Generation X / Busters
Who: Defined as “slackers” • They have the “carpe diem” attitude • First generation to develop ease and comfort with technology • “X” described the lack of identity that members of Generation X felt, not sure where they belonged • Experienced more divorces than any other generation • Had to learn to fend for themselves •
Population: 50 million • Single parent families •
Characteristics: Quest for emotional security • Independent • Very self-reliant • Informality • Entrepreneurial • Expect immediate and ongoing feedback and is comfortable giving feedback to others • Reject rules • Mistrust institutions • Believe friends do not equal family • “Latchkey” kids • Multi-taskers • Suspicious of Boomer values • Value family time •
At Work: Casual, friendly work environment • Involvement • Flexibility and freedom • A place to learn • Work smarter, not harder • Want open communication regardless of position, title, or tenure • Value control of their time • Look for a person to whom they can invest loyalty, not a company •
Historical Events: AIDS • End of Cold War • Vietnam • Watergate • Nixon resignation • Computers • Grunge/Hip-Hop • Vietnam • MTV • Challenger explosion • Fall of Berlin Wall • Reaganomics Generation
Generation X, commonly abbreviated to Gen X, is the generation born after the Western Post–World War II baby boom. Most demographers and commentators use birth dates ranging from the early 1960s to the early 1980s.
Origin of Term
The term Generation X was coined by the Magnum photographer Robert Capa in the early 1950s. He used it later as a title for a photo-essay about young men and women growing up immediately after the Second World War. The project first appeared in Picture Post in the UK and Holiday in the U.S. in 1953. Describing his intention, Capa said “We named this unknown generation, The Generation X, and even in our first enthusiasm we realised that we had something far bigger than our talents and pockets could cope with.”
The name was popularized by Canadian author Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, concerning young adults during the late 1980s and their lifestyles. While Coupland’s book helped to popularize the phrase Generation X, he erroneously attributed it to English rock musician Billy Idol in a 1989 magazine article. In fact, Idol had been a member of the punk band Generation X from 1976 to 1981, which was named after Deverson and Hamblett’s 1965 sociology book on British youth, Generation X—a copy of which was owned by Idol’s mother.
Characteristics and Demographics
Gen X is the generation born after the Western World War II baby boom describing a generational change from the Baby Boomers.
In a 2012 article for the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, George Masnick wrote that the “Census counted 82.1 million” Gen Xers in the U.S. The Harvard Center uses 1965 to 1984 to define Gen X so that Boomers, Xers and Millennials “cover equal 20-year age spans”. Masnick concluded that immigration filled in any birth year deficits during low fertility years of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Jon Miller at the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the University of Michigan wrote that “Generation X refers to adults born between 1961 and 1981” and it “includes 84 million people” in the U.S.
John Markert at Cumberland University employs a similar approach, but wrote a 2004 article in which “Generations should be discreet twenty-year periods” but with “ten-year cohorts” and 5-year bihorts non-simultaneously, classifies Generation X as those born in the years 1966 to 1985. Markert censures other methods and tactics to define Generation X in his article stating that “inconsistent use of dates by the same author” simply results “in an apple to lemon measurement standard”.
In 2011 “The Generation X Report”, based on annual surveys used in the longitudinal study of today’s adults, found Gen Xers, defined in the report as people born between 1961 and 1981, to be highly educated, active, balanced, happy and family oriented. The study contrasted with the slacker, disenfranchised stereotype associated with youth in the 1970s and 1980s. Various questions and responses from approximately 4,000 people who were surveyed each year from 1987 through 2010 made up the study. Clive Thompson, writing in Wired in 2014 claimed that the differences between Generation X and its predecessors had been over-hyped, quoting Kali Trzesniewski, a scholar of life-span changes, as saying that the basic personality metrics of Americans had remained stable for decades.
In 2012, the Corporation for National and Community Service ranked Gen X volunteer rates in the U.S. at “29.4% per year”, the highest compared with other generations. The rankings were based on a three-year moving average between 2009 and 2011.
