robber barons.” Their Lincoln Shouters and Johnny Rebs rode eagerly into a Civil War that left them decimated, Confederates especially. Having learned to detest moral zealotry, their midlife Presidents and industrialists put their stock in Darwinian economics, Boss Tweed politics, Victorian prudery, and Carnegie’s “Law of Competition.” As elders, they landed on the “industrial scrap heap” of an urbanizing economy that was harsh to most old people. (AMERICAN: Ulysses Grant, Mark Twain, John D. Rockefeller, Louisa May Alcott, William James, Sitting Bull; FOREIGN: Lewis Carroll, Maximilian)
Global Financial Crisis
The Global Financial Crisis (Fourth Turning, 2008-2029?) was recently catalyzed by the 2008 global financial meltdown—leading to the most severe global economic downturn since the Great Depression—and by the historic Presidential election of that same year. With public trust continuing to ebb, the regeneracy phase of this crisis (in which civic purpose begins strengthen) still seems years away, and the crisis climax is well over a decade distant. Most likely, this Fourth Turning will come to an end in the late 2020s, just as the rising Homeland Generation is beginning to embark on careers.
- Boomers entering elderhood
- Gen-Xers entering midlife
- Millennials entering young adulthood
- Homelanders entering childhood
The Glorious Generation (Hero, born 1648–1673) entered a protected childhood of tax-supported schools and new laws discouraging the “kidnapping” of young servants. After proving their valor in the Indian Wars and triumphing in the Glorious Revolution, they were rewarded with electoral office at a young age. As young adults, they took pride in the growing political, commercial, and scientific achievements of England—and viewed the passion and poverty of their parents as embarrassments to be overcome. In midlife, they designed insurance, paper money, and public works—and (in the South) founded a stable slave-owning oligarchy. As worldly elders, they received the colonies’ first war-service pensions and land grants—while taking offense at the spiritual zeal of youth. (COLONIAL: Cotton Mather, John Wise, William Randolph, Robert “King” Carter, Hannah Dustin, Peter Schuyler: FOREIGN: William of Orange, Czar Peter the Great)
The colonial Glorious Revolution (Fourth Turning, 1675–1704) began with civil upheavals and catastrophic Indian wars—soon followed by Parliamentary efforts to reassert direct royal control over the colonies. The ensuing resistance culminated in 1689 with colonial rebellions that were triggered by news of the Glorious Revolution in England on behalf of William of Orange. A further decade of war against Canadian New France ended with Britain’s global triumph, vigorous institutions of colonial self-rule, and a new era of peace with local native tribes.
- Puritans entering elderhood
- Cavaliers entering midlife
- Glorious entering young adulthood
- Enlighteners entering childhood
The Great Awakening (Second Turning, 1727–1746) began as a spiritual revival in the Connecticut Valley and reached an hysterical peak in the northern colonies (in 1741) with the preachings of George Whitefield and the tracts of Jonathan Edwards. The enthusiasm split towns and colonial assemblies, shattered the “old light” establishment, and pitted young believers in “faith” against elder defenders of “works.” After bursting polite conventions and lingering Old World social barriers, the enthusiasm receded during King George’s War.
- Glorious entering elderhood
- Enlighteners entering midlife
- Awakeners entering young adulthood
- Liberty entering childhood
Great Depression & WW II
The Great Depression & World War II (Fourth Turning, 1929–1946) began suddenly with the Black Tuesday stock-market crash. After a three-year economic free fall, the Great Depression triggered the New Deal revolution, a vast expansion of government, and hopes for a renewal of national community. After Pearl Harbor, America planned, mobilized, and produced for war on a scale that made possible the massive D-Day invasion (in 1944). Two years later, the crisis mood eased with America’s surprisingly trouble-free demobilization.
- Missionaries entering elderhood
- Lost entering midlife
- G.I.s entering young adulthood
- Silent entering childhood
The Homeland Generation (Artist, born 2005- ?) comprise the oldest Americans who will never recall any year of prosperity before the catastrophic global financial meltdown of 2008—nor any national leader before the election of America’s first African-American President. As post-9/11 infants growing up in the shadow of the America’s Asian wars and the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security, they mostly believe that the purpose of government is to “keep us safe.” Carefully raised by hands-on Gen-X parents, who don’t dare let their own kids take the same risks they themselves took, Homelanders literally spend more time “at home” (with their multiple digital platforms) than any earlier child generation in history. Elementary schools are introducing new behavioral regimens to forge these kids into sensitive, helpful, rule-playing youngsters.
