Generation and age are powerful audience segments both for targeting research and analyzing results. Often age range and generational cohort are used interchangeably. However, there are key differences between generations and age groups that are vital to keep in mind when conducting analysis.

At Branded, we often use generational cohorts as a framework for analyzing results to our polls and studies. Because generations represent cohorts that share a common life experience, different generational segments often have different and nuanced opinions to share.  These insights are valuable for customer analysis, segmentation, marketing and product development. 

Membership in a generational cohort is defined by the year a person was born. People who fall into a particular generation will always be part of that group and move through their lives together. When researchers evaluate a generation at different points in time, they are always evaluating the same audience.

Generations are a product of their times. Millennials, for example, are those who born between 1980 and 1996. Those born during this time frame share a common life experience and a similar life trajectory in the context of similar conditions. Millennials are significantly defined by the impact of technology on their lives in the same way that Baby Boomers are defined by the impact of the Vietnam War. When conducting generational research, it is important to focus on characteristics that are unique or defining to that cohort rather than characteristics associated with being a particular age.

In contrast, membership in an age band is defined by a person’s age at one point in time. So, for example, analyzing the group of people who are age 18-24 today, researchers will be looking at a completely different audience in 10 years. Age analysis is best when comparing young and old at any one point in time under the same conditions.

To demonstrate the difference between age and generation, Pew Research conducted an analysis of Millennials at age 21-36 to the Silent Generation at the same age. Coming of age at different points in time has a significant impact on life choice despite similar age. Millennials are much more likely than young Silent Generation consumers to be detached from major institutions like political parties, religion, the military and marriage.