Who Generation X Is



Hello, World. 

Generation X is now considered the most influential generation, and I feel honored to be a part of it.   My name is Chloe and I started this blog in 2011.  I have studied Generation X since the late 1990's in part because I am fascinated by the concept of collective experience. I am a quintessential Gen Xer who tells my own personal story of being a tot of the '70s, a child of the '80s, a teenager of the '90s, and all that has happened since.  I always love hearing from readers - questions or ideas are always welcome, especially because the article below is a work in progress.  You can email me at genxpixels(at)gmail.
For more about me, click here: About the Writer. In a general sense, Generation X is a name given primarily to people in the Western World, though I am always in the process of learning about what people who fall into the birth years of Gen X (1961-1981) have experienced from around the world.  As a Gen Xer from the US, most of my Gen X knowledge and experience is based on being an American.

This piece specifically, and this blog in general, exists in part to help people better understand who Gen X is - to provide information about the years we were born, the historical events that formed us, and the pop culture that shaped who we are from microwave dinners to MTV.  The first half of this piece was written by me, a Second-Wave Gen Xer born in the 1970s, and the second piece of this article was written by Jennifer, a First Wave Gen Xer born in the 1960s.  

Our formative years were shaped by alteration, revolution, and catastrophe.  We either stood in our Reebok high tops as we watched the Berlin Wall fall on TV or were the ones tearing it down and saving its pieces in our acid-washed jean pockets.    Gen Xers in the East came of age as they became forever affected by the events of Tiananmen Square, and while Gen X is too young to have fought in Vietnam, some experienced it as children in Asia, or watched the war unfold each day in the West on TV after school.  Gen Xers in Ireland and in parts of the UK grew up among The Troubles, witnessing sectarian violence in their cities and villages throughout their most tender years.  And while the details are different, the same thing can be said for Gen Xers from the Middle East.  Young Gen Xers in South Africa were shaped by the overturning of apartheid, which also became part of an international change in the collective consciousness of our generation in how we began to view race and even human rights in general.  In the 1970s, when Apollo 17 took the first picture of earth from space, many Gen Xers were young kids, and this image made us realize from our youth that we are all connected -  and this is an impression that formed us. 

As young Gen Xers in the U.S., we watched the concept of nuclear family come unhinged. Through the 1970's and into the 1980's, divorce rates trended at an all time high.  As if losing the foundations of our lives was not enough, in 1986, as children and teenagers, we watched as the Challenger Space Shuttle break apart 73 seconds into its flight, disintegrating over the Atlantic Ocean, killing the seven people who had become our greatest heroes of that time.  We collectively saw it happen in real time on TV from our classrooms, and it was one of the countless defining moments that caused us to lose faith both in institutions, and to some extent, even in the older generations ahead of us.  The image of the Challenger exploding became a symbol of our lives....  

Here is a link I wrote about how the Challenger deeply affected Gen X, especially those of us that were in elementary school when it happened: 
The Challenger and Generation X

Also during the growing up years of Generation X, the Union Carbide Disaster in India and the nuclear disasters such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl added to our fears that catastrophe was around every corner, and this is, quite sadly, the landscape of the world in which we grew up.  



No one seemed to think much during the tender years of Generation X about how kids should be protected from the media as it depicted the horrors of the world on our TVs, except maybe Mr. Rogers.  So far, Pastor Fred Rogers is the only person I have ever found outside of our generation who ever stood up for us in any significant way...when he went in front of the U.S. Congress to defend PBS and children's programming, he was in fact defending Generation X.

Link to the transcript here:

 American Rhetoric - Fred Rogers Congress Testimony


As Gen X kids, some of us watched the already decades-old film reels in our classrooms about how to duck and cover if a nuclear bomb were to land on our cities.  


Whether we grew up in the Soviet Union or America, our experience of the Cold War was similar - it was constantly on our mind.

Gen Xer Samantha Smith, once known as America's youngest ambassador, tried to show the world that no matter whether we were from the Western Bloc or the Eastern Bloc, we had more in common than we realized.  She perished August 25, 1985.