The Humanist Generation (Artist, born 1461–1482) passed a sheltered childhood during a bloody civil war, many of the elite attending safer schools abroad. Coming of age, they understood their mission was to embellish the new order. As young adults, they became the “new humanists”—Greek tutors, international scholars, ballad-writing poets, law-trained prelates, and literate merchants and yeomen. Hit during midlife by the Reformation, they adjusted awkwardly. Some wrapped themselves in Wolseyan opulence and refused to pay attention. Others waffled. A few (like the famed “Man for All Seasons”) exquisitely satirized the reigning hypocrisy, stood firm for the old order, and paid the ultimate price. In old age, they were startled by a ruthless new radicalism that overwhelmed their own gracious refinements. (ENGLISH: Thomas More, Thomas Linacre, John Colet, Cardinal Wolsey, Stephen Gardiner; FOREIGN: Michelangelo, Copernicus)
Intolerance and Martyrdom
Intolerance and Martyrdom (Third Turning, 1542–1569) was an era of social fragmentation, civil rebellion, and deadly political intrigue. Through the reigns of Edward VI and Queen Mary, the throne tacked violently over the issue of religion. The economy careened in a boom-bust cycle, with royal debasements fueling unprecedented inflation. When the era closed, early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, a disillusioned nation looked anxiously at the future.
- Humanists entering elderhood
- Reformation entering midlife
- Reprisal entering young adulthood
- Elizabethans entering childhood
The Liberty Generation (Nomad, born 1724–1741) struggled for parental comfort in an era of Hogarthian child neglect. Coming of age with an economic bust, land pressure, and rising immigration, they cut a swath of crime and disorder. As young adults, they joined the rough-hewn Green Mountain, Paxton, and Liberty Boys—and became the unthanked footsoldiers and daring privateers of the French and Indian War. Proclaiming “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” they entered midlife supplying the bravest patriots (including most signers of the Declaration of Independence) as well as the worst traitors of the Revolution. As elders, they led with caution, suspicious of grand causes, while their “Anti-Federalists” restrained the nationalizing energy of younger people. (AMERICAN: George Washington, John Adams, Francis Marion, Daniel Boone, Ethan Allen, Patrick Henry; FOREIGN: King George III, Czarina Catherine the Great)
Long Boom & Culture Wars
The Long Boom & Culture Wars (Third Turning, 1984–2008) opened with triumphant “Morning in America” individualism; drifted toward celebrity scandal and a stock market boom; experienced a brief moment of “war on terror” unity; and then ended with yet another equity bubble. People felt optimistic about their personal lives, but pessimistic about the country. They worried about rising violence and incivility, widening inequality, and the splitting of the national consensus into competing “values” camps.
- Silent entering elderhood
- Boomers entering midlife
- Xers entering young adulthood
- Millennials entering childhood
The Lost Generation (Nomad, born 1883–1900) grew up amidst urban blight, unregulated drug use, child “sweat shops,” and massive immigration. Their independent, streetwise attitude lent them a “bad kid” reputation. After coming of age as “flaming youth,” doughboys, and flappers, they were alienated by a war whose homecoming turned sour. Their young-adult novelists, barnstormers, gangsters, sports stars, and film celebrities gave the roar to the ‘20s. The Great Depression hit them in midlife, at the peak of their careers. The “buck stopped” with their pugnacious battlefield and homefront managers of a hot war—and their frugal and straight-talking leaders of a new “cold” one. As elders, they paid high tax rates to support their world-conquering juniors, while asking little for themselves. (AMERICAN: Harry Truman, Irving Berlin, George Patton, Mae West, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong; FOREIGN: Adolph Hitler, Mao Zedong)
Merrie England (First Turning, 1594–1621) was an age of optimism and prosperity, full of dreams of empire yet tempered by a wariness of enemies abroad. For the arts, this was the true English Renaissance and for literature, the glorious “Age of Shakespeare.” After succeeding Elizabeth in 1601, James I encouraged learning, exploration, and trade. His elaborately polite relations with the Commons began to wear thin late in the second decade of his reign.
