Generation X – An Introduction To Our Likes & Dislikes

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In 1991, 28-year old author Douglas Coupland wrote a novel called Generation X: Tales of an Accelerated Culture. The phrase entered the contemporary dialect shortly after the novel’s release. Coupland portrays a group of three friends who have escaped civilization for tranquil Palm Springs, California, telling each other stories while they toil in menial jobs. Through these stories, the novel reveals the anguish felt by those born in the early 1960’s who are Baby Boomers but feel no connection to their cultural icons. For this age group, the “X” symbolizes an unknown value for a generation awakening into the consciousness of its reality as a distinct group but simultaneously being culturally eclipsed by the Baby Boomer Generation (Wikipedia, n.d.). The phrase Generation X defines an age group pointlessly searching for an identity that does not exist.

In demography, marketing, popular culture and the social sciences, the phrase Generation X classifies the generation immediately after the Baby Boomers. According to William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book Generations, the lows and highs in cultural tendencies as opposed to rates of birth indicate that this generation is composed of those born between 1961 and 1981 (Strauss & Howe, 1990). They are also known as the “13th Generation” because they are the thirteenth generation born since the generation of those in the American Revolution (Wikipedia, n.d.). The total number of people born into Generation X is now estimated to be at over 50 million people, surpassing the amount of Baby Boomers since 1980 (Mitchell, McLean & Turner, 2005).

This generation also has many other synonymous labels. Among them are ones that carry more benignly critical subtexts like “The MTV Generation,” or “Slackers.” The former implies a dull attention span for nothing more than flashy camera work with rapid cuts typical of those in music videos (Isaksen, 2002). The latter implies a generation with little ambition popularized by the 1991 Richard Linklater movie “Slacker.” Broad generalizations of members of any generation will not accurately depict every single member of that generation. Many of the generational stereotypes of Generation X, often attributed to them by Baby Boomers, are simply false. They are the most technologically savvy generation, being the first to grow up with television, the advent of personal computers and video games. The stereotype stems from the arrival of MTV in 1981 that specifically catered to them. Yet in spite of all the allure of Atari, Pacman and MTV, they are highly intelligent. According to enrollment rates in colleges and universities, Generation X is also the most learned generation in U.S. history. Since the start of this generation’s high school graduations in 1980, their high school graduates regularly enroll in higher education in record amounts (Mitchell, McLean & Turner, 2005). Also each generation has slackers who represent a dissident group and are not necessarily exclusive to this generation (Mitchell, McLean & Turner, 2005).

Anger and unrest are two definitive terms describing Generation X. Much of this is expressed through their choice in music. Alternative rock music of so-called “grunge” bands like Alice In Chains, Nirvana and Pearl Jam characterize this generation. Likewise, the hip-hop music of artists like Dr. Dre, Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur also characterize this generation. A popular myth is that they are solely white. Yet this group is very diverse in ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, and status. They are 70% white, 13% black, 12% Hispanic, 4% Asian and 1% Native American (Mitchell, McLean & Turner, 2005). This generation feels burdened with what they think are the result of careless behavior by previous generations: AIDS, broken families, the environment, homelessness, the national debt and poverty. Yet this generation developed in a time of relative calm in U.S. history. A single cohesive experience like World War II, Korea or Vietnam to bring them together might have prevented them from developing into a unified group (Mitchell, McLean & Turner, 2005). This generation experiences a combined distinction not from a single unifying event, but rather from mutual experiences and social conditions (Isaksen, 2002).

Generation X children were also known collectively as “Latch-Key Kids,” with television acting as a main babysitter or parental substitute. A vast preponderance of this generation’s children lived in dual-income households and unlike previous generations, many were forced to come home from school to fend for themselves. Additionally, they grew up during both the Ronald Reagan and George Bush Republican administrations of the 1980’s that limited social programs (Mitchell, McLean & Turner, 2005). As a direct result, they are realistic in their expectations through learned self-reliance at an early age. Based on a lifetime of exposure to advertising on television, this generation is very shrewd as a group of consumers. They view both the establishment and government with a great degree of suspicion, opting to trust only themselves and their friends. They instinctively know when they are deliberately being manipulated and do not mindlessly absorb information represented to be accurate. This generation puts a greater value on honesty over hype (Mitchell, McLean & Turner, 2005).

Often times though Generation X’s degree of independence is mistaken for a callous level of egocentricity. However instead of identifying them as selfish, a more precise descriptive term would be highly autonomous. They place great emphasis on individualism (Wikipedia, n.d.). Yet even with their aversion to collectivism, this generation prides itself on the distinctiveness of its generation. They take great pride in their degree of diversity, tolerance and inability to be labeled. Through living unconventional lifestyles like interracial marriages and adoptions or living together before marriage, they peacefully practices acceptance while not attempting to impose their personal values upon others (Wikipedia, n.d.).

Many in Generation X have seen their parents cold heartedly downsized by companies after years of faithful service. In contrast to the previous generations of their parents and grandparents, this generation’s employees do not expect to remain in one profession or business during their entire career. Rather than pursue career stability, they anticipate looking for jobs elsewhere. This group has a tendency to look for work that gives better opportunities for skill development and individual fulfillment (Smith, 2003). These employees want the ability to be marketable elsewhere in the workforce through the education and growth of new learned abilities. Wanting vacation time, sick days and work leaves in addition to employee perks like day care, health care and stock investment plans, these workers are also benefit savvy. Ultimately however, they find individual fulfillment from their work as a greater incentive over pay (Smith, 2003).

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