Cycles in U. S. History

Constellational Eras


1st Turning, High (Outer driven) Era

Each of the historical cycles arbitrarily begins with the birth of the Idealists. These cohorts* are raised in the euphoria following a secular event* and the middle aged Civics who engineered it are comfortably in power. In between are the young adult Adaptives on whose backs the secular event was carried and in the background are the elder Reactives.

Generational Alignment: Idealist youth, Adaptives approaching adulthood, Civic adults, Reactive elders

Trends: Low crime, sex role distinctions widen, low substance abuse, high fertility rates, low immigration, steady economic growth

Mood: Society seeks conformity and stability. Peak sense of community. Individuality discouraged. Society's future seems bright. Emphasis on building and doing. Wars are fought with consensus but without enthusiasm.


  • Colonial Cycle: (1589-1620) - English-Spanish War / Elizabethan Renaissance Era
    • Settlement of Jamestown
  • Revolutionary Cycle: (1693-1733) -Enlightenment Era
    • Queen Anne's War
  • Civil War Cycle: (1788-1821) - Era of Good Feeling following Revolutionary War
    • Louisiana Purchase
    • Lewis and Clark Expedition
    • War of 1812
  • World War Cycle: (1866-1885) - Gilded Age after Civil War
  • Present Cycle: (1945-1964) - Superpower America following W.W.II
    • Korean War

2nd Turning, Awakening Era

As the Idealists approach adulthood they try to change the beliefs of society resulting in a spiritual event*. By this time the elder Civics are beginning to lose their hold on power and less demanding middle age Adaptives are now in charge. A new generation of youthful Reactives are now left untended as the task of changing the world is undertaken.

Generational Alignment: Reactive youth, Idealists approaching adulthood, Adaptive adults, Civic elders

Trends: Increasing crime, substance abuse increases, sex role distinctions diminish, artistic activity high, immigration increasing, falling fertility rates, faltering economic indicators

Mood: Old values and the institutions that harbor them are challenged. Wars are unlikely and controversial. Focus on inner values. New social experiments tried. Public order deteriorates.


  • Colonial Cycle: (1621-1640) - Puritan Awakening
    • The Landing of the Pilgrims
    • The Puritan Settlement of Massachusetts
  • Revolutionary Cycle: (1734-1743) - Great Awakening
    • King George's War
  • Civil War Cycle: (1822-1837) - Transcendental Awakening
  • World War Cycle: (1886-1909) - Missionary Awakening / Reformist Era
    • Spanish American War
  • Present Cycle: (1965-1979) - Boom Awakening / The 60s Me Decade
    • Vietnam War

3rd Turning, Unraveling (Inner Driven) Era

As the Idealists approach middle age and begin to assume the reins of power for themselves the Adaptives drift off into elderhood and the Reactives enter adulthood in the frustrating aftermath of the spiritual event. Even then a protected generation of new Civics are being raised. This is where we are today.

Generational Alignment: Civic youth, Reactives approaching adulthood, Idealist adults, Adaptive elders

Trends: High crime, sex role distinctions narrow to lowest point, high substance abuse, high immigration, low fertility rates, irregular economic growth

Mood: Confidence in institutions declines and individualism flourishes. Socio-economic inequality rises. Frenetic pleasure seeking lifestyles emerge. Tolerance for other viewpoints lessens. Confidence in the future erodes. Wars become more likely and are fought with moral fervor.


  • Colonial Cycle: (1641-1674) - Religious Intolerance / Commonwealth Crisis Era
    • King Phillip's War
  • Revolutionary Cycle: (1744-1773) - French Indian War
    • French and Indian War
  • Civil War Cycle: (1838-1859) - The Slavery Expansion leading to Civil War
    • The California Gold Rush(1849) was an event of extreme materialism and stratification which involved primarily young Gilded males(then aged 17-37). They observed and participated in this high risk, quasi-legal, winner-take-all mentality to a greater degree than their elders and juniors.
  • World War Cycle: (1910-1929) - World War I and Prohibition
    • World War I
  • Present Cycle: (1981-now) - Information Revolution
    • Gulf War

4th Turning, Crisis Era

As the aging Idealists relinquish power to the pragmatic Reactives, now in middle age, a Civic generation feeling the power of their strong upbringing precipitate a secular event in which the institutions of Society are razed and the new is built on its ruins. A youthful Adaptive Generation looks on and is protected from it all. We are approaching this era.

Generational Alignment: Adaptive youth, Civics approaching adulthood, Reactive adults, Idealist elders

Trends: Decreasing crime, widening sex role distinctions, artistic license is minimal, personal violence and substance abuse reducing. falling immigration, rising fertility rates, economic setbacks

Mood: Preoccupation with worldly dangers. Wars are very likely and are fought with fury. A new set of ideals is adopted. Low tolerance for risk -prone behavior.



  1. In Strauss & Howe's new book _The Fourth Turning_ these constellational eras are called "Turnings" and the Outer-driven Eras are referred to as the Highs ; the Awakening Eras are the Awakenings; the Inner-driven Eras are the Unraveling and the Crisis Eras are the Crisis . These Turnings appear again and again in each of the Cycles of American history.
  2. Check out Jim Brett's compilation of generational cycles.


  1. Cohorts are individuals who have birth years in the same generation.
  2. A secular event is the period of time within a generational cycle when society tries to reorder its institutions and public behavior as it recovers from a spiritual event. This generally occurs as the civics are approaching adulthood and the idealists are leaving middle age and relinquishing power.

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