The creator of generational research explains Taylor Swift’s iconic status among millennials, Gen X’s graceful aging, and Gen Z’s ability to see through it all.

The creator of generational research explains Taylor Swift's iconic status among millennials, Gen X's graceful aging, and Gen Z's ability to see through it all.

The Fourth Turning: A Modern-day Nostradamus Predicts a Crisis Era

Neil Howe

Neil Howe, the man who coined the term “millennial” over three decades ago, is no stranger to making bold predictions. In his book, The Fourth Turning, coauthored with William Strauss in 1997, he argued that each generation has a specific role to play in the “secular cycles” of history. His theory also predicted a crisis era in the United States from roughly 2005 to 2020. Fast forward to today, and many of his predictions have come to pass, from the rise of authoritarian leaders to the clash between generations.

Although initially dismissed as “pseudoscience” by some, Howe’s theory has gained increasing traction and recognition. It has become a favorite book of influential figures like Steve Bannon and investment strategist Kiril Sokoloff. Even The New York Times has taken note, featuring reviews from respected authorities like Francis Fukuyama. In a recent interview with Fortune, Howe discussed his book, The Fourth Turning Is Here, which serves as a sequel to his earlier work.

According to Howe, the catalyst event that triggered the predicted crisis era arrived around 2005 with the Great Financial Crisis (GFC). He believes we are now in the midst of a period of “authoritarian, severe, unyielding” leadership, while the millennial and Gen Z cohorts face off against elder leaders. However, Howe also admits to being surprised by the younger generations, particularly the millennials and Gen Z, whom he refers to as “the homelanders.” While his theory describes millennials as the “hero” generation, destined to confront the boomers, he acknowledges that they have faced their fair share of challenges.

Millennials, as Howe observes, have fully embraced the ethos of meritocracy, investing heavily in education while saddled with significant student loan debt. They have pursued academic excellence, participated in extracurricular activities, and even resorted to “smart drugs” to cope with the pressure. The millennials’ pursuit of achievement and success has led to chronic stress and skepticism of capitalism. Howe believes that many millennials view the unbridled marketplace as a menacing force. He cites Taylor Swift as an iconic representative of the millennial generation’s combination of perfectionism and anxiety. Swift’s meticulously curated public image and control over her career exemplify the millennials’ resilience and determination to succeed on their terms.

Moving on to Generation X, Howe identifies them as critical leaders in this crisis era. Gen X, often described as cynical and jaded, has emerged as resourceful and pragmatic. They have navigated an economy marked by increasing income inequality and a lack of stability. With their entrepreneurial mindset, Gen Xers have played a significant role in driving the success of the Fortune 500 companies. Howe believes that their ability to think outside the box and adapt to fluid situations will position them as effective leaders in this chaotic era.

While millennials were engrossed in achieving and succeeding, Gen Z has taken a divergent path. Howe explains that Gen Z rejects the “hustle culture” embraced by the millennials. They reject the notion that tirelessly hustling and living in cramped apartments is a recipe for success. Instead, Gen Z seeks meaningful work that aligns with their values, focusing on long-term sustainability rather than short-term gains. Notably, there has been a decline in college enrollment among late-wave millennials and Gen Z, as they pursue alternatives that offer immediate relevance and financial stability.

Despite the economically stable present, Howe remains concerned about looming icebergs in the economy. Sectors like private equity, which have grown significantly in size yet lack transparency, pose a substantial risk. Furthermore, the housing market, plagued by affordability issues, has pushed Howe to seek a more affordable lifestyle in rural West Virginia.

In conclusion, Neil Howe’s theories and predictions have gained substantial traction over the years. The crisis era he anticipated, characterized by generational clashes, economic instability, and leadership challenges, is unfolding before our eyes. As we witness the emergence of new leaders from Generation X and the shifting priorities of millennials and Gen Z, it becomes increasingly important to navigate this tumultuous period with resilience and adaptability. While the economic outlook may currently appear positive, Howe warns of underlying risks that could reshape the economy and society as we know it.