Generation X

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Generation X (or Gen X for short) is the demographic cohort following the Baby-Boomers and preceding the Millennials. Researchers and popular media typically use birth years around 1965 to 1980 to define Generation Xers, although some sources use birth years beginning as early as 1961 and ending somewhere from 1977 to 1984.

As children in the 1970s and 1980s, a time of shifting societal values, Gen Xers[1] were sometimes called the "latchkey generation", due to reduced adult supervision compared to previous generations. This was a result of increasing divorce rates and increased maternal participation in the workforce, prior to widespread availability of childcare options outside the home. As adolescents and young adults in the 1980s and 1990s, Xers were dubbed the "MTV Generation" (a reference to the music video channel), sometimes being characterized as slackers, cynical, and disaffected. Some of the cultural influences on Gen X youth were the musical genres of grunge and hip hop music, and independent films. In midlife, research describes them as active, happy, and achieving a work–life balance. The cohort has been credited with entrepreneurial tendencies, and was the last generation in the United States for whom post-secondary education was broadly financially remunerative.


Douglas Coupland popularized the term Generation X in his 1991 novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.

The term Generation X has been used at various times to describe alienated youth. In the early 1950s, Hungarian photographer Robert Capa first used Generation X as the title for a photo-essay about young men and women growing up immediately following World War II. The term first appeared in print in a December 1952 issue of Holiday magazine announcing their upcoming publication of Capa's photo-essay.[2] The term acquired its contemporary application after the release of Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, a 1991 novel written by Canadian author Douglas Coupland.[3][4] In 1987, Coupland had written a piece in Vancouver Magazine titled "Generation X" which was "the seed of what went on to become the book".[5][6] Coupland referenced Billy Idol's band Generation X in the 1987 article and again in 1989,[7] but Coupland has stated that:

"The book's title came not from Billy Idol's band, as many supposed, but from the final chapter of a funny sociological book on American class structure titled Class, by Paul Fussell. In his final chapter, Fussell named an "X" category of people who wanted to hop off the merry-go-round of status, money, and social climbing that so often frames modern existence."[8][5]

Billy Idol had attributed the name of his band to the book Generation X, a 1965 book on popular youth culture written by two British journalists, Jane Deverson and Charles Hamblett.[3][9] Their use of the term appears to have no connection to Robert Capa's photo-essay.[2]

Author William Strauss noted that around the time Coupland's 1991 novel was published the symbol "X" was prominent in popular culture, as the film Malcolm X was released in 1992, and that the name "Generation X" ended up sticking. The "X" refers to an unknown variable or to a desire not to be defined.[10][11][4]

In the US, some called Generation Xers the "baby bust" generation because of the drop in the birth-rate following the baby-boom.[12]

Author Neil Howe noted the delay in naming this demographic cohort saying, "Over 30 years after their birthday, they didn't have a name. I think that's germane." Previously, the cohort had been referred to as Post-Boomers, Baby Busters, New Lost Generation, latchkey kids, MTV Generation, and the 13th Generation (the 13th generation since American independence).[13][10][7][14][15]

Date and age range definitions

Generation X is the demographic cohort following the post–World War II baby-boom, representing a generational change from the baby-boomers. Many researchers and demographers use dates which correspond to the fertility-patterns in the population. For Generation X, in the US (and broadly, in the western world), the period begins at a time when fertility rates started to significantly decrease, following the baby-boom peak of the late 1950s, until an upswing and eventual recovery at the end of the 1970s.

The US Pew Research Center, a non-partisan American think-tank, agreed on a range of 1965–1980. Demographic patterns aside, the center remarks, "Generations are analytical constructs, it takes time for popular and expert consensus to develop as to the precise boundaries that demarcate one generation from another." [16] Pew takes into account other measures, notably the labour market as well as attitudinal and behavioral trends of a group. According to this definition, the oldest Gen Xer is 55 years old and the youngest is, or is turning, 40 years old in 2020. Writing for Pew's Trend magazine in 2018, psychologist Jean Twenge observed that the "birth year boundaries of Gen X are debated but settle somewhere around 1965–1980."[17]

US Fertility Rates 1963–1981

The US Federal Reserve Board also use 1965–1980 to define Gen X.[18] US News outlets such as The New York Times[19][20] and the Washington Post[21] describe Generation X as people born between 1965 and 1980. Bloomberg,[22] Business Insider,[23] and Forbes[24][25] use 1965–1980. Time states that Generation X is "roughly defined as anyone born between 1965 and 1980."[26] PricewaterhouseCoopers, a multinational professional services network headquartered in London, describes Generation X employees as those born from 1965 to 1980.[27] In 2 generational publications, Lancaster and Stillman, in 2002, and, Jain and Pant in 2012, both use measurement parameters of 1965 to1980.[28]

