The term "Millennial" gets thrown around so much in various studies, articles and general discussion that it's understandable if you thought the term had an agreed-upon definition.
But the definition of Millennial largely depends on whom you are talking to.
For example, the Pew Research Center — which has used cutoffs for Millennials ranging from 1992 to 1999 — never had an official definition for Millennial until recently when it declared that from here on it will define Millennials as people born between 1981 and 1996.
"Pew Research Center has been studying the Millennial generation for more than a decade," said Michael Dimock, president of the non-partisan, non-advocacy research giant. "But as we enter 2018, it’s become clear to us that it’s time to determine a cutoff point between Millennials and the next generation."
"In order to keep the Millennial generation analytically meaningful, and to begin looking at what might be unique about the next cohort, Pew Research Center will use 1996 as the last birth year for Millennials for our future work," Dimock said. "Anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 22-37 in 2018) will be considered a Millennial, and anyone born from 1997 onward will be part of a new generation."
Although the next generation is often referred to as Generation Z, Pew decided "it's too early to give them a name" and will refer to them as post-Millennials until a common term takes hold.
"Generational cutoff points aren’t an exact science," Dimock said. And that point is illustrated by the fact that other "generational experts" have come up with very different cutoff points for Millennials.
Neil Howe and William Strauss, who are credited with coining the term Millennial in their 1991 book Generations, define the group as those born between 1982 and 2000. In his book, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials, Bruce Tulgan defines two "waves" of Millennials: first wave (Generation Y) born 1978 to 1989, and second wave (Generation Z) born 1990 to 2000. And author David Stillman defines Millennials as people born between 1980 and 1994.
"Many have offered well-reasoned arguments for drawing that line a few years earlier or later than where we have," Dimock said. "Perhaps, as more data are collected over the years, a clear, singular delineation will emerge. We remain open to recalibrating if that occurs."
University of Virginia media studies professor Siva Vaidhyanathana — who said "at best" generational studies are "the equivalent of astrology and at worst a source of bigotry" — pointed to the muddy definitions as part of the problem with the concept of generations.
“I have been teaching at the university level for more than 20 years,” he said. “And ever since I started teaching, I’ve been told that I teach this strange creature called the Millennial. But nobody has been able to tell me when those Millennials arrived on Earth; no one has been able to tell me when those Millennials will be displaced and get out into the world so I am no longer teaching them; and every time I venture such a question I get a completely different set of answers, which is suspicious.”