Many Xers entered the workforce and start families during the dot com boom and bust, and/or as September 11th happened.  It was as if every time we tried to create a foundation for our lives, we found ourselves dealing with yet another catastrophe.  This, and all the topics above contributed to many of the traits of our collective personality.  It also contributed to our mistrust of institutions.  Corporate Greed was a dark cloud that hung above us in our earlier years of our careers as we worked lower paying jobs for profoundly higher paid older people.  In more recent years, the Great Recession also contributed to our cynicism.  It was Generation X, not Gen Y that founded Occupy Wall Street.  



Generation X grew up in a time when the quality of public education in America was at an all-time low. Many with ADD or ADHD went undiagnosed, as there wasn't as much knowledge at the time on this as there is now.  Many Xers have spoken out about educational reform - especially the reform we wish could have happened when we were in school.  


Gen Xer Peter Shankman, puts out articles and podcasts about how ADD or ADHD is actually a gift - for more on that, click here:  How I hacked my life




We must have been born to defy the odds, however, because we became a very educated generation - as a whole, more educated than any generation before us. 

Our education and pop culture intersected in something we Gen Xers get pretty nostalgic about: School House Rock.  It came on in between cartoons on Saturday mornings. ABC did a special on this not too long ago and I wrote a piece about it here: Creamsicle Floats and How My Generation Got the Short End of the Stick


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended racial segregation in American schools, which meant that Generation X in general was raised in schools that were racially diverse.  Some say Generation X is the first colorblind generation.  As a whole, I think we still have room for improvement.  


As Generation X, we are the bridge between an analog world and a digital one.  We are the connection point between all of human history and the present moment in a way that no other generation ever has been or ever could be. 

Generation X is the generation who largely built the internet. We are also a huge piece of the tech industry.  The hub of this industry is the San Francisco Bay Area, where my Generation X husband works for a tech company, and where my younger Generation Y brother does as well.  I'm grateful for what both of them do - because of the type of work they do, people like me can be bloggers.  

Here in the Bay Area, a key person who intrinsically affected the culture here in his time is Steve Jobs, some say he was simultaneously three generations in one, including Gen X.  What I love from his ideas, is that every person in the world should have a voice and a platform if they want one.  For more on that, click here: Steve Jobs as multiple generations all in one. There's something about Gen X and the West Coast...famous Gen X entrepreneurs include the founders of Google, Twitter, Amazon, and Klout.    


We were the first generation to play video games and loved Atari (I still play my Atari Flashback with my Generation Z daughter).  Arcades were a huge part of our youth.  Because we grew up in a time of constant economic problems such as widespread layoffs of our parents that caused families to have to move to start new jobs, and because so many came from broken families, which often came with relocation as new marriages were formed by our parents, we were very nomadic growing up.  This is in part why we are known as a Nomad Generation.  Whenever we went to a new city, the one place that was consistent for us from one city to another was our local arcade.  


We are also known as Latchkey Kids, as Throwaways, and as a Lost Generation.   All of these terms describe people who grew up in a time when children were the least valued and the most under protected in modern history.   Gen Xers grew up in a time when society was dissolving in every possible way, and abuse was rampant.  Below are some ugly statistics about the growing up years of Generation X from a short clip from the film Xingularity which is now in production: 



During the growing up years of Gen X: 


  • The number of daycare centers doubled
  • In 1982, there were more than 7 million latchkey kids
  • The average American father in the 1980s spent 37 seconds a day in direct dialogue with his kids
  • The average mother spent less than 10 minutes talking to her preschooler
  • In 1985, there were more than 2 million cases of child abuse and neglect, a 300% increase over 1976
  • Each year 40,000 children were hospitalized because of injuries from parents and caregivers
  • During the 1970s, the age group that suffered the largest increase in homicide were those between one and four years of age 


From the research I did on Generation X while I was in college, I found that nothing affected us quite as much as TV.  You could say many Gen Xers more or less raised themselves, and you could also say they were raised by TV.  



Considering all the commercials we watched growing up, many of us have a quiet disdain for advertising.  The dichotomy in this is that we are also nostalgic about the things we remember and love from all those hours in front of the television.  This includes everything from the candy and cereal we ate to the cartoon characters and toys we loved. 






We still love to surround ourselves with mementos of the pop culture our younger years...I gathered the pieces on my writing desk so they could take a group picture together....






Gen X nostalgia seems to peak during the holiday season, have a tendency to pull out those Rankin-Bass movies at Christmas and share them with our kids....