In the preface to Generation X Goes Global: Mapping a Youth Culture in Motion, a collection of global essays, Professor Christine Henseler summarizes it as “a generation whose worldview is based on change, on the need to combat corruption, dictatorships, abuse, AIDS, a generation in search of human dignity and individual freedom, the need for stability, love, tolerance, and human rights for all”.
In cinema, directors Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, Jane Campion, Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater and Todd Solondz have been called Generation X filmmakers. Smith is most known for his View Askewniverse films, the flagship film being Clerks, which is set in New Jersey circa 1994, and focuses on two bored, convenience-store clerks in their twenties. Linklater’s Slacker similarly explores young adult characters who were more interested in philosophizing than settling with a long-term career and family. Solondz’ Welcome to the Dollhouse touched on themes of school bullying, school violence, teen drug use, peer pressure and broken or dysfunctional families, set in a junior high school environment in New Jersey during the early to mid-1990s. While not a member of Gen X himself, director John Hughes has been recognized as having created a series of classics “that an entire generation took ownership of with films like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Weird Science.
Gen Xers are often called the MTV Generation. They experienced the emergence of music videos, new wave music, electronic music, heavy metal, punk rock and alternative rock, and hip hop.
Compared with previous generations, Generation X represents a more heterogeneous generation, embracing social diversity in terms of such characteristics as race, class, religion, ethnicity, culture, language, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
Unlike their parents who challenged leaders with an intent to replace them, Gen Xers are less likely to idolize leaders and are more inclined to work toward long-term institutional and systematic change through economic, media and consumer actions.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Generation X holds the highest education levels when looking at current age groups.
Pursuant to a study by Elwood Carlson on “how different generations respond in unique ways to common problems in some political, social, and consumption choices”, the Population Reference Bureau, a private demographic research organization based in Washington, D.C., cited Generation X birth years as falling between 1965 and 1982. On the first page of the study, authors William Strauss and Neil Howe’s definition of a “cohort generation” is cited. They define Generation X by the years 1961 to 1981.
In 2008, Details magazine editor-at-large Jeff Gordinier released his book X Saves the World — How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking.
Studies done by Pew Charitable Trusts, the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation and the Urban Institute challenged the notion that each generation will be better off than the one that preceded it.
A report titled Economic Mobility: Is the American Dream Alive and Well? focused on the income of males 30–39 in 2004 (those born April 1964 – March 1974). The study was released on May 25, 2007 and emphasized that this generation’s men made less (by 12%) than their fathers had at that same age in 1974, thus reversing a historical trend. It concluded that per year increases in household income generated by fathers/sons have slowed (from an average of 0.9% to 0.3%), barely keeping pace with inflation. “Family incomes have risen though (over the period 1947 to 2005) because more women have gone to work, supporting the incomes of men, by adding a second earner to the family. And as with male income, the trend is downward”.
Generation Flux is a neologism and psychographic designation coined by Fast Company for American employees who need to make several changes in career throughout their working lives because of the chaotic nature of the job market following the Financial crisis of 2007–08. Those in “Generation Flux” have birth years in the ranges of Gen X and Millennials.
According to authors Michael Hais and Morley Winograd, “small businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit that Gen Xers embody have become one of the most popular institutions in America. There’s been a recent shift in consumer behaviour and Gen Xers will join the “idealist generation” in encouraging the celebration of individual effort and business risk-taking. As a result, Xers will spark a renaissance of entrepreneurship in economic life, even as overall confidence in economic institutions declines. Customers, and their needs and wants (including Millennials) will become the North Star for an entire new generation of entrepreneurs”.
A 2008 article by The Observer, cites the Generation X birth years as falling between 1965 and 1982; the same article later describes Millennials as being born between 1982 and 2002. The writer states that Generation Xers were “labelled by some” as the me-generation of the Eighties.” Another piece written by a Guardian journalist in 2011 uses 1961 to 1981 for this generation.