Australia's McCrindle Research Center use parameters 1965–1979.[29] Gallup, also use 1965–1979.[30]The US Social Security Administration (SSA) sets the years for Gen X between 1964 and 1979. The US Department of Defense (DoD), conversely, use dates 1965 to 1977.[31] The UK's Resolution Foundation think-tank defines Gen X as those born between 1966 and 1980.[32]

In Canada, professor David Foot describes Generation X, born between 1960 and 1966, as late Boomers and belong to the Baby-Boom cohort whilst the "Bust Generation", born between 1967 and 1979, is considered altogether a separate class, in his 1996 book Boom Bust & Echo: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Shift.[33][34]

Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe define Generation X as those born between 1961 and 1981 in their 1991 book titled Generations. Moreover, they argue that those born between 1961 and 1964 are part of Generation X rather than the Baby-Boomers because they are distinct from the Boomers in terms of cultural identity and shared historical experiences.[35] [36]

Jeff Gordinier, in his 2008 book X Saves the World, has also wider definition to include those born roughly between 1961 and 1977 but possibly as late as 1980.[37] George Masnick, of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, puts this generation in the time-frame of 1965 to 1984.[38]This measurement so that Boomers, Xers, and Millennials "cover equal 20-year age spans".[38]

Individuals born in the Generation X and millennial cusp years of the late 1970s and early to mid 1980s have been identified as a "microgeneration" with characteristics of both generations.[39] Names given to these "cuspers" include Xennials,[40] Generation Catalano,[41] and the Oregon Trail Generation.[42]



There are differences in population numbers depending on the date-range selected. In the US, using Census population projections, the Pew Research Center found that the Gen X population born from 1965 to 1980 numbered 65.8 million in 2018. The cohort is likely to overtake boomers in 2028.[43] A 2010 Census report counted approximately 84 million people living in the US who are defined by birth years ranging from the early 1960s to the early 80s.[44]

In a 2012 article for the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, George Masnick wrote that the "Census counted 82.1 million" Gen Xers in the US. Masnick concluded that immigration filled in any birth year deficits during low fertility years of the late 1960s and early 1970s.[38] Jon Miller at the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the University of Michigan wrote that "Generation X refers to adults born between 1961 and 1981" and it "includes 84 million people".[45]In their 1991 book Generations, authors Howe and Strauss indicated that the total number of individuals in the US was 88.5 million.[46]

Family planning programs

The birth control pill, introduced in the early 1960s, was one contributing factor of declining birth rates seen in the late 1960s and 1970s. Another was abortion, only available in a few states until its legalization in a 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v.s Wade. This was replicated elsewhere, with reproductive rights legislation passed, notably in the UK (1967), France (1975), West Germany (1976), New Zealand (1977), Italy (1978), and the Netherlands (1980). From 1973 to 1980, the abortion rate per US 1,000 women aged 15-44 increased exponentially from 16% to 29% with more than 9.6 million terminations of pregnancy practiced. Between 1965 and 1980, for every 5 American citizens born, 1 was aborted. [47] However, increased immigration during the same period of time helped to partially offset declining birth-rates and contributed to making Generation X an ethnically and culturally diverse demographic cohort.[13][28]

Generally, Gen Xers are the children of the Silent Generation and older Baby Boomers.[37]


As children and adolescents

Rising divorce rates and women workforce participation

Strauss and Howe, who wrote several books on generations, including, one, in 1993, specifically on Generation X 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, reported that Gen Xers were children at a time when society was less focused on children and more focused on adults.[48] Gen Xers were children during a time of increasing divorce rates, with divorce rates doubling in the mid-1960s, before peaking in 1980.[13][49][50] Strauss and Howe described a cultural shift where the long-held societal value of staying together for the sake of the children was replaced with a societal value of parental and individual self-actualization. Strauss wrote that society "moved from what Leslie Fiedler called a 1950s-era 'cult of the child' to what Landon Jones called a 1970s-era 'cult of the adult'."[48][51] The Generation Map, a report from Australia's McCrindle Research Center writes of Gen X children: "their Boomer parents were the most divorced generation in Australian history".[52]According to Christine Henseler in the 2012 book Generation X Goes Global: Mapping a Youth Culture in Motion, "We watched the decay and demise (of the family), and grew callous to the loss."[53]

US Marriages Ending in Divorce 1950–1990

The Gen X childhood coincided with the sexual revolution of the 1960s, which Susan Gregory Thomas described in her book In Spite of Everything as confusing and frightening for children in cases where a parent would bring new sexual partners into their home.[54] Thomas also discussed how divorce was different during the Gen X childhood, with the child having a limited or severed relationship with one parent following divorce, often the father, due to differing societal and legal expectations. In the 1970s, only 9 U.S states allowed for joint custody of children, which has since been adopted by all 50 states following a push for joint custody during the mid-1980s.[55] Kramer vs. Kramer, a 1979 American legal drama, based on Avery Corman's best-selling novel came to epitomize the struggle for child custody and the demise of the traditional nuclear family.[56]

