Introducing the Homeland Generation (Part 1 of 2)

October 27, 2014 | By Neil Howe

This editorial originally appeared in Forbes.

A White House report about Millennials recently drew attention to the “Homeland Generation” label used by the report for the generation following them. For many readers, this was the first time they had seen that term, which LifeCourse Associates started using in the mid-2000s. Born since 2005, these children will be filling nurseries and K-12 schools for the next fifteen years. Below is the first half of a two-part FAQ explaining the origin of the term and discussing what we know about this generation so far.

Why Homeland Generation?

This name was actually chosen by readers of our books. We conducted an online contest in 2006 to name the generation coming after the Millennials. Several different names were suggested and voted on. Homeland Generation became the ultimate winner, apparently because the decade of the 2000s was marked by 9/11, the War on Terror, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and a sense that the “homeland” was no longer safe. Readers also sensed a worldwide cultural movement towards nationalism, localism, and an increased identification with one’s roots.  The word also fits since this generation of children is literally kept more at “home” than any earlier generation of kids, thanks to the protective, hands-on child-raising style of Gen-X parents.

Why was 2005 chosen as this generation’s first birth year?

The 2005 date remains tentative. You can’t be sure where history will someday draw a cohort dividing line until a generation fully comes of age.  But for now, 2005 is my best guess. History teaches that new generations first appear about one full phase of life, or about 18 to 24 years, after the first appearance of the last generation. Generational boundaries are also typically drawn 2 to 4 years before abrupt changes in the national mood. Millennials first appeared in 1982. That points to 2000 to 2006 as the opening window for the next generation. The reason I chose 2005 exactly—and again, this remains tentative—is that kids born in that year and after will recall nothing before Barack Obama’s presidency, the financial meltdown of 2008, and the seemingly endless Great Recession that followed.

What do we know about them so far?

They’ll be the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in history. Today’s early wave of Homelanders largely consists of the children of Gen Xers, who are the largest immigrant generation per-capita born in the 20th century—giving rise to “Plurals,” another proposed name for this generation. As recession babies, Homelanders are thus far also the product of declining birth and fertility rates. A greater proportion of them are also being born to older parents. And overall, these children are healthier: The premature birth rate has been declining since 2006, in part because more moms are receiving prenatal care and fewer are smoking.

A smiling baby lying in a soft cot (furniture).

A smiling baby lying in a soft cot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What are some examples of trends shaping this generation?

  • Extremely protective parenting. The push for greater sheltering of young children began with Millennials. In 1982, we started to see “Baby on Board” signs on cars, and Boomers (the original “helicopter parents”) became deeply involved with school activities. But when Generation X started having children in the early- to mid-1990s, they brought protectionism to a whole new level. Sears’ The Baby Book, the so-called Bible of attachment-parenting, became a huge bestseller. Now Gen-X moms are blogging about shielding children from physical dangers that never used to be an issue—whether it’s keeping baby bottles and toys free of substances like BPA, ensuring that they never go outside unaccompanied, or using state-of-the-art strollers with cushioning at every possible angle and backwards-facing infant car seats.
  • A turn towards the traditional. We’re seeing a shift back towards more traditional bedtimes and scheduled mealtimes and playtimes. One 2011 study found, for example, that about half of moms under 50 say they most aspire to a “traditional” parenting style. Unlike Boomers, who grew up with June Cleaver-like moms in the 1950s and ‘60s, Xer children never had much contact with this ethic. They’re now the parents increasingly staying home with their kids and gravitating towards activities like home-schooling, breastfeeding, and attachment parenting. In some ways, the “traditional” image of family life makes things simpler for parents because there is more order and structure, which Xers didn’t have much of growing up. Also, because Xers so strongly distrust institutions, they prefer to set their own rules and boundaries.
  • A new push for academic achievement. Xer parents are increasingly sending their kids to preschool at ever-earlier ages. According to The State of Preschool, the share of 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool nearly doubled between 2003 and 2013. And despite this doubling of free preschool care, private preschool enrollment has also skyrocketed. Parents with means are willing to shell out major bucks to send their kids to the best preschools. A number of states have also recently instituted universal preschool programs for all children.
  • A renewed focus on social development. More Homelanders are being taught social-emotional learning, or SEL, in schools—buoyed by Xers’ desire for their kids to be raised very differently than they themselves were. One major focus of these programs is self-control. The preschool curriculum “Tools of the Mind” (TM), for example, emphasizes the importance of developing children’s “executive function,” which involves teaching them at a very early age about “self-regulation”—another word for “impulse control.” Kids play games that require them to inhibit their impulses (like variants of Simon Says) and are discouraged from going “on automatic.” SEL also aims to help develop kids’ social awareness and empathy. It teaches kids about always being in touch with the feelings of their peers, for example, by showing them how to assume different roles and control their own behavior during play. TM preaches that each exercise and play period should be based around “scaffolding” that is explicitly designed to take the child to the next level.

In part two, I focus on how the Homeland Generation is being raised and discuss how they may mature into adulthood.