November 21, 2018

AMERICA: Meet the ‘Plurals’

A guest blog on The Wide Angle by two of the nation’s leading experts on Millennials and generational change, Morley Winograd and Mike Hais. Their new book, Healing American Democracy, Going Local came out today.–David

By Morley Winograd and Michael Hais*

The ability of Parkland, Florida students to change their state’s gun laws in just three weeks after the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneham Douglas, something no other group had been able to accomplish in the last twenty years, surprised a lot of people. But, for those who have been reading our books about Millennials and how they fit into a larger cycle of generational archetypes, it shouldn’t have.

Generational attitudes and beliefs are shaped by the nature of events young people experience as they grow up and the way they are raised by their parents.  Although the exact year demarcating the line between this new generation and its predecessor will have to await the perspective that history offers, everyone agrees the new generation’s memory of its upbringing, unlike older generations, consists entirely of events that occurred in this century.

We call this latest generation “Pluralist” and its members “Plurals**” because their multi-ethnic, racial diversity is their most defining characteristic. Demographer William Frey estimates that whites make up only 51.5% of the Pluralist generation and by 2025 heestimates non-whites will comprise a majority of Plurals.  As a result, how to get along with a wide range of people and ideas through compromise and dialogue is a skill as native to this generation’s DNA as confrontation and protest was to Boomers.

Plurals’ parents imparted a determination to their offspring to succeed in the face of difficulty that we are now witnessing in the generation’s debut upon the national political scene.  Instead of building up their children’s self-esteem as Millennials helicopter parents did, the parents of Plurals are trying to teach their kids “grit,” a personal characteristic celebrated in today’s mommy blogs as the key to their offspring’s success.

Within an eighty-year generational cycle, so-called “adaptive” generations like the Silent (born 1925-1945) and Pluralist generations, smooth out the rough edges produced by the previous generation and help the country stay true to its values. As a result, even though there is little definitive survey research data on Plurals at this point given their young age, American history offers some clues on how their generation will contribute to America in the future.

After the GI generation came back from its victory in World War II, the Silent Generation that followed helped the country face up to the challenges it preferred to avoid.  Elvis Presley’s Rock n’ Roll became the background beat to sweeping changes in American society demanded by other Silents, such as Gloria Steinem and Martin Luther King. We are witnessing this generational dynamic play out once again as the #neveragain movement, led by Plurals, demands the nation solve long standing problems older generations have sought to avoid.

We can predict with certainty that those who led the march on our nation’s capital are on the leading edge of a generational shift that will reverberate in the years to come. Based on what they have learned from their parents and their life experiences, Plurals will be determined advocates for an inclusive, tolerant America, open to a multiplicity of ethnicities as well as beliefs and behaviors far more varied than our democracy has previously ever had to accommodate.  As Plurals show Americans how to get along and create a more perfect union, they will once again demonstrate the wisdom of the maxim that “every   

*Morley Winograd and Michael Hais are co-authors of “Millennial Makeover, Millennial Momentum and Millennial Majority” and the just released “Healing American Democracy: Going Local.”

**Jack MacKenzie, Executive Vice-President of PSB Research, was the first person to suggest the next generation be named Plurals and provided valuable input to this blog.