US Participation Rates for Women Professionals 1966-2013

The rapid influx of Boomer women into the labour force that began in the 1970s was marked by the confidence of many in their ability to successfully pursue a career while meeting the needs of their children. This resulted in an increase in latchkey children, leading to the terminology of the "latchkey generation" for Generation X.[57][58][59] These children lacked adult supervision in the hours between the end of the school day and when a parent returned home from work in the evening, and for longer periods of time during the summer. Latchkey children became common among all socioeconomic demographics, but this was particularly so among middle and upper-class children[58]. The higher the educational attainment of the parents, the higher the odds the children of this time would be latchkey children, due to increased maternal participation in the workforce at a time before childcare options outside the home were widely available.[60][61][62][63] McCrindle Research Center described the cohort as "the first to grow up without a large adult presence, with both parents working", stating this led to Gen Xers being more peer-oriented than previous generations.[52][64]

Conservative and neo-liberal turn

Some older Gen Xers started high school in the waning years of the Carter presidency but the majority of the cohort will have become socially and politically conscious during the Reagan era. President Ronald Reagan, (1911-2004), voted in office principally by the Boomer generation[65], embraced laissez-faire economics with vigour with cuts in the growth of government spending, reduction in taxes for the higher echelon of society and deregulation of key industries.[66] Measures had drastic consequences on the social fabric of the country even if, gradually, reforms gained acceptability and exported overseas to willing participants. The early 1980s recession saw unemployment rise to 10.8% in 1982 requiring, more often than not, dual parental incomes[67]. One in five American children grew up in poverty during this time. The federal debt almost tripled during Reagan's time in office, from $998 billion in 1981 to $2.857 trillion in 1989 placing greater burden on repayment on the incoming generation.[68]

US Department of Health booklet published in 1988.

Government expenditure shifted from domestic programs to defense. Remaining funding initiatives, moreover, tended to be diverted away from programs for children and often directed toward the elderly population, with cuts to Medicaid and programs for children and young families, and protection and expansion of Medicare and Social Security for the elderly population. These programs for the elderly were not tied to economic need. Congressman David Durenberger criticized this political situation, stating that while programs for poor children and for young families were cut, the government provided "free health care to elderly millionaires".[51][69]

The crack epidemic and AIDS

Gen Xers came of age or were children during the crack epidemic, which disproportionately impacted urban areas as well as the African-American community in the US. Drug turf battles increased violent crime, and crack addiction impacted communities and families. Between 1984 and 1989, the homicide rate for black males aged 14 to 17 doubled in the US, and the homicide rate for black males aged 18 to 24 increased almost as much. The crack epidemic had a destabilizing impact on families with an increase in the number of children in foster care. In 1986, President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act to enforce strict mandatory minimum sentencing for drug users and increased the federal budget for supply-reduction efforts. [70][71]

Fear of the impending AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s loomed over the formative years of Generation X. The emergence of AIDS coincided with Gen X's adolescence, with the disease first clinically observed in the US in 1981. By 1985, an estimated one to two million Americans were HIV positive. This particularly hit the LGBT community.[72] As the virus spread, at a time before effective treatments were available, a public panic ensued. Sex education programs in schools were adapted to address the AIDS epidemic which taught Gen X students that sex could kill you.[73][74]

A 16-bit Atari-520ST.

The rise in computing and ICT

Gen Xers were the first children to have access to computers in their homes and at schools.[52] Those born in the early cohort will have experienced the first analog machines whilst, at the cusp-end, will have been at the forefront of the Internet revolution. In the early 1980s, the growth in the use of personal computers exploded with manufacturers such as Commodore, Atari and Apple responding to the demand via 8 and 16-bit machines. This in turn stimulated the software industries with corresponding developments for back-up storage, use of the floppy disk, zip drive and CD-ROM.[75] At school, several computer projects were supported by the Department of Education under US Secretary Bell's “Technology Initiative.”[76] This was later mirrored in the UK's 1982 Computers for Schools programme[77] and, in France, under the 1985 scheme plan informatique pour tous (IPT). [78]

The post-civil rights generation

In the US, Generation X was the first cohort to grow up post-integration after the racist Jim Crow laws. They were described in a marketing report by Specialty Retail as the kids who "lived the civil rights movement." They were among the first children to be bused to attain integration in the public school system. In the 1990s, Strauss reported Gen Xers were "by any measure the least racist of today's generations".[51][79] In the US, Title IX, which passed in 1972, provided increased athletic opportunities to Gen X girls in the public school setting.[80] Roots, based on the novel by Alex Haley and broadcast as a 12 hour series was viewed as a turning point in the country's ability to relate to the afro-american history.[81]

