Fourth Turning

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* Book. Neil Howe and William Strauss. The Fourth Turning. An American Prophecy, 1997


Updated new book from 2023: The Fourth Turning Is Here.



" The Fourth Turning is a book about human social cycles in America written by two respected generational historians, Howe and Strauss. They make a very convincing case for a disaster and era of economic depression and crisis, possibly total war, in the coming years. Like the Kondratieff wave, based on price behaviour over time, they are essentially interpreting the "Long Cycle" through characteristics of generational aspects." (

2. From the Wikipedia:

"Examining 500 years of Anglo-American history, The Fourth Turning reveals a distinct historical pattern: Modern history moves in cycles, each one lasting approximately the length of a long human life (about 80–90 years), and each composed of four different types of mood eras, or "turnings". Offering a detailed analysis of the period from the Great Depression through today, the authors describe the collective persona of each living generation. These include the upbeat, team-playing G.I.s, the indecisive Silent, the values-obsessed Boomers, the pragmatic 13ers, and the new coming-of-age generation of upbeat, team-playing, Millennials. By situating each living generation in the context of a historical generational cycle and archetype, the authors claim to clarify the personality and role of each—and the inevitability of a coming crisis in America.[11] In 2000 the two authors published Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation (2000). This work investigated the personality of the generation currently coming of age, whose first cohorts were the high school graduating class of 2000. Strauss and Howe show how today's teens are recasting the image of youth from downbeat and alienated to upbeat and engaged. They also say Millennials are held to higher standards than adults apply to themselves; they are a lot less violent, vulgar, and sexually charged than the teen culture older people are producing for them, and, over the next decade, they will transform what it means to be young. According to the authors, Millennials could emerge as the next great generation." (


Neil Howe:

"We think that generations move history along and prevent society from suffering too long under the excesses of any particular generation. People often assume that every new generation will be a linear extension of the last one. You know, that after Generation X comes Generation Y. They might further expect Generation Y to be like Gen X on steroids – even more willing to take risk and with even more edginess in the culture. Yet the Millennial Generation that followed Gen X is not like that at all. In fact, no generation is like the generation that immediately precedes it.

Instead, every generation turns the corner and to some extent compensates for the excesses and mistakes of the midlife generation that is in charge when they come of age. This is necessary, because if generations kept on going in the same direction as their predecessors, civilization would have gone off a cliff thousands of years ago..

In our research we have found that, in modern societies, four basic types of generations tend to recur in the same order." (


The Generational Turnings

Neil Howe:

"A turning is an era with a characteristic social mood, a new twist on how people feel about themselves and their nation. It results from the aging of the generational constellation. A society enters a turning once every twenty years or so, when all living generations begin to enter their next phases of life. Like archetypes and constellations, turnings come four to a saeculum, and always in the same order:

  • The First Turning is a High —an upbeat era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism, when a new civic order implants and the old values regime decays. Old Prophets disappear, Nomads enter elderhood, Heroes enter midlife, Artists enter young adulthood—and a new generation of Prophets is born.

  • The Second Turning is an Awakening —a passionate era of spiritual upheaval, when the civic order comes under attack from a new values regime. Old Nomads disappear, Heroes enter elderhood, Artists enter midlife, Prophets enter young adulthood—and a new generation of child Nomads is born.

  • The Third Turning is an Unraveling —a downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions, when the old civic order decays and the new values regime implants. Old Heroes disappear, Artists enter elderhood, Prophets enter midlife, Nomads enter young adulthood—and a new generation of child Heroes is born.

  • The Fourth Turning is a Crisis —a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one. Old Artists disappear, Prophets enter elderhood, Nomads enter midlife, Heroes enter young adulthood—and a new generation of child Artists is born.

Like the four seasons of nature, the four turnings of history are equally necessary and important. Awakenings and Crises are the saecular solstices, summer and winter, each a solution to a challenge posed by the other. Highs and Unravelings are the saecular equinoxes, spring and autumn, each coursing a path directionally opposed to the other. When a society moves into an Awakening or Crisis, the new mood announces itself as a sudden turn in social direction. An Awakening begins when events trigger a revolution in the culture, a Crisis when events trigger an upheaval in public life. A High or Unraveling announces itself as a sudden consolidation of the new direction. A High begins when society perceives that the basic issues of the prior Crisis have been resolved, leaving a new civic regime firmly in place. An Unraveling begins with the perception that the Awakening has been resolved, leaving a new cultural mindset in place.

The gateway to a new turning can be obvious and dramatic (like the 1929 Stock Crash) or subtle and gradual (like 1984’s Morning in America). It usually occurs two to five years after a new generation of children starts being born. The tight link between turning gateways and generational boundaries enables each archetype to fill an entire phase-of-life just as the mood of an old turning grows stale and feels ripe for replacement with something new.

The four turnings comprise a quaternal social cycle of growth, maturation, entropy, and death (and rebirth). In a springlike High, a society fortifies and builds and converges in an era of promise. In a summerlike Awakening, it dreams and plays and exults in an era of euphoria. In an autumnal Unraveling, it harvests and consumes and diverges in an era of anxiety. In a hibernal Crisis, it focuses and struggles and sacrifices in an era of survival. When the saeculum is in motion, therefore, no long human lifetime can go by without a society confronting its deepest spiritual and worldly needs.

Modernity has thus far produced six repetitions of each turning, each repetition lasting roughly the duration of a phase of life and corresponding to an identical constellation of generational archetypes. Each sequential set of four turnings constitutes a saeculum.