We grew up eating a lot of processed food, foil trays that went to the oven in our younger years, and plastic trays that went into the microwave as we grew older, and after the toll this took on our health, many of us spent our adult years getting back to more natural, healthy ways of eating.   One specific consequence of high-stress childhoods and low-quality eating is that many Gen Xers have adrenal exhaustion, a condition that makes millions tired, but is often not recognized in Western medicine.  I hope to have a chance to write more about all this in the future.  




Celebrating Earth Day from our very young years, we have become an environmentally conscious generation. Some articles have stated that we are the generation that cares the most about the environment, or that we are the most likely to get personally involved in programs to help clean up the environment. 


From all those latchkey years of making our own dinners, we became self-reliant, resilient, sometimes cynical, and very realistic.  We quietly give an enormous amount to society, doing the hard work, without looking for accolades, because each generation is what it has to be.  




Reality Bites is an iconic '90s Gen X movie and deals with the world in which we found ourselves as we entered adulthood.  I remember this movie being played on VHS when a friend threw me a surprise party my senior year in high school.  Something many of us struggled with was finding jobs after college while under the weight of enormous student loans.  

It has been a long, hard road for Gen X. 



While we often lead from the background, we are now considered to be the most influential generation.  





"There is a mysterious cycle of human events.  To some generations much is given.  Of other generations much is expected." 
 -FDR  

For the record, not much was given to Generation X, but a lot has been expected.


While we were originally tagged as slackers, we have shown ourselves to be just the opposite.  While we are known for being cynical it is often because we started out in life so full of hope and were so profoundly let down.  Ever heard the phrase, "Generation X is sick of your BS"? While we are known as whistle-blowers, it's because we saw far too much corruption in far too many areas of society as we were growing up.  Generation X was given to us originally as a derogatory term, yet we have even risen above our name by making it something to be proud of and embracing it. 

If you think of yourself of a Gen Xer, that's good enough for me and I'm glad to have you along for the journey.  There are a lot of different ideas out there on what the time frame of birth years for Gen X should be - though by broadest definition it's the early 60s to the early 80s.  






While birth year has a lot to do with generation, it is also maybe even more so about the pop culture that formed you - if John Hughes films were influential in your teenage years, there's a good chance you are Generation X.






National Geographic recently did a six part series on Generation X:

Alternative Goes Mainstream
Truth Be Told
The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth
The Power of Disruption
Family Reimagined 
The Politics of X 

This series includes the story of the Winter of Discontent, the evolution of Hip Hop, as well as the birth of Pong.   For more about this series, click here:  Nat Geo Gen X Series



It's important to know that each generation comes in multiple waves.  First Wave Generation X was born (give or take) in the 1960's.  Second Wave Generation X was born (more or less) in the 1970's.  Those born in the very late 60's, who were just a little to young to remember the Pentagon Papers, the Energy Crisis, or watching the Vietnam War unfold on TV would fall into the Second Wave category.  Second Wavers (like myself) were kids of the '80s, who kept themselves busy with Transformers and Cabbage Patch Kids.  



As Second Wave Gen Xers, we were the teenagers of the Grunge Era, crowd surfing as we saw Pearl Jam live, and moshing through Nirvana concerts.  This blog tells you about an experience I had with Kurt Cobain soon before he died.  Link here to read that story: A few moments with Kurt Cobain

Some people born in the earlier part of the 60's will classify themselves as thoroughly Gen X and others say that they have no personal context for very Gen X things, so they call themselves Generation Jones.  Gen Jonesers I know seem to be on a somewhat different wavelength than the Xers I've know.  Often times, if someone was born in the earlier part of the 60s, they are more of a Joneser, and if they were born in the later part of the 60s, they are more of an Xer. Either way, Jones and X have at least some overlap in their formative life experiences.

I also know people who have been born after pretty much anyone's definition of what the cut off year is for being Gen X, but they were influenced by older siblings or even just pop culture in general so they are (at least functionally speaking) a Gen Xer.


Interesting note and a fascinating thing I have realized in studying collective experience: Much of the Generation X experience (and any most generation's experience) comes from the pop culture we shared.  If you were raised in the top 1% of society socioeconomically speaking, you may find yourself with very little connection to your generation because you were more influenced by high culture than pop culture.  In other words, what binds many of us together is a middle-class childhood - the cartoons we watched while eating cold breakfast cereal, the toys we got for our birthday that our parents may have paid for by using lay-away, the hours we spent playing Atari.  