The Telegraph cited Gen X birth dates as falling between a longer time span (1965–1985), In 2007, The Independent estimated an earlier range of birth dates (1963–1978) compared to other writers or researchers. However, the newspaper’s 2010 article titled “Generation X: A mid-life crisis” uses the 1961 to 1981 date range. The BBC News article about a lack of “mid-career volunteers” in their 20s provides a Generation X age range, which, being written in 2007, would suggest birth years that fall between 1962 and 1982.
A Daily Express article in December 2013 discusses the impact the recession has had on the generation “born between 1961 and 1981.” Despite a good degree and desired job skills, “they discovered that there is no job security and everywhere there are cutbacks on staff, salaries and benefits.”
David Foot, author and University of Toronto professor, divides the generation born after the Baby Boomers into two groups in his book Boom Bust & Echo: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Shift: Generation X, born between 1960 and 1966; and the “Bust Generation”, born between 1967 and 1979. Foot contends that those born between the periods of 1947–1966 were the Baby Boomers, where in Canada they were the largest boom of the industrialized world (relative to population). This large boom complicated the job market for the upcoming generation. However, it is also common in Canada to represent Generation Xers using the date ranges 1961–1981 or 1965–1981.
Australia and New Zealand
A Sydney Morning Herald article defined Gen X as “those born roughly between 1963–1980.” The Australian Bureau of Statistics use a 1965–1981 birth range to define Generation X. According to generational demographers Bill Strauss and Neil Howe, “shorter birth year definitions are shorthand for fertility rates. Gen Xers (as a cultural generation) look beyond demographics to define themselves by a shared location in history, common beliefs, attitudes and values (and a common perceived membership). Defining Gen X purely by demographic bulges and busts (like the Census) misses key cultural indicators that a very different set of young people has come along. Commentators who set Millennial birth boundaries starting in the late-70s often make the same assumptions using fertility rates to define birth dates rather than shared beliefs, attitudes and values. Children born in the early 1960s and after had a very different coming of age experience than those born in the late 1950s. Some of the most influential cultural definers of Gen X were born during the period between 1961 and 1964.”
Sources in New Zealand, including the country’s labour statistics, define Gen X between the years 1965 and 1981. According to a December 2013 article from The New Zealand Herald, a study done by researcher Dr. Kristin Murray of Massey University claims to have “debunked stereotypes about workers of different generations” who “may have more in common than we may think.” She found that though there were cultural differences between those in their twenties and those in their mid-thirties, “those cultural differences weren’t reflected in underlying values and motivations.” But, she found that Generation X-ers (1965–1981) and Baby Boomers (1946–1964) were “most alike.” However, Dr. Murray clarifies that her study “focused on values, so there could still be differences in behaviour between age groups.” Jason Walker, who is the New Zealand managing director for job recruitment company Hays, disagrees with Dr. Murray’s findings. His company’s research showed that Generation X members worked their way up the corporate ladder, advancing by learning new job skills. The Baby Boomers were dependent on their employers to take care of them if they worked hard. The “technologically savvy” Millennials, conversely, were “more risk-taking in their careers” and expected “fast-paced results.” If they weren’t challenging enough, or if they felt like they were in a dead-end job, they would move on.
Generation X (born 1961-81) today comprises roughly 87 million adults in their 30s and 40s. The very name “X” has an identity-cloaking
quality, reflecting the fact that many Xers feel little generational center of gravity. They are, first of all, the most immigrant generation per capita born in the 20th century. They are also the most unequal—that is, the most spread out in terms of income and wealth.
Many Xers entering adulthood were likely to see themselves—dressed in black, certainly not euphoric, and all looking in different directions, as if to advertise that they have nothing in common. In the early 1990s, extensive interviews with young Xers found that many of them associated themselves with collective failure, as if their generation were a gigantic auto accident. This meant that to be successful you had to take plenty of risks and be different from your peers.