- Reprisal entering elderhood
- Elizabethans entering midlife
- Parliamentarians entering young adulthood
- Puritans entering childhood
Mexican War & Sectionalism
The Mexican War & Sectionalism (Third Turning, 1844–1860) was an era of “almighty dollar” commercialism, western “gold fever,” Whitmanesque self-worship, and nativist slogans against Mexicans and Irish. Beneath trimming national leaders, rising tempers launched competing moral crusades. By the late 1850s—from Kansas to Harper’s Ferry, Dred Scott to the Underground Railroad—visions of the nation’s future were separating into two irreconcilable regional loyalties.
- Compromisers entering elderhood
- Transcendentals entering midlife
- Gilded entering young adulthood
- Progressives entering childhood
The Millennial Generation (Hero, born 1982–2004) first arrived amid “Babies on Board” signs, when abortion and divorce rates ebbed, the popular culture recast babies as special, and hands-off parental styles were replaced by Lamaze and attachment-parenting obsessiveness. Child abuse and child safety became hot topics, while books teaching virtues, values, and team-playing citizenship became best-sellers. As Millennials began reaching their teens in the late 1990s, youth volunteering and community service surged—while teen rates of drinking, smoking, and violent crime declined steeply. As they began entering the workforce in the early 2000s, cutting-edge employers implemented safety, feedback, mentorship, and career advancement programs in order to retain their best and brightest. Today, even as they live with or near their parents, first-wave Millennials maintain high hopes for their future in the face of record-high youth unemployment. (AMERICAN: Mark Zuckerberg, LeBron James, Miranda Cosgrove, Michelle Wie, Miley Cyrus, Christopher Paolini; FOREIGN: Prince William, Justin Bieber)
The Missionary Generation (Prophet, born 1860–1882) became the indulged home-and-hearth children of the post-Civil War era. They came of age as labor anarchists, campus rioters—and ambitious first graduates of black and women’s colleges. Their young adults pursued rural populism, settlement house work, missionary crusades, “muckrake” journalism, and women’s suffrage. In midlife, their Decency brigades and “fundamentalists” imposed Prohibition, cracked down on immigration, and organized Vice Squads. In the 1930s and ‘40s, their elder elite became the “Wise Old Men” who enacted a “New Deal” (and Social Security) for the benefit of youth, led the global war against fascism, and reaffirmed America’s highest ideals during a transformative era in world history. (AMERICAN: (Franklin Roosevelt, W.E.B. DuBois, William Jennings Bryan, Upton Sinclair, Jane Addams, Douglas MacArthur; FOREIGN: Winston Churchill, V.I. Lenin)
The Parliamentary Generation (Artist, born 1566–1587) passed through childhood in an era of foreign threats and war. Coming of age with the dawn of imperial peace and prosperity, they built impeccable credentials in law, scholarship, religion, and arts and crafts guilds. In country houses, they swelled the influence of the newly literate gentry. At Court, they became apologists for the byzantine policies of James I. In Parliament, they promoted politeness and insisted on precedent, due process, and full disclosure. In midlife, their incrementalist ethos was shaken by younger calls for radical reform. Their Arminians argued yet resisted; their Parliamentarians applauded yet hedged. Eloquently indecisive in speech and sermon, they watched England veer toward a spiral of hysteria and violence they felt powerless to stop. (ENGLISH: King James I, John Donne, William Laud, Inigo Jones, George Villiers, John Selden; FOREIGN: Claudio Monteverdi, Peter Paul Rubens)
Phases of Life
Where a season’s length is determined by the time from solstice to equinox, the length of each lifecycle phase is determined by the span of time between birth and the coming of age into young adulthood. In American society, the ritual acknowledgment today occurs at 21, the age of college graduation and initial career launch. Afterwards, a person is deemed to be an autonomous adult. The length of life’s first phase fixes the length of the other life phases as well. Once one batch of children has fully come of age, it and it alone comprises the society’s young adults, casting its next-elders into a midlife social role. This now happens when the latter reach age 42, the minimum age U.S. history (though not the Constitution) has declared acceptable for a President. And, in turn, the group entering midlife pushes another into an elder role, now starting around age 63, today’s median age for receiving one’s first old-age benefit check from government.
