The letter “X” is sometimes used to mean something unknown or lost, and this description fits Generation X to a T. Throughout its history, this generation keeps on changing and refuses to be defined.
But what does it mean to be a member of Generation X and why are they considered “lost”? Read on to find out all you need to know about the lives of Generation X!
Why Are They Called Generation X?
The term “Generation X” itself has several origins. One of its earliest usages is from photographer Robert Capa’s photo-essay in 1952 that chronicled the lives of young people living in post-World War II America.
The term further entered the public consciousness after musician Billy Idol used it to name his punk rock band. Idol himself said that the name was inspired by the book about British youth culture entitled Generation X, published in 1965. However, “Generation X” gained its current usage after the publication of Douglas Coupland’s novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.
Because the term was only used some thirty years after the generation’s beginning, this new generation had many previous names. Some of these names included:
- Post-Boomers, referring to their status as the successors of the Baby Boomer Generation.
- Baby Busters, alluding to the birth rate drop following the baby boom.
- Latchkey Generation because, as kids, they were often left alone in the house after school as both parents worked.
- MTV Generation, due to the popularity of music video channel MTV at the time.
How Long Did Generation X Last?
Most Generation Xers were likely born to Baby Boomers. However, there may be some of them who were born to younger Silent Generation parents that had children much later in life.
As with multiple generations that came before and after them, determining the age range of generational cohorts isn’t an exact science. That’s why different organizations define Gen X birth years differently:
- Pew Research Center puts Generation X birth years from 1965 to 1980.
- The Federal Reserve Board used the date range of 1965 to 1980.
- The Social Security Administration considers people born between 1964 and 1979 as part of Gen X.
Age Groups And Generational Relations Of Gen X
If we use Pew Research Center’s definition of Gen X, as of 2021 young Generation Xers would be in their early 40s while the oldest gen Xer would be 56.
Most of their children are likely Millennials, while those who had children later in life would give birth to Generation Z.
The Baby Bust
One of the names used for Gen X is the “Baby Bust Generation”. This refers to the decline in fertility rates that followed the 1950s’ uptick in birth rates, which lasted until the 1970s.
There are many reasons as to why the baby bust happened. A commonly cited reason is the stagnation of middle-class wages and the accessibility of college. Some women also decided to take up jobs beyond teaching and nursing. Pursuing higher education or careers and having to save up more money to marry and have children meant more people decided to raise kids much later in life.
Moreover, the increasing ubiquity of birth control pills and cohabitation also influenced childbirth. Before the Gen X days, marriage, sex, and childbirth were inseparable. Once this triangle was broken, childbirth rates started to plummet.
Why Is Generation X Considered “Lost”?
People sometimes refer to Gen X as the “New Lost Generation”. Back in their early days, they were considered lost because of the shifting societal values at the time – divorces were high and they were lonely children. This led to a cynical and rebellious youth, synonymous with punk and grunge music.
Nowadays, they’re considered “lost” because they’re stuck between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. In the workplace, many companies decide to focus on catering to their Millennial Generation workers through their policies. Before Gen Y came around, companies focused on their baby boomer employees – meaning the Gen Xers are typically overlooked in both policy-making and career opportunities.
Gen X is also the “forgotten middle child” culturally. When they were growing up, Baby Boomers dominated the political, educational, and social spheres. This gave rise to the counterculture movements that gave birth to punk, hip-hop, and so many other ways to express their frustrations toward older generations.
Many Gen Xers bemoan that their generation has fallen off the marketing radar in favor of younger generations. Instead of shifting their focus on branding to them, most companies skip them entirely and start marketing to the next generation, despite Gen Xers spending more money than Gen Y according to consumer behavior studies.
Some members of Gen X also live as a “sandwich generation”. They’re stuck as the main provider for aging parents and young Generation Y or Gen Z children. Moreover, they have their student debt and other personal finance issues to deal with. Thus, many Gen Xers aren’t only responsible for their own finances – they have to be financially responsible for three generations.
Common Traits Of Generation Xers
Generation X is only “small” by comparison to other large generations. While Baby Boomers and Millennials number over 70 million, according to census data there are around 65 million Gen Xers. Therefore, we can’t narrow down the exact personality profile of Gen Xers. However, they do have several traits in common, likely because they went through similar experiences in life.
Here are several key characteristics exhibited by Gen Xers.
