Psychologists from Sigmund Freud forward have generally agreed: our core attitudes about life are largely locked in by age five or so. Changing those attitudes requires intense effort.
Neil Howe and William Strauss took this obvious truth and drew an obvious conclusion: if our attitudes form in early childhood, then the point in history at which we live our childhood must play a large part in shaping our attitudes.
It’s not only early childhood, however, that forms us. Howe and Strauss think we go through a second formative period in early adulthood. The challenges we face as we become independent adults determine our approach to life.
These insights mean we can divide the population into generational cohorts, each spanning roughly 20 years. Each generation consists of people who were born and came of age at the same point in history.