Generation X as a non-US narrative

Although, globally, children and adolescents of Generation X will have been heavily influenced by US cultural industries with shared global currents (e.g. rising divorce rates, the AIDS epidemic, advancements in ICT) there is not one US-born raised concept but multiple perspectives and geographical outgrowths. Even within the period of analysis, inside national communities, commonalities will have differed on the basis of one's birth date. The generation, Christine Henseler also remarks, was shaped as much by real-world events, within national borders, determined by specific political, cultural and historical incidents. She adds "In other words, it is in between both real, clearly bordered spaces and more fluid global currents that we can spot the spirit of Generation X".[82]

In Russia, for example, Generation Xers are referred to as "the last Soviet children", as the last children to come of age prior to the downfall of communism in their nation and prior to the fall of the Soviet Union.[29]Those that reached adulthood in the mid-1980s and grew up educated in the doctrines of Marxism and Leninism found themselves against a background of economic and social change with the advent of Mikhail Gorbatchev to power and Perestroika. However, even before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disbanding of the Communist Party, surveys demonstrated that Russian young people repudiated the key features of the Communist worldview that their party leaders, schoolteachers and even parents had tried to instill in them.[83] This generation, caught in the transition between Marxism-Leninism and an unknown future, wooed by the new domestic political classes remained largerly apathetic.[84]

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the generation.

In France, “Generation X” is not as widely known or used to define its members. Demographically, those born early during that period were sometimes referred to as 'Génération Bof' because of their tendency to use the word 'bof', which, translated into English, means 'whatever".[29] More closely associated is "Génération Mitterrand," pertaining to socialist François Mitterrand (1916–1996) who served as President of France during two consecutive terms between 1981 and 1995. There is general agreement that, domestically, the event that is accepted in France as the separating point between the Baby Boomer generation and Generation X are the French strikes and violent riots of May 1968. For those at the tail-end of the generation, educational and defense reforms, a new style baccalauréat général with 3 distinct streams in 1995 (the preceding programme, introduced in 1968) and the cessation of military conscription in 1996 are considered as new transition points to the next.[85]

The United Kingdom's Economic and Social Research Council described Generation X as "Thatcher's children" because the cohort grew up while Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, "a time of social flux and transformation". Those born in the late 1960s and early 1970s grew up in a period of social unrest. While unemployment was low in the early 1970s, industrial and social unrest escalated. Strike action culminated in the ‘winter of discontent’ in 1978-79, and the Troubles began to unfold in Northern Ireland. The turn to neo-liberal policies introduced and maintained by consecutive conservative governments from 1979 to 1997 marked the end of the post-war consensus. Educationally, the vast majority of the cohort attended secondary modern schools, relabelled comprehensive schools with compulsory education ending at the age of 16. The Further and Higher Education Act 1992 and the liberalization of higher education in the UK saw greater numbers gaining places, especially those born at the cusp-end of the generation.[86]

In Germany, “Generation X” is not widely used or applied. Instead, reference is made to "Generation Golf" in the previous West German republic, based on a novel by Florian Illies whilst, in the east, children of the "Mauerfall" or coming down of the wall. For former east Germans, there was adaptation but also a sense of loss of accustomed values and structures, sometimes turning into romantic narratives of their childhood. For those in the west, a period of discovery and exploration of what had been a forbidden land.[87]

In South Africa, Gen Xers spent their formative years of the 1980s during the "hyper-politicized environment of the final years of apartheid".[88]

As young adults

Continued growth in college enrollments

Total Fall Enrollment in US degree granting Institutions 1965-1998

In the US, compared to the Boomer generation, Generation X was more educated than their parents with the share of young adults enrollling in college steadily increasing from 1983 before peaking in 1998. In 1965, for the youngest Boomers, the first to enter college, total enrollment of new undergraduates was just over 5.7 million individuals across the public and private sectors. By 1983, the first year of college enrollment of the new cohort (as per the Pew center's definition), this figure had reached 12.2 million, an increase of 53%, effectively a doubling in student intake. As the 1990s progressed, Gen X college enrollments continued to climb with increased loan borrowing as the cost of an education became substantially more expensive compared to their peers in the mid-1980s.[89] By 1998, the last year of enrollment of the generation, those entering the higher education sector totalled 14.3 million.[90] In addition, unlike Boomers and previous generations, women outpaced men in college completion rates.[91]

Adjusting to a new societal environment

For early Gen Xer graduates entering the job market at the end of the 1980s, the situation was challenging, with economic conditions not showing signs of improvements until the mid-1990s.[92] In the US, restrictive monetary policy to curb rising inflation and the collapse of a large number of savings and loan associations (private banks that specialized in home mortgages) impacted the welfare of many American households and precipitated a large government bailout that placed further strain on the budget. [93] Furthermore, 3 decades of growth came to an end and the unwritten social contract between employers and employees, which had endured during the 1960s and 1970s and scheduled to last until retirement was no longer applicable with, by the late 1980s, large-scale layoffs of Boomers, corporate downsizing and accelerated offshoring of production.[94]

