What's The Defining Moment Of Your Generation?

Michael Jackson performs in his "Scream" video for MTV in 1995. i i

Michael Jackson performs in his "Scream" video for MTV in 1995. Paul Whitsitt/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Paul Whitsitt/AP
Michael Jackson performs in his "Scream" video for MTV in 1995.

Michael Jackson performs in his "Scream" video for MTV in 1995.

Paul Whitsitt/AP

As a major new survey from Pew Research Center examines the generation gap in politics, we take a closer look at what, besides year of birth, differentiates one generation from the next. From the dawn of rock 'n' roll to the emergence of hip-hop, from "We Like Ike" to "Yes We Can," from a man on the moon to an iPhone in the pocket, here are some highlights from each of the four generations covered in the survey. We couldn't mention all of them here, so please share what you think are the defining moments of your own generation in the comments section below.

The Moments That Defined Your Generation

  • The Silent Generation

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    As adults, the silent generation heard President Kennedy's 1961 vow to put a man on the moon. In 1969, they watched it happen.

    Members of the "silent generation" (ages 66 to 83) now view Social Security as the top voting issue, but before they were senior citizens, they witnessed the birth of rock 'n' roll and watched from Earth as Neil Armstrong planted the U.S. flag on the moon. The first presidential election in which they would have been eligible to vote was in 1952, when Republican Dwight Eisenhower won by a landslide against Democrat Adlai Stevenson. Many witnessed and participated in the African-American civil rights movement and mourned the death of President John F. Kennedy. When the oldest members turned 25, the Academy Award for best picture went to the 1953 romantic film From Here To Eternity, and Audrey Hepburn won Best Actress for her role in Roman Holiday. The silent generation also saw one of the most amazing upsets in sports history, when 22-year-old Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) defeated Sonny Liston to become the boxing heavyweight champion in 1964.

  • Baby Boomers

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    The boomers came of age during the era of free love, the Vietnam War and Woodstock.

    At 26 percent of the U.S. population, baby boomers (ages 47 to 65) are the largest and, more recently, the gloomiest generation. Their arrival led to a dramatic rise in demand for housing, cars and roads. They were the generation preoccupied with the Vietnam War, participants in the 1969 Woodstock Festival, and helped launch the environmental movement. After the voting age was lowered to 18 with the 26th Amendment, the first presidential election in which teens were eligible to vote was in 1972, when Republican Richard Nixon won with more than 60 percent of the vote against Democrat George McGovern. Baby boomers see themselves as ever youthful, with the typical boomer saying that old age doesn't begin until age 72. When the oldest members turned 25, the Academy Award for best picture went to the 1971 action film The French Connection, and Jane Fonda won Best Actress for her role in Klute. Baby boomers grieved after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and saw the resignation of President Nixon after the Watergate scandal. They also saw the appointment of the first black Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, in 1967.

  • Generation X

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    Gen Xers were the first kids to play video games and tune into MTV's music videos after school.

    Generation X (ages 31 to 46) sometimes feels ignored as the "in-between generation." These children were the first generation of "latchkey kids" with dual-income families and an increasing divorce rate among their boomer parents. They saw the end of the Cold War, the fall of communism and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. With the rise of MTV and the beginnings of the Internet, they became a technologically savvy and entrepreneurial group. They were first eligible to vote in 1984, when Republican Ronald Reagan won a second term against Democrat Walter Mondale. When the oldest members turned 25, the Academy Award for best picture went to the 1990 epic Dances With Wolves, and Joe Pesci won Best Supporting Actor for his role in Good Fellas. Generation X witnessed the end of apartheid in South Africa and the sale of the first Apple Macintosh computers in 1984.

  • The Millennial Generation

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    Millennials grew up in a wired world, where white ear buds are an expected accessory.

    The millennial generation (ages 18 to 30) is the most diverse — 41 percent identify themselves as Hispanic or nonwhite. Millennials grew up in an environment of unrest and heightened security, coming of age in a post-Sept. 11 world. They are referred to as digital natives and are often the first consumers of the newest technologies and gadgets. They were first eligible to vote in 2000, when Republican George W. Bush took office after a down-to-the-chad battle with Democratic Vice President Al Gore. When the oldest members turned 25, the Academy Award for best picture went to the 2006 thriller The Departed, and An Inconvenient Truth, about Gore's climate change campaign, won the award for Best Documentary. Though they were hardest hit by the economic downturn, millennials are still upbeat and optimistic about the future.

Correction Nov. 4, 2011

A previous version of this story incorrectly said that millennials were first eligible to vote in the 1990 election between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. It was actually the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

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