Since the share of people able to survive the elderhood phase of life has grown enormously over the last fifty years, it may make sense to define a new phase of life: late elderhood (age 84 on up). The social role of late elders is pure dependence, the receiving of comfort from others.
The phases, and social roles, of the modern American lifecycle can be summarized as follows:
- Childhood (pueritia, age 0–20). Social role: growth (receiving nurture, acquiring values).
- Young Adulthood (iuventus, age 21–41). Social role: vitality (serving institutions, testing values).
- Midlife (virilitas, age 42–62). Social role: power (managing institutions, applying values).
- Elderhood (senectus, age 63–83). Social role: leadership (leading institutions, transferring values).
- Late Elderhood (age 84+). Social role: dependence (receiving comfort from institutions, remembering values).
The first four (childhood through elderhood) comprise the quaternity of the human lifecycle. The length of these four—roughly 84 years—matches the span of the American saeculum dating back to the Revolution.
The Progressive Generation (Artist, born 1843–1859) spent childhood shell-shocked by sectionalism and war. Overawed by older “bloody-shirt” veterans, they came of age cautiously, pursuing refinement and expertise more than power. In the shadow of Reconstruction, they earned their reputation as well-behaved Ph.D.’s and lawyers, calibrators and specialists, civil servants and administrators. In midlife, their mild commitment to social melioration was whipsawed by the passions of youth. They matured into America’s genteel yet juvenating Rough Riders in the era of Freud’s “talking cure” and late-Victorian sentimentality. After busting trusts and achieving “Progressive” procedural reforms, their elders continued to urge tolerance upon less conciliatory juniors. (AMERICAN: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Henry James, Booker T. Washington, Katherine Lee Bates, Clarence Darrow; FOREIGN: Oscar Wilde, Sigmund Freud)
The Protestant Reformation (Second Turning, 1517–1542) began in Germany with Martin Luther’s famous protest and spread swiftly to England. The enthusiasm peaked (in the mid-1530s) with King Henry VIII’s break with the Papacy, William Tyndale’s Bible, popular reform movements, and Parliament’s confiscation of vast Church estates. It ended when reformers tired or (like Thomas Cromwell) were executed, and when foreign wars with Scotland and France diverted the popular imagination.
- Arthurians entering elderhood
- Humanists entering midlife
- Reformation entering young adulthood
- Reprisal entering childhood
The Puritan Awakening (Second Turning, 1621–1649) began with Parliament’s “Great Protestation.” Upon the accession of James’ son, the reformist urge turned radical and gained popular momentum. Seeking religious exile, John Winthrop led a “saving remnant” of true believers to America. In England, this Puritan Enthusiasm led to the Long Parliament (in 1640), civil war, and the execution of Charles I (in 1649). In the new wilderness colonies, the experimental fervor receded, leaving isolated settlements seeking an enforceable moral orthodoxy.
- Elizabethans entering elderhood
- Parliamentarians entering midlife
- Puritans entering young adulthood
- Cavaliers entering childhood
The Puritan Generation (Prophet, born 1588–1617) basked as children in the post-Armada peace. Overcome by spiritual “conversions,” many came of age zealously denouncing the spiritual emptiness of their elders’ Jacobean achievements. While some later led England through a civil war that culminated in the beheading of King Charles I, others were called by God to lead a Great Migration to America. These young-adult “Puritans” established church-centered towns from Long Island to Maine. In midlife, fearing the corrupting influence of the Old World on their own unconverted children, they turned from the “law of love” to the love of law. Their moral authority remained unchallenged through old age, as they provided the elder die-hards of the great Indian Wars and the Glorious Revolution. (COLONIAL: Anne Hutchinson, John Winthrop, Simon Bradstreet, Roger Williams, John Harvard, William Berkeley; FOREIGN: Oliver Cromwell, René Descartes)
Reaction & Restoration
Reaction and Restoration (Third Turning, 1649–1675) was an era of drift and fierce controversy over the ideals of the original New World immigrants. Disoriented by fast-shifting events (Cromwell’s Protectorate in the 1650s, the Stuart Restoration in 1660, a war with Holland in which “New York” was captured in 1664), each colony fended for itself and cut its own deal with England. The era ended with the authority of colonial self-government ebbing—and worries about the future rising.