On the political front, in the US, reared in the shadow of the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal, coming to maturity under Reagan and Bush, with first-hand experience of the impact of neo-liberal policies, the generation became ambivalent if not outright disaffected with politics. Few had experienced a democrat administration and even then, only, at an atmospheric level. For those on the left of the political spectrum, the disappointments with the previous Boomer student mobilizations of the 1960s and the collapse of those movements towards a consumerist "greed is good" culture during the 1980s felt, to a greater extent, hypocrisy if not outright betrayal. The end of communism and the socialist utopia with the fall of the Berlin Wall, also, moreover, added to the disillusionment that any alternative to the capitalist model was possible.[95]

The birth of the slacker

In 1990, Time magazine published an article titled "Living: Proceeding with Caution", which described those in their 20s as aimless and unfocused. Media pundits and advertisers, further, struggled to define the cohort, typically portraying them as "unfocused twentysomethings". A MetLife report noted: "media would portray them as the Friends generation: rather self-involved and perhaps aimless...but fun." [96][97] Gen Xers were often portrayed as apathetic or as "slackers", lacking bearings, a stereotype which was initially tied to Richard Linklater's comedic and essentially plotless 1991 film Slacker. After the film was released, "journalists and critics thought they put a finger on what was different about these young adults in that 'they were reluctant to grow up' and 'disdainful of earnest action'."[97][98] Ben Stiller’s 1994 film Reality Bites also sought to capture the zeitgeist of the generation with a portrayal of the attitudes and lifestyle choices of the time.[99]

Negative stereotypes of Gen X young adults continued, including that they were "bleak, cynical, and disaffected". Such stereotypes prompted sociological research at Stanford University to study the accuracy of the characterization of Gen X young adults as cynical and disaffected. Using the national General Social Survey, the researchers compared answers to identical survey questions asked of 18–29-year-olds in three different time-periods. Additionally, they compared how older adults answered the same survey questions over time. The surveys showed 18–29-year-old Gen Xers did exhibit higher levels of cynicism and disaffection than previous cohorts of 18–29-year-olds surveyed. However, they also found that cynicism and disaffection had increased among all age groups surveyed over time, not just young adults, making this a period effect, not a cohort effect. In other words, adults of all ages were more cynical and disaffected in the 1990s, not just Generation X.[100][101]

Surfing on the rise of the internet

By the mid-1990s, under President Clinton's tenure in office, economic optimism had returned,[102]with unemployment cut from 7.5% in 1992 to 4% in 2000.[103] And younger members of the cohort, bridging across administrations, politically experienced a "liberal renewal". In 1997, Time magazine published an article titled "Generation X Reconsidered", which retracted the previously reported negative stereotypes and reported positive accomplishments, citing Gen Xers' tendency to found technology start-ups and small businesses as well as Gen Xers' ambition, which research showed was higher among Gen X young adults than older generations.[97] Yet, the slacker moniker stuck. [104][105] As the decade progressed, Gen X gained a reputation for entrepreneurship. In 1999, The New York Times dubbed them "Generation 1099", describing them as the "once pitied but now envied group of self-employed workers whose income is reported to the Internal Revenue Service not on a W-2 form, but on Form 1099".[106]

America Online (AOL) version 2.0 program disk for Microsoft Windows (1994), widely used by younger Gen Xers to access the internet

The development of the internet witnessed a frenzy of IT initiatives. Newly-created companies, launched on stock exchanges globally, were formed with dubitable revenue generation or cash flow.[107] When the bubble eventually burst in 2000, early Gen Xers who had embarked as entrepreneurs in the IT industry on the ride of the internet wave and newly qualified programmers at the cusp-end of the generation, who had grown up with AOL and the first internet browsers, were caught in the crash. [108] This had major repercussions, with cross-generational consequences. 5 years after the bubble burst, new matriculation of IT millenial undergraduates fell by 40% and by as much as 70% in some information systems programmes. [109]

However, following the crisis, sociologist Mike Males reported continued confidence and optimism among the cohort saying "surveys consistently find 80% to 90% of Gen Xers self-confident and optimistic."[110] Males wrote "these young Americans should finally get the recognition they deserve", praising the cohort and stating that "the permissively raised, universally deplored Generation X is the true 'great generation,' for it has braved a hostile social climate to reverse abysmal trends", describing them as the hardest-working group since the World War II generation, which was dubbed by Tom Brokaw as the Greatest Generation. He reported Gen Xers' entrepreneurial tendencies helped create the high-tech industry that fueled the 1990s economic recovery.[110][111]In 2002, Time magazine published an article titled Gen Xers Aren't Slackers After All, reporting four out of five new businesses were the work of Gen Xers.[79][112]