Gen Xers first arrived as toddlers in the early 1960s, when the increasingly indulgent parenting style enjoyed by Boomer kids became totally hands-off. Institutions that once protected kids no longer seemed to work in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Schools were breaking down, and the divorce rate soared. What’s more, starting in the early ‘60s, adults didn’t want to have kids anymore. Fertility rates plummeted, hitting an all-time low in 1976, making this known as a “baby bust” generation.
Xers learned young that they couldn’t trust older people and institutions to look out for their best interests. They needed to be resilient survivors who could trust their own instincts. While Boomers have always focused on their inner lives, Gen Xers tend to focus on bottom-line outcomes. For the last several decades, the UCLA college freshman survey has been asking students what life goals they consider important. Through the early 1970s (when Boomers were college freshmen), a three-to-one majority said “developing a meaningful philosophy in life” rather than “being very well off financially.” When Xers entered college in the late 1970s, those priorities reversed.
Entering the workplace in the 1980s and ‘90s, young Xers encountered a generally buoyant economy that held lopsided rewards. At the high end, there was Wall Street and the allure of the entrepreneur in a newly deregulated economy. At the low end, entry-level union jobs began instituting two-tier wage scales and legislators began scrap¬ping job training programs and welfare benefits that had remained in place during the Boomer youth era. Raised as kids to take care of themselves, most young Xers embraced the high-turnover, no-safety net, free-agency lifestyle. Many gladly cashed out their workplace benefits, triggering the recent trend toward opt-in “cafeteria” and “total rewards” pay packages. At an early age, they dominated temp work—a sector which today is beginning to age with them.
The first wave of Generation X (born in the 1960s, the so-called “Atari” or “Reagan” Xers) started out at a tough time, in the grim shadow of the Volcker recession. By contrast, the second wave (born in the 1970s, the so-called “Nintendo ” or “Clinton” Xers) entered the workforce during the Roaring ‘90s, giddy years of “irrational exuberance” in which market valuations hit preposterous peaks. Millions of first-wavers at age 35 could at last hope that maybe the future wouldn’t totally suck after all. Millions of last-wavers at age 25 started out daydreaming about seven-figure stock options.
Yet despite all the “end of history” talk, precious few Xers—first wave or last—actually struck it rich. Under the impact of successive booms and busts, most struggled to afford a family or keep their home. While aspiring to become the capitalist “rich dad” they wished they had, most could not keep up with the actual wage-slave “poor dad” they sometimes had to boomerang back home to.
Then came the Great Recession, which hit Xers much harder in percentage wealth and income declines than any older generation. And no wonder. They had invested aggressively in stocks with the highest P/E ratios, the ones that crashed hardest. More than Boomers, Xers had bought late into the real-estate boom at punishing prices—and in exurban regions where the price declines were steepest. Since the crash, Xers in their 30s and 40s have experienced the biggest decline in homeownership—and to this day are the most likely to be underwater on the homes they still own.
There is some truth to the benign view that many Gen Xers are willingly choosing to downshift, work less, and lead a more DIY lifestyle. In an era when steady employment is a struggle to find, more Xers are prioritizing time with their families over longer hours at the office. They see traditional full-time positions as a burden rather than a benefit. This is especially true for Xer men who are seeking to be much more involved fathers than their own parents were. These forces are encouraging many of them to withdraw from the labor market.
But for millions, we’re talking about involuntary un- or under-employment leading over time to loss of skills and detachment from the labour force. This especially true for minority, immigrant, or low-skilled Xers, who were most likely to have lost most or all their wealth since 2008 and who have been the slowest to recover any of it. The aggregate statistics read like the gigantic auto accident Xers always feared lay somewhere in their future. While the number of (mostly) Boomers age 55 and over with full-time jobs has risen by over two million since the fall of 2007, the number of (mostly) Xers age 25 to 55 with full-time jobs has declined by nearly seven million.
Helping this generation get back on track economically is one of most important policy challenges America faces over the next decade.