Strauss and Howe

Strauss and Howe (William Strauss and Neil Howe) are a duo of authors who are famous for their books on generations and history. According to the Strauss and Howe theory of history, historical eras run in repeated cycles and are shaped by the different generations alive at different ages at the time, who themselves fall into repeating patterns.



Strauss and Howe's first joint book, Generations, came out in 1991. Generations interpreted history through the lens of generational patterns. It gave a further boost to the popularity of marketing through generations, revolutionized thinking about zeitgeist as being shaped through generational differences, gave support to non-demographic definitions of generations (Generations gave the birthyears for the Baby Boomers as 1943-1960 instead of the traditional 1946-1964 or 1946-1963, for instance), was read and recommended by many big-name political figures including Al Gore and Newt Gingrich, and continues to sell successfully to this day. The book identified the older generations alive at the time as Missionary, Lost, G.I., Silent and Boomer, as well as identifying historical generations all the way back to the Puritan Generation. They also identified the generation after the Boomers and named them the 13th Generation (roughly equivalent to Generation X), predicting they would prove to be like the Lost Generation of the Roaring 20s when coming of age. They also identified everyone born in and after 1982 as being part of the Millennial Generation.

They soon followed it with their second book, 13th Gen, a work written in 1993 about their 13th Generation. In 1997, they published The Fourth Turning, which expanded on the theory in Generations. In writing The Fourth Turning Strauss and Howe identified six new generations (going back in time to the Arthurian Generation of Thomas Malory), coined new names for their four generational archetypes, and named the four repeating types of eras recognized in their theory. It predicted a major Crisis along the lines of The Great Depression and World War II, the Civil War, or the Revolutionary War to begin around 2005. In 2000 they published Millennials Rising as the Class of 2000, with the first 1982 cohorts, was graduating from high school.


According to the Strauss and Howe theory, history goes through four types of recurring turnings, or eras, which always repeat in the same order, analogous to seasons. The first turning is a conservative High, a conformist and prosperous era in which institutions are stable after the success of a major war (the Era of Good Feeling, the Victorian Era, the 1950s). The second turning is a spiritual awakening filled with idealism, in which young people scrap convention for religious discovery (Ben Franklin's Great Awakening, the Transcendental Awakening, the turn-of-the-century Muckrake reform era, the 1960s). The third turning is a wild Unravelling (the colorful Gold Rush, the roaring twenties, and the current era that began about 1984). The fourth turning is a Crisis. This era sees a national mood of extreme urgency, sweeping changes made in national policy, life-or-death wars and crusades, and a change across the generations to a much more traditional lifestyle and set of values. During a Crisis, the entire future of society is at stake.

The Unravelling aftermath of World War I, for example, was filled with Scopes-style media trials, disillusionment and alienation, expatriation to France, flapper styles, defiance of Prohibition and assorted silliness, which came to an end with the stock market crash of 1929. As people went through the Crisis, the Great Depression promoted unprecedented economic hardships, parties such as the Nazi Party and Mussolini's fascists gained popularity, style became more clean-cut, and Americans made major sacrifices during World War II. When World War II ended with the surrender of Japan and a victory for the United States in 1945, the nation entered a High. Low crime rates, Leave It to Beaver family life and "Little Boxes" conformity filled the air, as cheap Levittown houses could be afforded by any organization man who had an easily-provided job and managed to pay for college through the G.I. Bill, but people feared going against the grain after seeing what the House Un-American Activities Committee could do to suspected Communists. This all came to a shocking end as America lost its innocence with the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The Awakening soon began, with the Beatles, civil rights riots, the Summer of Love, confrontations between youth and police, Woodstock, the assassinations of Malcolm X and Robert F. Kennedy, protests against the Vietnam War by youth who refused to be drafted and fight in the name of the Establishment, Jesus freaks, Eastern spirituality and an interest in self-perfection among inward-turned Boomers exploring themselves. Eventually the mood of the 1970s dissipated and the world we know today, with celebrity trials, political backbiting, short and low-sacrifice wars and grunge/hip-hop/punk/rave style, began, going back to another Unravelling. In Generations, Strauss and Howe began the Unravelling at 1982, but in The Fourth Turning they revised their date, starting it with Reagan's Morning in America spot in 1984. Others may prefer to date the beginning of the Unravelling with the assassination of John Lennon, the election or inauguration of Ronald Reagan, or the U.S. invasion of Grenada.