The Anglo-American saeculum dates back to the waning of the Middle Ages in the middle of the fifteenth century. In this lineage, there have been seven saecula:

   * Late Medieval (1435-1487)
   * Reformation (1487-1594)
   * New World (1594-1704)
   * Revolutionary (1704-1794)
   * Civil War (1794-1865)
   * Great Power (1866-1946)
   * Millennial (1946-2026?)"

America is presently in the Third Turning of the Millennial Saeculum and giving birth to the 24th generation of the post-medieval era."


The Current Saeculum

"Each turning comes with its own identifiable mood. Always, these mood shifts catch people by surprise.

In the current saeculum, the First Turning was the American High of the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy presidencies. As World War II wound down, no one predicted that America would soon become so confident and institutionally muscular, yet so conformist and spiritually complacent. But that?s what happened.

The Second Turning was the Consciousness Revolution, stretching from the campus revolts of the mid-1960s to the tax revolts of the early 1980s. Before John Kennedy was assassinated, no one predicted that America was about to enter an era of personal liberation and cross a cultural divide that would separate anything thought or said after from anything thought or said before. But that?s what happened.

The Third Turning has been the Culture Wars, an era that began with Reagan?s mid-?80s ?Morning in America? and is due to expire around the middle of the Oh-Oh decade, eight or ten years from now. Amidst the glitz of the early Reagan years, no one predicted that the nation was entering an era of national drift and institutional decay. But that?s where we are. "


The Archetypes

John Mauldin:

"The core idea behind the Fourth Turning (and the other three turnings that precede it) is a repeating pattern of four society-driving, generational “archetypes.”

Howe and Strauss observed how societies change in a cycle as each generation assumes cultural dominance in its middle age years. The interplay between the dominant generation, the fading one that preceded it, and the upcoming younger generation follows an almost musical rhythm.

At the same time, each generation isn’t just an extension of the last one. No generation is like the preceding one. Rather, generational change corrects excesses, ultimately sustaining a stable society. Otherwise, civilization would have collapsed long ago.

In The Fourth Turning, Howe and Strauss identified four types of generation: Hero, Artist, Prophet, and Nomad. They call these “archetypes,” and each consists of people born in a roughly twenty-year period. As each archetype reaches the end of its 80-year lifespan, it is replaced with a new generation of the same archetype. (Note: with longer lifespans, the 80-year generational cycle may become longer.)

Each archetype/generation proceeds through the normal stages of life: childhood, young adulthood, mature adulthood, and elderly years. Each tends to dominate society during its middle age years (40–60), then begins dying off as the next generation takes the helm. The change of control from one generation to the next is called a “Turning.”


The archetypes aren’t neatly divided by the calendar; they are better seen as a continuum. People born toward the end of a generation share some aspects of the following one. Individual differences can also outweigh generational identity for any particular person. The archetypes simply describe broad tendencies which, at the societal level, add up to noticeable differences.

Hero generations are usually raised by protective parents. They come of age during a time of great crisis. Howe calls them “heroes” because they resolve that crisis, an accomplishment that then defines the rest of their lives.

Following the crisis, the Heroes become institutionally powerful in midlife and stay focused on solving great challenges. In old age, they tend to have a spiritual awakening as they watch younger generations work through cultural upheaval.

The “G.I. Generation” that fought World War II is the most recent example of a Hero archetype. They built the US into an economic powerhouse in the postwar years and then confronted youthful rebellion in the 1960s. Further back, the generation of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, heroes of the American Revolution, experienced the religious “Great Awakening” in their twilight years.

Artists are the children of heroes, born before and during the crisis but not old enough to be an active part of the solution. Highly protected during childhood, Artists are risk-averse young adults in the post-crisis years. They see conformity as the best path to success. They develop and refine the innovations forged in the crisis. Artists experience the same cultural awakening as Heroes but from the perspective of mid-adulthood.

Today’s oldest retirees are mostly artists, part of the “Silent Generation” that may remember World War II but were too young to participate. They married early and moved into gleaming new 1950s suburbs. The Silent Generation went through its own midlife crisis in the 1970s and 1980s before entering a historically affluent, active, gated-community retirement.

Prophets experience childhood in a period of post-crisis affluence. Baby Boomers like me are a Prophet generation. Not having known a real crisis, Prophets often see (or perhaps create) cultural upheaval during their young adult years (I remember the ’60s!). In midlife, they become moralistic, values-obsessed leaders and parents. As they enter old age, prophet generations lay the groundwork for the next crisis. (Oh, did we Boomers ever do that, and in spades!)

Nomads are the fourth and final archetype. They are children during the “Awakening” periods of cultural chaos. Unlike the overly indulged and protected Prophets, Nomads go through childhood with minimal supervision and guidance. They learn early in life not to trust society’s basic institutions. They come of age as individualistic pragmatists.

The most recent Nomads are Generation X, born in the 1960s and 1970s. Their earliest memories are of faraway war, urban protests, no-fault divorce, and broken homes. Now in mid-life, Generation X is trying to give its own children a better experience. They find success elusive because they distrust large institutions and have few strong connections to public life. They prefer to stay out of the spotlight and trust only themselves.

After the Nomad Archetype, the cycle repeats with another Hero generation. The Millennial Generation, born from 1981 through about 2003, is just beginning to take root in American culture. They are a large generation numerically, filling schools and colleges and propelling new technology into the mainstream. If the pattern holds, they will face a great crisis. It will influence the rest of their lives just as World War II shaped the G.I. Generation Heroes."