What Is Gen X: The “Forgotten Generation”

Contents

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!

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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.
Forgotten Generation

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.

Forgotten Generation

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.

Values Diversity

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.

Critical Thinkers

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.

Tech-Savvy

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.

Closing Thoughts

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!

We’re Not Like ‘Other’ Photo Restoration Services.

Take into account that, unlike other photo restoration services, we don’t just fix the obvious problems and throw a filter over everything – we comb through your images pixel-by-pixel to repair damage & create a perfect restoration of your prints!

19 Responses

    1. I believe you can say we are the last figure it out for yourself generation. While we shared, ET, The Goonies, Top Gun, enjoyed our parents Beatles, Zeppelin, the doors, while enjoying songs by the likes of GaGa, Beyoncé, Drake, Taylor swift and others. We rocked out to Bon Jovi and sang long with Cyndi Louper, Boy George along with Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Rehab, Outcast, Biggie and Tupac. Many of us instantly grasped the Sound Garden that was Nirvana with Pearl Jam. We felt the effects of Jimmie Carters administration, and money exploded under Reagan, which wasn’t his finest achievement. We saw the author of “A Time For Choosing “ tell the leader of the Communist Party to stop his foolish propaganda and free the people of West Germany…. And he did. We saw his wife be the first to warn us publicly in a non scolding way the danger and expense and loss of life that drugs will bring. We saw Mr. Bush promise not to raise taxes, and then raise taxes, we hoped Clinton was not old the coolest President (he played the sax on SNL) and turn out to be a pervert . We voted for Bush Jr in hopes for a return to the 80’s money-making and anything is possible, and had it stripped away by a Saudi Prince. We dropped our lives and showed up to recruitment stations or gave to the USO or continued to work our jobs with the hope of keeping things going. We supported the first Black person elected to office with zeal only to see him tell us we are what’s wrong with the Earth and we were filled with hate for peoples of different appearances and forced into buying something many of us already had( weather we wanted it or not) , we lived to see the greats of the Greatest generation pass and tell us the boomers were lazy and selfish, they told us not to trust what we were told, they said it wasn’t right we had to raise ourselves, while our parents said “times are different “ when we didn’t think we had it bad. We watched Full House, Family Matters, and the nightly news. We bought our first cell phones most of us as our parents didn’t see the value in being able to call you at anytime. We mowed lawns and rode bikes, we loved the good times and cried together in the bad. We had to wait a week to talk about the next episode of Seinfeld, The A- team and Airwolf. We witnessed the wait for a new album to hit the physical store, and bought the first iPods, walkmens, and iPhones. We learned code to be able to play a computer game and witnessed the quickness Atari got to PlayStation and now play Frogger on our phones. We were the channel changer for our grandparents and now watch movies anywhere we wish. Up and down think and thin this generation was still sat and watched these things when it was an effort to get in front of the one tv your family may have owned(parents and grandparents too) to watch the President speak, or to see the first teacher that attempted to reach the stars die in a most instantaneous explosion. We did it together, wether Florida or New York there were things that would draw us together. Today events like that do not happen as we record it, or watch it on demand later. We shared the news in a way that has been lost to convince, while technology has had many blessings we are the last to live the life before. We kick ass and don’t wait to hear the cheers, we call each other friend, and we know what it means to be in a brawl, yet we are smart enough to realize we don’t know it all.

  1. …and I’m still annoyed with corporations who dumped their pension programs that financed their boomer leadership, and then started wasting all of our time with these feel-good parties about ten years ago because they were told that’s what the younger ‘workers’ need to be happy at work.

  2. “Birth decline”
    Dont you mean… abortion was legalized, and boomers managed too murder 27 million of GenX as fast as the could…
    Boomers very literally are guilty of generational mass murder, and nobody will even mention it, let alone seems too want them held accountable, and the direct effects are 2 fold.
    1. The Boomers effectively silenced Gen X ability too ever influence politics because they murdered 1 in 4 of us. Boomers have dominated politics because we simply dont have the numbers too vote for any changes to their policy.
    2. Boomers by murdering Gen X doomed Social Security. Boomers only paid 7.5% into Social Security, while Gen X has always paid 12%+. Its a ponzi scheme. Gen X will never see a penny. Boomers who number around 88 million and who are terminally greedy, are doing everything in their power to leave S.S. completely empty. They murdered the very replacement workers, who would have sustained it, so theres not enough people putting into the fund and Boomers will have it empty… just as Gen X first becomes eligible around 2030. 8 years from now, and… just in time for the Boomer created 8 year collape.
    Even worse Boomers took away pensions, killed unions, killed 401k matching, savings has been at 0% interest for so long now, theres no point in trying, and… with wages stagnated and inflation, Gen X makes less everyday, meanwhile Boomers have consistently crashed the economy every other election cycle… so GEN X is doomed too work until we die. And forget inheritance, while Boomers were given vast wealth, Gen X will see almost nothing, because boomers who are greedy self indulged narcissists, have completely disregarded the “future preference” instead going on lavish vacations, or lost in multiple divorces to blood sucking, gold digging femanists who figured out why work, when the govt can be weaponized and leveraged against men using children as pawns, yet expect Gen X too fund Boomers eldercare… which in itself is hilarious since We Gen Xers, were ignored and left too fend for ourselves as children.
    Our currect political environment with psychotic boomers tearing the country apart and the future of Retirement for all going forward, has been the direct result of boomer actions.

