Working Generations: Breaking Down Candidates Based On Their Age

Working Generations: Breaking Down Candidates Based On Their Age

Emily Smykal

Candidates of all ages can be found in most workplaces. From entry level recent grads to Baby Boomers and some septuagenarians still clocking in every morning, the U.S. labor force spans multiple generations. And the dynamics within and between different generations are important for recruiters, as younger candidates constantly rise up to fill the shoes of older workers.

Over the last year we’ve seen some significant shifts among working generations, as Millennials became both the largest living generation, and the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. This cohort has added over 53 million workers to the labor force, compared to 52 million from Generation X and 44 million Baby Boomers. Plus, the Millennial generation isn’t even done growing, and hot on their heels are the soon-to-be adults of Generation Z. Here’s a breakdown of all the working-age generations in the U.S.

The Silent Generation: ages 71 to 88 in 2016

Born between 1928 and 1945, there are still some members of the Silent Generation in the labor force. While most have retired, as of last year the Pew Research Center estimated 3.7 million adults in this generation were still working. That adds up to 2% of the U.S. workforce.

Some of these workers simply don’t want to give up the careers they’ve built, even if they can afford to. Known for their hard work and traditionalism, it may not surprise recruiters to find the occasional 70-something or 80-something candidate. But many of these workers have no choice, left with too little savings to stop working. Recruiters who do deal with members of this generation should take their motivations for working into account.

The Baby Boomers: ages 52 to 70 in 2016

Until 2011, Baby Boomers were the largest contingent in the U.S. workforce. Born between 1946 and 1964, this generation has enjoyed decades of power in the workplace. But now the oldest Baby Boomers are starting to retire, often leaving large shoes for recruiters to fill.

After coming of age during the post-war boom in U.S. economic growth, this generation became the wealthiest in America thanks to rising incomes and stock market returns. But that doesn’t mean all the Boomers retired early. As of last year there were still 44.6 million of them in the workforce, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 8.4 million U.S. workers are ages 65 and up.

Generation X: ages 36 to 50 in 2016

Previously derided as cynical slackers, Generation X grew to earn greater incomes than their parents did at the same age. Born between 1965 and 1980, this generation has already reached their prime working years. But they had barely surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest working generation before Millennials came along.

Pew estimates that Generation X was hit hard by the Great Recession, so their numbers in the labor force might pick up again as more jobs are created. And some immigrants joining the U.S. workforce fall into this generation. As more Baby Boomers retire, recruiters should expect to see more members of Generation X vying for those open positions.

The Millennial Generation: ages 19 to 35 in 2016

At 53.5 million strong, Millennial workers are clamoring for a respected place in the office. These candidates were born between 1981 and 1997, and make up the most diverse and most educated generation in the U.S. workforce. A significant portion of Millennials are immigrants, and one in four of all Millennials speak a language other than English at home.

In fact, more than half of all new immigrant workers that arrived in the U.S. over the last five years are Millennials. So this generation is predicted to keep growing, with the total Millennial population peaking at 81.1 million in 2036. Some Millennials are already in the workforce, but many are in school and will begin looking for jobs soon. Altogether, they are the most technologically connected component of the labor force. And that creates an opportunity for recruiters, who can target young workers with socially-connected employer branding tactics.

Generation Z: ages 18 and under in 2016

For the most part, this generation hasn’t started working yet. Some teenagers are likely waiting tables and restocking shelves, but recruiters have a bit of time to prepare before Generation Z starts applying for jobs. Born after the mid-1990s, this group will never know life without smartphones and social media, and they will probably find jobs in the future that don’t even exist today.

The largest working population is now comprised of millennials. Check out our latest guide 5 Quick Tips for Hiring Millennials for everything you need to know about attracting and recruiting this generation:

Hiring Millennialscareer site assessment


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