Responding to 9/11

In the US, Gen Xers were described as the major heroes of the September 11 terrorist attacks by author William Strauss. The firefighters and police responding to the attacks were predominantly from Generation X. Additionally, the leaders of the passenger revolt on United Airlines Flight 93 were also, by majority, Gen Xers.[104][113][114] Author Neil Howe reported survey data showing Gen Xers were cohabitating and getting married in increasing numbers following the terrorists attacks, with Gen X survey respondents reporting they no longer wanted to live alone.[115] In October 2001, Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote of Gen Xers: "now they could be facing the most formative events of their lives and their generation".[116] The Greensboro News & Record reported members of the cohort "felt a surge of patriotism since terrorists struck" by giving blood, working for charities, donating to charities, and by joining the military to fight The War on Terror.[117] The Jury Expert, a publication of The American Society of Trial Consultants, reported: "Gen X members responded to the terrorist attacks with bursts of patriotism and national fervor that surprised even themselves".[104]

In midlife

Achieving a work-life balance

In 2011, survey analysis from the Longitudinal Study of American Youth found Gen Xers to be "balanced, active, and happy" in midlife (between ages of 30 and 50) and as achieving a work-life balance. The Longitudinal Study of Youth is an NIH-NIA funded study by the University of Michigan which has been studying Generation X since 1987. The study asked questions such as "Thinking about all aspects of your life, how happy are you? If zero means that you are very unhappy and 10 means that you are very happy, please rate your happiness." LSA reported that "mean level of happiness was 7.5 and the median (middle score) was 8. Only four percent of Generation X adults indicated a great deal of unhappiness (a score of three or lower). Twenty-nine percent of Generation X adults were very happy with a score of 9 or 10 on the scale."[118][119][120][121]

In 2016, a global consumer insights project from Viacom International Media Networks and Viacom, based on over 12,000 respondents across 21 countries,[122] reported on Gen X's unconventional approach to sex, friendship and family,[123] their desire for flexibility and fulfillment at work[124] and the absence of midlife crisis for Gen Xers.[125] The project also included a 20 min documentary titled Gen X Today.[126] Pew Research, provides further insight adding that the cohort is "savvy, skeptical and self-reliant; they’re not into preening or pampering, and they just might not give much of a hoot what others think of them. Or whether others think of them at all."[127]Furthermore, guides regarding managing multiple generations in the workforce describes Gen Xers as: independent, resilient, resourceful, self-managing, adaptable, cynical, pragmatic, skeptical of authority, and as seeking a work life balance.[96][128][129][130]

Entrepreneurship as an individual trait

Individualism is one of the defining traits of Generation X and reflected in an entrepreneurial spirit.[131] In the 2008 book, X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking, author Jeff Gordinier describes Generation X as a "dark horse demographic" which "doesn't seek the limelight". Gordiner cites examples of Gen Xers' contributions to society such as: Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube, arguing that if Boomers had created them, "we'd never hear the end of it". In the book, Gordinier contrasts Gen Xers to Baby-Boomers, saying Boomers tend to trumpet their accomplishments more than Gen Xers do, creating what he describes as "elaborate mythologies" around their achievements. Gordiner cites Steve Jobs as an example, while Gen Xers, he argues, are more likely to "just quietly do their thing".[37][132]

Google co-founder Sergey Brin, speaking at a Web 2.0 conference

In a 2007 article published in the Harvard Business Review, authors Strauss & Howe wrote of Generation X; "They are already the greatest entrepreneurial generation in U.S. history; their high-tech savvy and marketplace resilience have helped America prosper in the era of globalization."[133] According to authors Michael Hais and Morley Winograd:

Small businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit that Gen Xers embody have become one of the most popular institutions in America. There's been a recent shift in consumer behavior and Gen Xers will join the "idealist generation" in encouraging the celebration of individual effort and business risk-taking. As a result, Xers will spark a renaissance of entrepreneurship in economic life, even as overall confidence in economic institutions declines. Customers, and their needs and wants (including Millennials) will become the North Star for an entire new generation of entrepreneurs.[134]

A 2015 study by Sage Group reports Gen Xers "dominate the playing field" with respect to founding startups in the US and Canada, with Gen Xers launching the majority (55%) of all new businesses in 2015.[135][136] In addition, in the UK, a 2016 study of over 2,500 office workers conducted by Workfront found that survey respondents of all ages selected those from Generation X as the hardest-working employees in today's workforce (chosen by 60%).[137] Gen X was also ranked highest among fellow workers for having the strongest work ethic (chosen by 59.5%), being the most helpful (55.4%), the most skilled (54.5%), and the best troubleshooters/problem solvers (41.6%).[138][139]