    1. Wow. This is sadly very accurate. I was born in 1982 but I identify with Gen X’ers 1,000% and even this article defines me perfectly. My Dad is a classic boomer too. Thanks for putting this into words. One thing’s for sure, in my opinon, we are some of the toughest most resilient people compared to the generation before and after us. And I’m proud of that.

    2. Ok, seriously…if you’re going to make this giant statement to the world, please learn the difference between to, too and two. You lose any credibility when you lack the intelligence to.

    3. Whoa! Never thought of that . You are right. I thought sex and drugs destroyed any hope we had of being a functional nation. My millennial hates me and my Gen X is a mess. My Gen Z have little to do with me and now I know why. I mourn the lost of normal human interaction. Thank you for the enlightenment.

    4. Damn resent much? Try being native american where we are still fighting for recognition and benefits.

  3. I would call the the Forgettable Generation. It’s not out of any generational maliciousness that people forget Gen-X is a thing, they are just easy to forget. Just gave up on everything, didn’t they?

    1. Nope. Just busy being the majority of the current existing Fortune 500 CEOs 🙂 We are happy being ignored and watching the Boomers get blamed while we arrange big tech, multi media, and mega corps to our liking. We also like building self landing reusable boosters, working on mail drones and blimps to deliver mail. Robots, AI, hydrogen powered airliners. The sky is not the limit because the best known Gen Xer apparently wants to go to Mars.

      Just so everyone can keep blaming the Boomers. It’s great.

  4. The MTV kids simply don’t care what others think of us. We were not raised to need approval or recognition. We have old school values instilled by WWII grandparents, mixed with being raised on tech, video games and the birth of the internet.
    We grew up with great movies, music and social structures. Malls were fun. The 70s 80s and 90s were a great time to grow up.

    Compared to now, it was just more enjoyable.

    1. I can’t imagine growing up now or being apart of the younger gens. Really makes me sad how a great many are so – seriously? Like they don’t *want* to be happy, but instead point out how everything’s an injustice when society has really really progressed over the past 50 years. I get that the Great Recession sucked but the economy started banging around 2015 and then was kicking….

  5. “As Gen X entered early adulthood, computers started entering homes and offices, marking the beginning of the computer age.”

    Incorrect. Most of us were tweens or younger. I was 12 (1982) when we got our first Commodore. The oldest to fit within the this generation would be 13. I took programming on Apple IIs at school a short time later. Gen X is a very tech savvy bunch. We just aren’t as enamored with social media given our strong foundation living without a phone in our hands.

    We were young adults when the world wide web happened. Other than that, you nailed it.

    1. No, in 1982 very few homes had computers. Most people could not afford them. Your school was very well funded, most were not. I was born in 1969. Although there was a computer class in my high school, we did not use computers in our classes at all. When I started college in 1987, we were still typing our work on typewriters. There was a “computer lab” on campus, but it only had four computers, and they were rarely used. By 1989, we did have on-campus email, but very few students had computers. The computer lab was much bigger, but half the students still used typewriters. Only the math and science students used computers. Absolutely none of my classes required any computer use at all. I didn’t own my own computer until 1998. They were still very, very expensive. https://www.statista.com/statistics/184685/percentage-of-households-with-computer-in-the-united-states-since-1984/

  6. Excellent article.. étant moi même un pur genx (1972) je m’y retrouve complètement, il est tellement rare qu’on parle de nous et de façon si complète. Merci

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Emily Hutton

As a photographer, a restoration, and a designer, Emily isn't just a jack-of-all-trades, she's a certified expert. She's a tech junkie, and the most screen-addicted member of the IRC team. When it comes to product reviews, her insights and recommendations are second-to-none.

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