- Parliamentarians entering elderhood
- Puritans entering midlife
- Cavaliers entering young adulthood
- Glorious entering childhood
Reconstruction & Gilded Age
Reconstruction & Gilded Age (First Turning, 1865–1886) saw old crusaders pushed aside while, notes Van Wyck Brooks, war veterans who “might have been writers in the days of The Dial were seeking their fortunes in railroads, mines, and oil wells.” Savings rates climbed, mass production roared, mechanical and political “machines” hummed, real wages surged, and “middle-class” families prospered in an age of pragmatism that vaunted “truth’s cash value.”
- Transcendentals entering elderhood
- Gilded entering midlife
- Progressives entering young adulthood
- Missionaries entering childhood
The Reformation Generation (Prophet, born 1483–1511) began life surrounded by the advantages of order and affluence. They rebelled as youth, prompting first the colleges (in the 1520s) and then an egocentric young king and his Parliament (in the 1530s) to join in a religious upheaval. By the time passions cooled, the Catholic Church was liquidated, the clergy shattered, the masses armed with Bibles, and the Anglican faith unshackled from Rome. In midlife, their insolence hardened into severe principle. With women figuring prominently, they became “commonwealth” moralists, “family of love” mystics, “Calvinist” (or “Romist”) proselytizers, and unrepentant martyrs burned or hanged for their heresies. Deep in elderhood, many lived to see the nation gravitate to the “Puritan Settlement” they had worked so long to inspire. (ENGLISH: King Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, John Knox, Elizabeth Barton, William Tyndale, Nicholas Ridley; FOREIGN: Martin Luther, John Calvin)
The Reprisal Generation (Nomad, born 1512–1540) spent childhood amid religious frenzy and a widespread erosion of social authority—and came of age in a cynical, post-Awakening era of cut-throat politics and roller-coaster markets. They built a gritty young-adult reputation as swaggering merchants, mercenaries, spies, and “sea-dog” privateers who pulled off stunning “reprisals” through luck and pluck. Entering midlife just as their Queen (a shrewd orphan herself) squared off with Imperial Spain, these daredevil adventurers knew how to “singe King Philip’s beard” while stealing his gold. Making simple appeals to national honor, they aged into worldly-wise elder stewards of English solidarity whose sacrifices made possible a glorious new era. (ENGLISH: Queen Elizabeth I, Francis Drake, John Hawkins, Thomas Gresham, William Cecil Burghley, Francis Walshingham; FOREIGN: Catherine de Medici, Michel de Montaigne)
The Republican Generation (Hero, born 1742–1766) grew up as the precious object of adult protection during an era of rising crime and social disorder. They came of age highly regarded for their secular optimism and spirit of cooperation. As young adults, they achieved glory as soldiers, brilliance as scientists, order as civic planners, and epic success as statecrafters. Trusted by elders and aware of their own historic role, they burst into politics at a young age. They dominated the campaign to ratify the Constitution and filled all the early national cabinet posts. In midlife, they built canals and acquired territories, while their orderly Federalist and rational Republican leaders made America a “workshop of liberty.” As elders, they chafed at passionate youths bent on repudiating much of what they had built. (AMERICAN: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Paul Jones, Abigail Adams, Kunta Kinte, Robert Fulton; FOREIGN: Maximilien Robespierre, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
Retreat from France
Retreat from France (Third Turning, 1435–1459) was an era of dynastic decline and civil disorder. In 1435, not long after Joan of Arc’s execution, the English withdrew from Paris for the last time. In the 1440s, they were pushed out of France on all fronts. Thus ended the Hundred Years War. Meanwhile, the weak rule of young Henry VI eroded central authority in England. By the 1450s, noble houses flouted the law, vied for power, and engaged in private wars with impunity.