Anyway, the way I see it in terms of how you identify yourself generationally, is that some of it is about the year you were born, and some of it is really just experience. If your influences were primarily X, then you will probably identify with this blog. 

A generation is like a thousand piece puzzle on the table of a passenger train that keeps gaining momentum as it moves down the tracks. Through space and time, it takes putting those pieces together for quite a while before a bigger picture emerges. Coming together as a generation, or at least making a generational connection, is like sitting at this table and putting the puzzle pieces of our lives together. 



If you're a Gen Xer, at least one of the following was in your backpack on weekday afternoons when you were nine years old: 

1) Quarters for the arcade 
2) A comic book to distract you from the things in your life that you have no control over
3) Your Rubik's Cube 
4) The key that made you a latchkey kid





If you're a Gen Xer, at least one of the following was in your locker on weekday evenings when you were sixteen years old: 
1) A cassette tape with a mix of songs you recorded from the radio
2) A pay stub from your minimum wage job 
3) Your cigarettes









If you're a Gen Xer, at least one of the following was in your college dorm room on weekday mornings when you were nineteen years old: 
1) A book on existentialism 
2) A closet with more black clothes than any other color
3) Water boiling for instant coffee 
4) A mirror showing the reflection of a person who has defied the odds, and will make it in life by solving problems in a way no one ever expected


While cultures are often defined by physical boundaries - by the geographical lines where one country ends and another begins, a generation is defined by the boundaries of time.   By being born around the same time, our collective experience during our formative years caused us to become members of the same culture as one another.  This blog is all about the culture that we are as Generation X, the issues we face in our time, and how, as the new leaders of society, we are, in fact, turning the tides of history.  More on that below...



The second part of this article is a series of excerpts from the research of  Jennifer James McCollum - an extraordinary First Wave Generation X writer, and one of my dearest friends. You can link to her blog here: Are You There God? It's Me, Generation X


What Years Are Generation X? 

The years for Generation X vary from one historian, government agency and marketing firm to the next.  Neil Howe and the late William Strauss, defined the generation in the broadest terms I have come across: 1961 to 1981.  The United States Social Security Administration defines Generation X as "those born roughly between 1964 and 1979, while another federal agency, the U.S. Department of Defense, sets the parameters at 1965 to 1977.  George Masnick of Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies sets the Baby Buster years at 1965 to 1984

Generations stem from shared experiences.  Depending on your birth order and the area of the country you grew up in as well as other influences, you may identify with one generation more than another.  That is perfectly fine.  All of this is subjective.  It's worth nothing the simple definition of a generation found at Dictionary.com: 


  • The entire body of individuals born and living at about the same time...
  • The term of years, roughly 30 among human beings, accepted as the average period between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring.
  • A group of individuals, most of whom are the same approximate age, having similar ideas, problems, attitudes, etc. (Compare Beat Generation, Lost Generation, etc.)
  • A group of individuals belonging to a specific category at the same time...
The point is, opinions vary on when generations begin and end.  In my opinion, people should claim the generation whose collective personal most reflects their own life experiences. 

Generation X Ages 

The age range from Generation X as of 2016 is 35 to 55 (my broadest definition).  In 2011, the first Gen-Xer turned 50 years old and the youngest turned 30.  We are currently the "sandwich generation" in America.  We are caring for aging parents and raising more than 50 percent of the nation's children under 18 (May 2014)


How Big Is Generation X? 

Generation X was born during the single most anti-child phase in American history.  In the early 1960s, the birth control pill became widely available, and in 1973, abortion was legalized.  These are two factors that are said to have contributed to the generation's low numbers.  According to Jeff Godinier, in his book, X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from SuckingBaby Boomers number 76 million and Millenials, 80 million.  Generation X is sandwiched between them with 46 million.  This is expertly challenged, however, by the 2010 Census around 311.8 million. 


The following generations' numbers are for everyone over 18.  These individuals collectively represent 236.8 million Americans: 

  • G.I. (born 1901-1924), 4.5 million
  • Silent (born 1925-1942), 26.2 million
  • Baby Boomer (born 1943-1960), 65.6 million
  • Generation X (born 1961-1981), 88.5 million
  • Generation Y (born 1982-2001) 18+, 52.0 million
  • Two-thirds of the remaining 75 million are Gen Y who are under 18
  • The remaining one third (25 to 30 million) is Generation Z
 So, why do we hear that Generation X is so small when the numbers tell a different story?  That's a great question with a relatively simple answer: immigration. 