Benefits of a college education

Unlike Millennials (1981–1996), Generation X is the last generation for whom higher education was broadly financially remunerative. In 2019, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis published research (using data from the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances) demonstrating that after controlling for race and age, cohort families with heads of household with post-secondary education and born before 1980 have seen wealth and income premiums, while, for those after 1980, the wealth premium has weakened to a point of statistical insignificance (in part because of the rising cost of college). The income premium, while remaining positiv,e has declined to historic lows (with more pronounced downward trajectories with heads of household with postgraduate degrees).[140]

New style of parenting and volunteering

In terms of advocating for their children in the educational setting, author Neil Howe describes Gen X parents as distinct from Baby-Boomer parents. Howe argues that Gen Xers are not helicopter parents, which Howe describes as a parenting style of Boomer parents of Millennials. Howe described Gen Xers instead as "stealth fighter parents", due to the tendency of Gen X parents to let minor issues go and to not hover over their children in the educational setting, but to intervene forcefully and swiftly in the event of more serious issues.[141] In 2012, the Corporation for National and Community Service ranked Gen X volunteer rates in the U.S. at "29.4% per year", the highest compared with other generations. The rankings were based on a three-year moving average between 2009 and 2011.[142][143]

Income differential with previous generation

A report titled Economic Mobility: Is the American Dream Alive and Well? focused on the income of males 30–39 in 2004 (those born April 1964 – March 1974). The study was released on 25 May 2007 and emphasized that this generation's men made less (by 12%) than their fathers had at the same age in 1974, thus reversing a historical trend. It concluded that, per year increases in household income generated by fathers/sons slowed from an average of 0.9% to 0.3%, barely keeping pace with inflation. "Family incomes have risen though (over the period 1947 to 2005) because more women have gone to work",[144][145][146][147] "supporting the incomes of men, by adding a second earner to the family. And as with male income, the trend is downward".[145][146][147]

Arts and culture

This illustration shows three cultural touchstones for Generation X: singer Michael Jackson, who dominated pop charts in the 1980s; alien characters from the popular arcade video game Space Invaders; and a videocassette, which revolutionized home entertainment by enabling TV viewers to record shows and watch prerecorded films at home.


Gen Xers were the first cohort to come of age with MTV. They were the first generation to experience the emergence of music videos as teenagers and are sometimes called the MTV Generation.[96][148] Gen Xers were responsible for the alternative rock movement of the 1990s and 2000s, The Heavy Metal and Glam(Hair) Rock of the late 1960s into mid 1980s, including the grunge subgenre.[105][149] Hip Hop and rap have also been described as defining music of the generation, including Tupac Shakur, N.W.A. and The Notorious B.I.G.[150]


As the earliest Gen Xers began to enter adolescence, a new generation of rock bands arose such as the Ramones, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, The Dictators in New York City, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned and, Buzzcocks in the UK, and the Saints in Brisbane. By late-1976, these acts were generally recognized as forming the vanguard of "punk rock". While at first the bands were not Gen Xers themselves, the fan base for the early bands was increasingly Gen X and it therefore made a significant imprint on the cohort.[151] As 1977 approached and the first Gen Xers were solidly in their teens, punk rock became a major and highly controversial cultural phenomenon in the UK.[152] It spawned a punk subculture expressing youthful rebellion characterized by distinctive styles of clothing and adornment (ranging from deliberately offensive T-shirts, leather jackets, studded or spiked bands and jewelry, as well as bondage and S&M clothes) and a variety of anti-authoritarian ideologies that have since been associated with the form.[153]

By 1977 the influence of punk rock music and subculture became more pervasive, spreading throughout various countries worldwide.[154] It generally took root in local scenes that tended to reject affiliation with the mainstream.[155] In the late 1970s punk experienced its second wave in which acts that were not active during its formative years adopted the style, and Gen Xers were becoming the creators as well as the consumers.[156] By the early 1980s, faster and more aggressive subgenres such as hardcore punk (e.g. Minor Threat), street punk (e.g. the Exploited, NOFX) and anarcho-punk (e.g. Subhumans) became the predominant modes of punk rock. Musicians identifying with or inspired by punk often later pursued other musical directions, resulting in a broad range of spinoffs, giving rise to genres such as post-punk, new wave and later indie pop, alternative rock, and noise rock. By the 1990s punk rock re-emerged into the mainstream, as punk rock and pop punk bands with Gen X members such as Green Day, Rancid, The Offspring, and Blink-182 brought the genre widespread popularity.[157]


Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain (pictured here in 1992) was called the "voice of Generation X", playing the same role for this demographic as Bob Dylan played for 1960s youth and that John Lennon played for the baby boomers.[158]