Each set of four recurring turnings (counting from the First Turning to the Fourth Turning) forms one saeculum, like four seasons forming one whole year. The Great Power Saeculum for instance lasts from 1865 to 1945, from the beginning of the High (Reconstruction), to the end of the Crisis (World War II). Strauss and Howe believe that there can be born only one generation per turning and four turnings in every saeculum, therefore four generations will be born once in every saeculum.


According to the Strauss and Howe theory, generations also come in repeating cycles of four types, in step with the four different types of turning. Generations recognized four different generational archetypes, which it called idealist, reactive, civic and adaptive. In The Fourth Turning, the names of the archetypes were changed to Prophet, Nomad, Hero and Artist.

Prophets are spiritually driven, moralistic, focused on self, and willing to fight to the death for what they believe in. They have their first conscious memories of the world in a High, come of age during an Awakening, enter midlife during an Unravelling and enter elderhood during a Crisis. The Boomers are an example of a Prophet generation.

Nomads are ratty, tough, unwanted, diverse, adventurous and extremely cynical. They have their first conscious memories of the world in an Awakening, come of age during an Unravelling, enter midlife during a Crisis and enter elderhood during a High. Generation X and the Lost Generation are examples of Nomad generations.

Heroes are conventional, über-powerful, homogeneous and devoted to serving the state, having a deep trust in authority and being the perfect soldiers for a major war. They have their first conscious memories of the world in an Unravelling, come of age during a Crisis, enter midlife during a High and enter elderhood during an Awakening. The G.I. Generation that fought World War II is an example of a Hero generation.

Artists are subtle, nice (sometimes too nice), indecisive, emotional and inoffensive, often having to deal with feelings of repression and inner conflict. They have their first conscious memories of the world in a Crisis, come of age during a High, enter midlife during an Awakening and enter elderhood during an Unravelling. The Silent Generation is an example of an Artist generation.

Anglo-American Generational History

Strauss and Howe have identified the following generations, listed here with the birthyear ranges Strauss and Howe gave to them and the archetypes they assigned each:

Late Medieval Saeculum
Reformation Saeculum
New World Saeculum
Revolutionary Saeculum
Civil War Saeculum
Great Power Saeculum
Millennial Saeculum

According to the above chart, generational types have appeared in Anglo-American history in the same recurring order for at least 550 years, if not even further.

One exception existing in the Strauss and Howe model of history is what is called the Civil War Anomaly. As the chart above shows, there was no Hero generation born during the Civil War saeculum; Nomads (the Gilded Generation) rather than Heroes became the cannon-fodder for the Civil War, while the Progressive generation, despite having been raised during an Unravelling with the kind of parenting Heroes receive, became Artists. Similarly, the Unravelling was relatively short and the Crisis (the Civil War itself) lasted from only 1861 to 1865, while normally turnings last about twenty or thirty years. The hypothesis for why this is, according to Generations and The Fourth Turning, is that the Civil War came about ten years too early; the adult generations allowed the worst aspects of their generational personalities to come through; and the Progressives grew up scarred rather than ennobled.


Strauss and Howe have been criticized for the use of archetypes, which are more critically seen as stereotypes. For instance the notion that the nation was united in past Crises, as the American Revolution, Civil War, and the popularity of such figures as Father Coughlin and Huey Long during the Great Depression easily disprove, or the notion that soldiers in World War II were any more "loyal" and "lock-step" than in any other war in U.S. history. The authors' descriptions of each generational archetype can be seen as generalizations which do not hold true for all members of that generation. The authors are also criticized for linking their theory in The Fourth Turning to mythology and referencing the writings of Joseph Campbell, which is seen by critics as bordering on mysticism or the supernatural and thus detracting from the theory's credibility.


  • Neil Howe, William Strauss, Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069, 1992, ISBN 0688119123
  • Neil Howe, William Strauss, 13th Gen : Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, 1993, ISBN 0679743650
  • Neil Howe, William Strauss, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, 1997, ISBN 055306682X
  • Neil Howe, William Strauss, Millennials Rising : The Next Great Generation, 2000, ISBN 0375707190

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