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Coastal Scholars Showcase 2021: Gen Z Gives Way to the Pandemic Generation


Poster Details

Presenter: Dr. Claire Hughes 

Title: Associate Professor of English

Department: Education & Teacher Preparation



Every generation begins with a bang. There is a defining moment that marks the end of one period of time and the beginning of another. It’s marked by a “Where were you when….?”, and we realize there was a Before and there was an After. There a moment of significant joy or significant grief. There is nostalgia. And there is difference. We might recognize it at the time, or we might recognize it later, but there is a moment where we can see- It All Changed.

WWII ended the “Silent Generation” and ushered in a huge group of positive thinking and new families. The assassination of JFK marked the end of innocence and the end of the Baby Boomers. The election of Reagan started the free market model, ushered in nationalism, and ended Generation X, while the grief of 9/11 ended the Millennials. And now the Coronavirus ends Generation Z. 

Most generational theorists like Howe and Strauss and the Pew Research Group mark generations in 20 or 25 year increments because of significant changes in economic, political and social factors. Absolute dates are fuzzy because generational norms follow a bell curve where the cultural differences between generations are less clear at the tail ends of the curve and are very clear by the middle of the generation. A Millennial born in 1999 has a lot more in common with an early Generation Z born in 2002 than they might have in common with a Millennial born in 1985. However, the Millennials all have one thing in common- they can tell you where they were when the Towers fell, even if they were babies or they were graduating high school. They were born after Reagan but before 9/11. 

Generation Z was born after 9/11.  They do not remember life without airport security or smart phones. Franks Sinatra has always been dead.  The US has been fighting a war in Iraq and Afghanistan their whole lives.  They had no significant events in their lives that shaped a generation.  Until now.  Now they have a Before- they were born after 9/11, but before Covid 19.

Those born after this will not know the world we had in March 2020. They will be a new generation.


Dr. Claire Hughes