A notable example of alternative rock is grunge music and the associated subculture that developed in the Pacific Northwest of the US. Grunge song lyrics have been called the "...product of Generation X malaise".[159] Vulture commented: "the best bands arose from the boredom of latchkey kids". "People made records entirely to please themselves because there was nobody else to please" commented producer Jack Endino.[160] Grunge lyrics are typically dark, nihilistic,[161] angst-filled, anguished, and often addressing themes such as social alienation, despair and apathy.[162] The Guardian wrote that grunge "didn't recycle banal cliches but tackled weighty subjects".[163] Topics of grunge lyrics included homelessness, suicide, rape,[164] broken homes, drug addiction, self-loathing,[165] misogyny, domestic abuse and finding "meaning in an indifferent universe."[163] Grunge lyrics tended to be introspective and aimed to enable the listener to see into hidden personal issues and examine depravity in the world.[158] Notable grunge bands include: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden.[163][166]

Hip hop

The mainstream hip hop music made in the late 1980s and early 1990s, typically by artists originating from the New York metropolitan area.[167] was characterized by its diversity, quality, innovation and influence after the genre's emergence and establishment in the previous decade.[168][169][170][171][172] There were various types of subject matter, while the music was experimental and the sampling eclectic.[173] The artists most often associated with the period are LL Cool J, Run–D.M.C., Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, KRS-One, Eric B. & Rakim, De La Soul, Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, A Tribe Called Quest, Slick Rick, Ultramagnetic MC's,[174] and the Jungle Brothers.[175] Releases by these acts co-existed in this period with, and were as commercially viable as, those of early gangsta rap artists such as Ice-T, Geto Boys and N.W.A, the sex raps of 2 Live Crew and Too Short, and party-oriented music by acts such as Kid 'n Play, The Fat Boys, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and MC Hammer.[176]

This cartoon depicts a 1980s-era dancer doing breakdancing, an African-American dance form that was a key part of hip hop culture.

In addition to lyrical self-glorification, hip hop was also used as a form of social protest. Lyrical content from the era often drew attention to a variety of social issues including afrocentric living, drug use, crime and violence, religion, culture, the state of the American economy, and the modern man's struggle. Conscious and political hip hop tracks of the time were a response to the effects of American capitalism and former President Reagan's conservative political economy. According to Rose Tricia, "In rap, relationships between black cultural practice, social and economic conditions, technology, sexual and racial politics, and the institution policing of the popular terrain are complex and in constant motion". Even though hip hop was used as a mechanism for different social issues it was still very complex with issues within the movement itself.[177] There was also often an emphasis on black nationalism. Hip hop artists often talked about urban poverty and the problems of alcohol, drugs, and gangs in their communities.[178] Public Enemy's most influential song, "Fight the Power," came out at this time; the song speaks up to the government, proclaiming that people in the ghetto have freedom of speech and rights like every other American.[179]

Elizabeth Wurtzel's writing typified existential angst of the generation.

Indie films

Gen Xers were largely responsible for the "indie film" movement of the 1990s, both as young directors and in large part as the movie audiences fueling demand for such films.[105][149] In cinema, directors Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Sofia Coppola, John Singleton, Spike Jonze, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh,[180][181] and Richard Linklater[182][183] have been called Generation X filmmakers. Smith is most known for his View Askewniverse films, the flagship film being Clerks, which is set in New Jersey circa 1994, and focuses on two convenience-store clerks in their twenties. Linklater's Slacker similarly explores young adult characters who were interested in philosophizing.[184] While not a member of Gen X himself, director John Hughes has been recognized as having created a series of classic films with Gen X characters which "an entire generation took ownership of," including The Breakfast Club,[185][186] Sixteen Candles, Weird Science and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.[187] In France, a new movement emerged, the Cinéma du look, spearheaded by filmmakers Luc Besson, Jean-Jacques Beineix and Leos Carax. Although not Gen Xers themselves, Subway (1985), 37°2 le matin (English: Betty Blue) (1986) and Mauvais Sang (1986) sought to capture on screen the generation’s malaise, sense of entrapment, and desire to escape.[188]


The literature of early Gen Xers is often dark and introspective. In the US, Elizabeth Wurtzel (1967-2020), author of Prozac Nation (1994) captured the zeitgeist of her generation along with David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), Bret Easton Ellis and Douglas Coupland.[189] In France, Michel Houellebecq, Frédéric Beigbeder rank among major novelists whose work also reflect the dissatisfaction and melancholies of the cohort.[190] In the UK, Alex Garland, author of The Beach (1996), further added to the genre.


Generation Z are usually the children of Generation X,[191][192][193] and sometimes Millennials.[194] Jason Dorsey, who works for the Center of Generational Kinetics, observed that like their parents from Generation X, members of Generation Z tend to be autonomous and pessimistic. They need validation less than the Millennials and typically become financially literate at an earlier age as many of their parents bore the full brunt of the Great Recession.[195]

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    Mosi Reeves, "Easy-Chair Rap", Village Voice, 29 January 2002.
    Greg Kot, "Hip-Hop Below the Mainstream", Los Angeles Times, 19 September 2001.
    Cheo Hodari Coker, "'It's a Beautiful Feeling'", Los Angeles Times, 11 August 1996.
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