How Generations Predict the Crisis will last until 2025

The cycle of generations in the US shows us the patterns of history. And those patterns predict that the crisis we are in will not be over until around 2025.

One of the most significant aspects of generational research for me is its predictive ability. The cycle of generations described by Neil Howe and William Strauss in their books (starting with “Generations“) has an amazing predictive ability. Their book “The Fourth Turning“, written in 1997, predicts many of the events we have seen in the last few years with amazing accuracy. But this is not astrology or soothsaying. The predictions are based in strong social science that shows how the character of generations creates specific changes in society. Information about turnings can also be found on the Lifecourse Website.

Howe and Strauss point out that there are four cycles in history, that they call “turnings”, which are very similar to the four seasons of the year. It begins with the “High”, similar to Spring, a period in which life is growing, the days are getting longer and optimism abounds. The last High in the US was between 1946 and 1964. The next turning is the “Awakening” which is like the Summer, a period where life flourishes in many forms, perhaps to the point that things are a bit out of control. Our last Awakening the Consciousness Revolution from 1995-1985 when everything our society was based on during the High was questioned. The third turning is the “Unraveling”, similar to the Fall, when life dies back, the days shorten and things feel chaotic and uncontrolled. The last Unraveling in the US were the Culture Wars from 1986-2005, when society fell apart as it answered the questions from the Consciousness Revolution. The fourth turning is the “Crisis” which is most like Winter. During the Crisis the seeds that have been planted in the fall must survive through the short, cold days and life is bleak and unforgiving. We are in the Crisis now, and it will likely last until 2025. Those that survive the Crisis will enjoy warmth and promise of the coming Spring/High.
The chart above shows the turnings since 1900 (click on the image to enlarge). The red line represents the “High” and “Low” of the cycle. At the top of the curve, there is maximum unity in society as well as a simple worldview. At the bottom there is maximum discord and a complex worldview.

Just like the cycles of the seasons, the turning are of a specific length. Most vary from 20-25 years in duration. Just like the seasons in nature, it is difficult to change the timing of the turnings because they are guided by a natural force. The natural force in play is the length of an average long human lifetime, 85 – 100 years (also known as a saeculum). This period is significant because it is the amount of time required for us to forget the lessons of previous generational cycles. The cycle makes a full revolution from the High through the Crisis (and then repeats).

So while it is possible financial crisis we are in will end soon, perhaps in the next few years, the larger crisis will last for at least 10-15 years (until 2025 or perhaps as early as 2020). Think back to our most recent historical example, the Crisis turning from 1929-1945. It began with the Great Depression. By the time that the Depression was “over” (in the late 1930’s) Europe was already marching toward WWII. Think of what the outlook must have seemed like in the late 1930’s. If you had managed to survive the Depression you were wary and protective. Although the economy was improving, there were much bigger storm clouds gathering on the horizon. And by 1939 it was clear that the Great Depression was nothing in comparison to what was coming in the War. The world looked very bleak indeed (just like the middle of winter), and few would have predicted the glory that was in store in 1945. We are in a similar period now, and we are building towards that climax which is still 10-15 years away.

The climax will be the final reconciliation of the Boomer (born 1943-1960) generation who play the role of prophets in our current cycle. The ideological battle for how society should look will be debated by the Boomers and fought by the Millennials (born 1982-200?). This was true in the last cycle when the Missionary generation led (Stalin and FDR) and the GI Generation fought (all the war heroes). Does this climax need to be a war? No, but the climax has always been a major war historically (WWII, Civil War, American Revolution, Glorious Revolution, etc..)

I see this coming war taking one of two shapes. It will either be a war against Global Warming/Peak Oil/Water Shortage and other threats to our living environment, or it will be a battle against another nation or group of nations (Arab or Chinese being most likely). I would prefer the former, but as a Generation X’er I have little influence. Fortunately, there is one person in my generation does have some influence on this direction, and his name is Barack Obama (no guarantee that he will have the answer either).

The good news is that society will pull together during this crisis and we will forge a new direction for our entire country (and perhaps world) before it is over. That is how the next High will arise, but it will be a long time before it arrives. Although our situation may seem dire, it will be useful to be aware of the fundamental changes happening in our society as we face this immense struggle. And, as I have said many times, it will require a huge effort from all the living generations who must work together despite their different views.

If you want a primer on the research of William Strauss and Neil Howe, see my “start here” section.

[I put a comment about this on  as “dsohigian”]

8 thoughts on “How Generations Predict the Crisis will last until 2025”

  1. I’m using slightly different dates than you are: I’ve got the High running from ’46 through ’63 (17 years), the Awakening from ’64 to ’84 (21 years), and the Unraveling from ’84 to ’01 (17 years). So *if* 9/11 kicked off the Crisis, and *if* the cycle has been tightening up a little, both of which are plausible though unproven, then the Crisis *could* be over and done with before 2020.

  2. Really interesting site. Puts the whole S&H theories in simple laymans terms. I’m an X/Millenial cusper (12/24/81), and I’d definitely refer people to this.