Independent And Self-Reliant
This generation is known for being latch key kids – children who come back to an empty home because both Baby Boomer parents were working. Since Gen X children had to take care of themselves and fill the time until their parents came home, they’re known to be very independent.
A Gen Xer’s independence also extends into self-reliance. Many of them will happily take on responsibilities and figure out how to best overcome challenges by themselves. In the workplace, this means Gen Xers generally require – and in fact, thrive – under less supervision.
Independent Gen Xers are often heavily considered for leadership positions. Time Magazine published an article stating that many growth companies are led by Gen Xers.
Living in a post-Civil Rights Movement America and going to integrated public schools also means that Gen X is likely more tolerant compared to older generations. In fact, a study by William Strauss in the 1990s showed that Gen Xers were the least racist generation to date.
Casual And Less-Formal
Gen X thrives in informal environments. Even in the workplace, they prefer not to wear uniforms and live for casual Fridays. They also prefer casual and informal interactions with coworkers, if possible.
Living through times of political unrest in the shadow of Vietnam and Watergate, Gen X exhibits high critical thinking skills and a penchant for questioning authority. While some may call them cynical, their upbringing during uncertain times gave them a good reason to doubt and question everything about the world around them.
Craves Work-Life Balance
A large part of Generation X lives by the mantra “work hard, play hard”. Since they grew up in harsh economic times, they’re much more likely to seek work-life balance compared to the preceding generation. Members of Gen X usually have good time-management skills, so they can still pursue their real aspirations alongside their careers.
Aside from pursuing careers, many Gen Xers also choose other avenues of earning that won’t upset their work-life balance. Some may freelance so they can work at their own pace, while others with a strong entrepreneurial spirit decide to turn their passions into a business.
This generation grew up witnessing the development of personal computing. At the time, personal computers and mobile devices like cell phones were almost unheard of and they were the bleeding edge of technology.
Gen Xers eventually become comfortable with using personal electronic devices like computers and smartphones. While they’re not digital natives like Gen Z, most Gen Xers can still grasp today’s technology quickly.
Some Gen Xers took it a step further and started companies that would become today’s tech giants. For instance, Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are both Gen Xers.
Historical Landmarks Of Generation X
The world around us helped shape our worldview and may end up influencing our personalities. Living in a rapidly shifting age, the lives of Gen Xers were filled with unique events that made them the people they are today. Here are five significant world events that colored the life of Gen Xers.
The Fall Of The Berlin Wall
Many Gen Xers, like prior generations, were old enough to remember the end of the Cold War. One of the most prominent events that marked the end of this period was when the Berlin Wall fell. After living in the shadow of a conflict between the two blocs, the Berlin Wall falling felt like a long-awaited release of international tensions.
The Rise Of Personal Computers And Digital Technology
As Gen X entered early adulthood, computers started entering homes and offices, marking the beginning of the computer age. This new technology, alongside the beginnings of the Internet, opened new horizons for the young adults of Gen X. Gen X was also responsible for building the dot-com bubble and witnessed its eventual bursting.
Emergence Of MTV And Birth Of Many Musical Genres
Gen X was the first generation that grew up with MTV. By extension, they were also the first to experience music videos. The massive success of MTV at the time also led to another early Gen X nickname: the MTV Generation.
Gen X was notable for their self-expression as well. Building off the punk and metal influences of previous generations, Gen Xers eventually built a new musical identity with the alternative rock movement, spearheaded by genres like post-punk and grunge.
Many people also placed the golden age of hip-hop from the 80s to the 90s. Similar to alternative rock and grunge, hip-hop provided minorities with a place to voice their opinions and protests on social issues like urban poverty, racial politics, and police violence.
The Challenger Disaster
Living in a post-Apollo 11 world meant that space seemed to always be within reach. However, the 1986 Challenger Disaster shocked the entire world – especially Americans. Being the first American astronauts to die in flight, the incident understandably left a mark on many. In fact, the incident suspended NASA’s shuttle program for three years.
While they may be very small compared to their generational neighbors, Generation X still left their mark on the world – and may still do so. Despite being sandwiched between the baby boomers and the millennials, Generation X is currently America’s top earners and spenders.
If you’ve ever been curious about how your Gen X relatives lived while they were young compared to other generations, you can try looking for their photos.
However, old photos may be damaged by time or improper storage. This is where Image Restoration Center comes in – contact us today for world-class photo restorations!