- Arthurians entering childhood
The Silent Generation (Artist, born 1925–1942) grew up as the suffocated children of war and depression. They came of age just too late to be war heroes and just too early to be youthful free spirits. Instead, this early-marrying Lonely Crowd became the risk-averse technicians and professionals of a post-crisis era in which conformity seemed to be a sure ticket to success. Many found a voice as sensitive rock ‘n rollers and civil-rights advocates. Midlife was an anxious “passage” for a generation torn between stolid elders and passionate juniors. Their surge to power coincided with fragmenting families, cultural diversity, institutional indecision, and prolific litigation. As America’s newest and most affluent-ever seniors (no longer “senior citizens”), they wonder why just “following the rules” no longer works for their children and grandchildren. (AMERICAN: Colin Powell, Walter Mondale, Woody Allen, Martin Luther King, Jr., ElizabethTaylor, Elvis Presley; FOREIGN: Anne Frank, Mikhail Gorbachev)
Third Great Awakening
The Third Great Awakening (Second Turning, 1886–1908), began with the Haymarket Riot and the student missionary movement, rose with agrarian protest and labor violence, and climaxed in Bryan’s revivalist candidacy (in 1896). Gilded Age realism came under harsh attack from trust-blasting muckrakers, Billy Sunday evangelicals, “new woman” feminists, and chautauqua dreamers. After radicalizing and splitting the Progressive movement, the passion cooled when William Howard Taft succeeded Teddy Roosevelt in the White House.
- Gilded entering elderhood
- Progressives entering midlife
- Missionaries entering young adulthood
- Lost entering childhood
The Transcendental Awakening (Second Turning, 1822-1844) began with Charles Finney’s evangelicalism and Denmark Vesey’s slave revolt. Soon merging with Jacksonian populism, it peaked (in 1831) with Nat Turner’s Rebellion, the founding of shrill abolitionist societies, and the rise of splinter political parties. After spawning a floodtide of “romantic idealism”—including feminism, new prophetic religions, food fads, and utopian communes—the mood gentrified in the early 1840s into a credo of self-help, moral uplift, and manifest destiny.
- Republicans entering elderhood
- Compromisers entering midlife
- Transcendentals entering young adulthood
- Gilded entering childhood
The Transcendental Generation (Prophet, born 1792–1821), the proud offspring of a secure new nation, were the first American children to be portraited (and named at birth) as individuals. Coming of age as evangelists, reformers, and campus rioters, they triggered a spiritual paroxysm across the nation. As crusading young adults, their divergent inner visions exacerbated sectional divisions. Entering midlife, graying abolitionists and Southrons spurned compromise and led the nation into the Civil War, their zeal fired by the moral pronouncements of an aging clergy. The victors achieved emancipation but were blocked from imposing as punishing a peace as the old radicals wished. In elderhood, their feminists and poets (many with flowing beards) became unyielding expositors of truth and justice. (AMERICAN: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Susan B. Anthony, Nat Turner, William Lloyd Garrison; FOREIGN: Queen Victoria, Karl Marx)
The Tudor Renaissance (First Turning, 1487–1517) was an era of political and social consolidation. To popular acclaim, King Henry VII crushed challenges to his new dynasty and strengthened royal writs and commissions. On this foundation of central authority, births rose, commerce thrived, and construction boomed. The new sumptuous worldliness was best reflected in the palaces of Cardinal Wolsely. The era closed in a mood of cultural sterility.
- Arthurians entering midlife
- Humanists entering young adulthood
- Reformation entering childhood
War of the Roses
The War of the Roses (Fourth Turning, 1459–1487) began with an irrevocable break between the ruling Houses of Lancaster and York. After a bloody civil war, Yorkist kings (Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III) mostly prevailed in reigns that were punctuated with invasions and rebellions. At Bosworth Field (in 1485), Henry Tudor defeated Richard III and crowned himself Henry VII, founder of a new royal dynasty. Two years later he defeated a pretender at the Battle of Stoke, which won him the enduring confidence of his subjects.
- Arthurians entering young adulthood
- Humanists entering childhood
WW I & Prohibition
World War I & Prohibition (Third Turning, 1908–1929) was an era of rapid technological change, egocentric celebrities, widening class divisions, crumbling trusts and unions, and expert—but weak—political leadership. Following World War I, the public immersed itself in moral crusades (League of Nations, Prohibition, Women Suffrage). By the ‘20s, a fun-filled financial boom was framed by pessimistic debates over drugs, sex, money, cynicism, violence, immigration, and the family.
- Progressives entering elderhood
- Missionaries entering midlife
- Lost entering young adulthood
- G.I.s entering childhood