    I don’t consider 9/11 the start of the crisis. As I recall, we ran around being uber patriotic and scared for a couple of months, until the president told us to go shopping. Then we walked into a war that most people were gung-ho about…until they realized it was going to take longer than the length of the average Terminator movie to finish (3rd turning wars: Enthusiasm high, patience low). I think our reaction to it was very 3rd Turning, and whatever cohesive effects it had on society were short lived. That doesn’t mean a decent case can’t be made for it, but I actually side with Katrina or the bank bailouts as the real beginning of the crisis.

    1. @keith, I agree that 9/11 was probably not the start of the crisis, but it was such a big deal that it sure looked like a turning point. We may need more time to really tell when it started, but it’s pretty clear we are in it now for sure! Thanks for your comment.

  3. I strongly agree that experience fading from living memory probably drives cycles. I was
    born in ’42 and grew up hearing my economist father talk about the lessons of the depression.
    A good example of forgetting would be the idea that the depression was over by the late 30s. I think you will find few, particularly economists, who think that to be the case. The economy tanked again in 37 and at best things had eased by ’39. You’re right it was the middle of
    Winter – the depression continued and WW2 actually started in ’39. My father’s bleak winter view was that he deeply feared that the US would become totalitarian – either Fascist or Communist -because of the depression and war. I am genuinely surprised that you don’t identify 9/11 as the beginning of the crisis and I didn’t find anything nearly as compelling in 2005. But I will agree that the ‘2 month’ reaction to 9/11 that Keith describes catches how the country has responded overall very well. It was quite different for me – in those first few days
    I realized I finally understood all the stories I’d heard from adults growing up describing their reaction to Pearl Harbor. Keith’s comment made me realize I’m probably pretty atypical. I have read the war news daily since 9/11! I would argue that bin Laden symbolically struck at the economy as much as he did the US government and that it has been American economic self indulgence that has done far greater damage in the end. Too busy flipping mortgages and waging culture wars to notice that there was a real war going on? Maybe. I’d say that if the Islamists are as serious as I think they are they will manage another unignorable attack. If
    they never do then you are probably right to see 9/11 as a lesser event. As a pre boomer aged person I’m unlikely to see the end of this crisis. I have been thinking for some time that we have just begun to adjust to the end of the industrial era and that we will emerge into a multipolar world that operates by very different rules we don’t yet understand. I have a lot of faith that when the going gets tough that gen x, y and millennials will all make a huge contribution by understanding the changed world that emerges. I am an American who has lived half my life outside the US and I can see something that it is harder for stay at home Americans to see. Given a clear problem Americans are a resourceful and creative people
    who often accomplish things wiser, more experienced people know are impossible. And I see you are already hard at work on it.

    1. Lorenz, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. There seems to be lots of debate about when the crisis began, and I have not researched it much. I do agree that 9/11 was a very compelling event, but then again the world remained hopeful for the future for several years following that event. It did signal a major change in perception in the US, so perhaps it is the best demarcation. Time will tell.
      And I totally agree with your last paragraph about how we can’t really forsee how different our world will be in 15 years. Awareness that big change is coming is useful, but what it looks like is very difficult. It is assured to be a particularly interesting ride.
      Thanks again for your comment. I will check out your New Media Theory blog, it looks fascinating!

  4. I’m a fellow GenXer, and I’m on the younger end. I spent my childhood in the ’80s and my young adulthood in the ’90s. To my memory, the souring public mood of the Unraveling began before the 9/11 terrorist attack. The stage was set by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which eliminated an external enemy causing Americans to increasingly turn on each other. The partisan culture wars were the fear-mongering created to fill the void. Americans were no longer capable of shared action, symbolized by the Challenger explosion and the retreat from the space program.

    The ’90s saw the cynical attacks on the Clinton presidency, anti-globalization movement, the tech industry bust, and ending with Y2K fears that presaged what was to come. Intuitively, there was already a sense that somehow it was all going to turn to shit, even as outwardly most things were looking up. Consider that the ’90s saw a massive decline in violent crime after a couple decades of an epidemic, but a combination of a few school shootings and 24/7 news reporting created a moral panic. People were looking for reasons for anxiety, fear, hatred, and scapegoating. The ’90s felt like a turning point in the solidifying of the police state with it being pushed to a new level: racist crime laws, mass incarceration, privatized prisons, militarization of the police, etc.

    The 9/11 terrorist attack was simply used by the powerful to push for the greater authoritarianism they already wanted, exemplified by the Bush cronies having planned for the Iraq War before Bush was even elected president. None of that was the Crisis. Even the 2008 Great Recession that clearly indicated the coming Crisis was deferred, as the too big to fail banks were simply bailed out such that they grew even bigger. As the powerful were living longer, this simply allowed the problems to be pushed further along. So, the Unraveling and Crisis are lasting longer than in the past, which creates an even more hopeless mood, exacerbated by problems that are much more vast in this age of economic globalization and climate change. The culmination of it all will likely be far worse and far more transformative.

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