Generation X, sometimes abbreviated to Gen-X, is a term used to describe the people born roughly between 1960 and 1980. It is sandwiched between the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations. Stereotyped as having characteristics such as a lack of direction and cynicism, members of this group they have been influenced by a wide range of cultural and political shifts, perhaps most notably the development of various technologies.
Year Limitations, Technical Definition and Numbers
Historians do not agree on the exact date range that should be used to define Generation X. Some individuals use a starting year as early as 1961, but others push this out to as late as 1965. The early cutoff is usually 1975, while the late end according to some sources is 1982. With these varying spans of time, estimates about the number of people included are anywhere from 46 to 51 million.
The stereotype of Generation X holds that those born during this period feel alienated and disenfranchised, with the "X" in the phrase describing the lack of identity these people seem to have. They reportedly don't know where they belong and have no real course in life, although they know for sure that they are not part of the generations that precede and follow their own. The media often portrays them as grunge-listening, coffee-drinking, flannel-donning slackers lost in apathy, who don't do their part for society as they quietly revolt against previous cultural ideals.
Generally speaking, people from this group also don't have a particularly high respect for authority, but they have a sense of decorum, wanting bosses and other leaders to look at both the good and bad and to judge fairly. They want balanced, interesting careers and family lives rather than bunches of money, and they aren't afraid to brush up their résumés and apply somewhere else to work if they aren't happy at their current job. Although they are detail oriented and will work hard if they have focus, their lack of both patience and experience can hold them back, and they don't always communicate that well with others.
Most Gen-Xers have grown up and established themselves to at least some degree through jobs, families and additional responsibilities of their own. The disaffected attitude that pervaded the 1980s and 1990s has, for the most part, generally shifted as a result, even though a few people likely still are living the stereotype. Additionally, some individuals have questioned the widely accepted characteristics usually applied, pointing out that, statistically, those in this group have high voting and volunteering rates, despite being somewhat cynical about whether their efforts ultimately will produce the positive effects they want.
Influences on Attitude
Many believe that the transition from colonialism to globalism and the relative safety many Americans enjoyed after World War II had an effect on people in this group. Their parents marched for equal rights and felt the impact of Kennedy’s assassination, possibly giving them a stronger sense of social responsibility. Skyrocketing costs in housing and education in the 1980s and 1990s, coupled with intense competition from overachieving Baby Boomers, may also have alienated Gen-Xers.
What They Experienced
One of the major advances that influenced this set of people was the increase in practical and entertaining technology. Individuals born in this range of time grew up using the first video games and computers, and developments like MTV let them share and enjoy the songs that shaped their lives. They also grew up through several American presidents — most were born during the terms of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter, and they typically can can recall the elections and speeches of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
People from Generation X grew up using VCRs and personal cassette players to listen to musicians and groups like Bon Jovi and Prince, and they saw the invention of the microwave, which now is a staple household appliance. They lived through the death of Princess Diana, the fall of the Berlin wall and the controversial invasion of Kuwait, as well as the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. They also befriended pet rocks and viewed Stephen Spielberg's E.T.: The Extraterrestrial in the theater.
Origins of the Term
According to some accounts, Robert Capa, a photographer for Magnum, was the first person to use the phrase "Generation X," using it to describe people growing up after World War II. He used it as the title of a photo essay that was published in 1953. Roughly a decade later, in a study of British teenagers for Women’s Own magazine, writer Jane Deverson came across a group of young people who were living outside of acceptable conservative mores by sleeping around, rejecting religion and disobeying their parents. When the magazine decided not to use the study, she co-authored a book with Charles Hamblett called Generation X, which was published in 1965.
The term experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 1990s, when it served as part of the title for Douglas Coupland's novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. The book is a series of stories told by several main characters, all of whom are young adults who would seem to represent this generation. The name caught on and became a part of popular culture in the US.
Although people normally use this label in the United States and Canada, the idea can be found in many other cultures around the world. In France, for instance, people of a similar age are labeled Génération Bof, which translates to "Generation Whatever." Such variations have slightly different cultural connotations, but the association with a generation born sometime after World War II remains the same.