Characteristics of Generation X

When it comes to generations, characteristics and traits are often referred to as the collective persona.  Not everyone buys into generational theory and some accuse historians and marketers, etc. of stereotyping people.  I am not one of these people.  I love the book, Generations, by Neil Howe and the late William Strauss.  These historians came up with a "bold and imaginative" theory that is based on recurring generational cycles in American history beginning in 1584.  This theory is difficult to summarize, and I couldn't do it justice even if I tried.  A brief overview of the framework, however, may inspire you to check their book out of your local library. 

Basically, the historians maintain that generations fall into one of four archetypes and occur in one of four cycles that go on repeating themselves.  The archetypes are prophet, nomad, hero, artist, and the cycles are high, awakening, unraveling, and crisis.  Everything they've written about Generation X has been spot-on for me.  Others may see if differently.  With that, here are some of the stereotypical traits of Generation X:

Adrift, Apathetic

In youth and childhood, Generation X was often described as being adrift.  The archetype of loner emerged.  In reality, members, especially young men, were disenfranchised by a loss of familial support and later technology (think:video games). In adulthood, the introspective, disconnected Gen-Xer has re-engaged through social media to find that they are not so different than everyone else.  Facebook is dominated by Generation X and here we have discovered we were all hiding the same things from each other all these years. 

Cynical

Gen Xers distrust authority and large institutions including corporations, religious institutions and the government...


Individualistic

Our mothers worked.  Our fathers left.  Sometimes, it was the other way around.  Either way, divorce was a major factor in the developing resourcefulness, independence and self-sufficiency of Generation X.  Autonomy was a consequence of unstable childhoods... 

Casual Disdain for Everything, Especially Authority

Generation X has often been criticized for a snarky and casual disdain for authority.  In the workplace, they want freedom coupled with responsibility and they hate being micromanaged.  This has created decades of conflict between Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.  The American workforce is an interesting state of transition right now because every day thousands of Baby Boomers retire. 

Technologically Astute

Gen X-ers have come of age during an interesting time in the world.  They remember rotary dial phones and the explosion of mobile technology.  (First Wave Gen X-ers) remember Liquid Paper and plunking out term papers on typewriters.  They grew up in a world without social media, and yet have adapted to it - even invented it - exquisitely....

Flexibility

Maybe it was our turbulent childhoods, but Generation X has proven highly adaptable to change.  We saw our parents lose so many jobs, we remained committed to making changes whenever necessary in order to get ahead.  This has contributed to Generation X being viewed as disloyal to employers or uncommitted to jobs.  In reality, Gen X-ers are committed to their own survival. 

Work-Life Balance

Gen-Xers value work-life balance.  How else could we coach soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring all while serving as Boy scout Troop Leader?  Gen-Xers value work-life balance because they know the job you sacrifice everything for might not be there tomorrow.  So, why give it all and lose your family in the process? 


Divorce, Working Moms and Latchkey Kids Shape Generation X

From the late 1960s to the early 1970s divorce rates in the United States more than doubled.  In addition, between 1969 and 1996, the number of working mothers in the workforce also doubled.  Consequently, many households were headed by working single moms.  It's estimated that as many as 40 percent of Gen Xers were latchkey kids who returned home from school to empty housed.  Their childhoods and youth were marked by a lack of supervision, and excessive household and family responsibilities. 

The pendulum swings wide on the consequences of the latchkey childhood.  Unsupervised Gen X children and youth ran the gamut of those who watched too much TV and didn't do their homework to those who fell into escalating levels of crime.  According to Douglas Coupland, inwardly-focused Baby Boomers sometimes regarded their children as "obstacles to their self-exploration," and thus resulted permissive parenting of grand proportion.  In addition, on top of spending many hours bored and lonely, Coupland also concludes that Generation X was "rushed through childhood."



_________________________________

The first part of this article was written by Chloe Koffas, a second wave Gen Xer and second part of this article is written by Jennifer James McCollum, a first wave Gen Xer.  All rights reserved.   This article includes only excerpts from Jennifer's piece on Who Is Generation X? For the full article, click herejenx67.com - who is gen x?








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