THE MINDSET LIST® OF GENERATION X
Most Gen Xers are now between 37 and 53. Partly because they have been deemed, by demographers, to have had only a sixteen-year run, their numbers are small. But they were also born during a time of low birth rates compared to those of the later 40s and the 1950s. The reasons are many: the Pill, divorce, more women working out of the home, and perhaps access to abortion. One commentator has called Gen Xers America’s neglected middle child.
Thanks to the death rate, Millennials have now taken over Boomers as the largest generational cohort. There are about 75 million Millennials and more than ten million fewer Gen Xers. But by 2028 the number of Xers will exceed the number of still-living Boomers.
Why has Gen X been overlooked? Simple: Unlike the Boomers, who spearheaded the cultural revolution of the 60s, and the Millennials, who were in the vanguard of the 1990s high tech revolution, Gen Xers have had no revolution to call their own. They have been a “guinea pig” generation, as though Boomers said to them, “Well, OK. We’ve transformed American society’s norms, so now let’s see how you cope with your birthright—let’s discover how you deal with the fallout.”
The following (I hope) is an informative, lively, and long overdue portrait of what has been called America’s most underrated generation.
#1. The Pill helped turn them into the Baby Busters, the smallest generation since the Great Depression.
#2. The higher their parents’ educational level, the more likely they were to come home at 4 to an empty house–except for the microwave and MTV.
#3. They were the first Pampers generation—hence, the first with genuinely dry bottoms.
#4. When the first wave of Xers were kids, only 9 states had joint custody–so they got to know one divorced parent much better than the other.
#5. The year the first X kids were born, Marshall McLuhan announced a “new electronic age” in which “we wear all mankind as our skins.”
#6. They grew up with the highest divorce rates in American history—the Boomer “cult of the child” having shifted to the Gen X “cult of the adult,” seeking cosmic answers in Esalen and Transcendental Meditation.
#7. They have little or no memory of Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, or Martin Luther King.
#8. Perhaps as a sign of how little adults paid attention to them, their generation found no widespread name until thirty years after the first Xer was born.
#9. When the War in Vietnam ended they were between plus 11 and minus 5.
#10. Their parents grew up during the two decades with the sharpest increase ever in college degrees.
#11. They are the first cable generation.
#12. They came into a world where, in the words of Andy Warhol, “just when you’ve become famous, someone comes along and turns you into a warm-up act.”
#13. They were the first young people in history to learn that sex could kill you.
#14. As they were growing up, the makers of One-A-Day-Multiple Vitamin Tablets touted their product as “The Other Pill.”
#15. Attending post-segregated schools, they were the first young people in American history actually to live the civil rights movement.
#16. For them as kids, advanced technology were color portable TVs that wouldn’t “give you a hernia to lift.”
#17. Assessments of them have ranged from the view that they are slackers to the current one: that they’re the most entrepreneurial generation in recent American history.
#18. Many of their mothers listened hard when Betty Friedan said no American girl should be brought up to become a housewife.
#19. The first Title IX generation, they went to high schools where serious attention had to be paid to the mismatch of funds for boys’ and girls’ basketball.
#20. One demographer says that “Gen X” was actually born between 1960 and 1966, with the group born after that (1967-1979) the “Bust” generation (with historically low birth rates).
#21. One of the first popular commercials they are likely to recall was Alka Seltzer’s homage to American excess: “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”
#22. After 9/11, when they were hitting their 30s, Gen X marriages began to spike—no more of this “living alone.”
#23. They grew up with mixed signals: while Gloria Steinem was calling for a feminist revolution, an ad implored men to give their wives a skimpy nightgown—“something sexy for her and for yourself.”
#24. As the thirteenth generation after the American Revolution, they were briefly called, for lack of anything else, “Gen 13.”
#25. As they were growing up, so did billions of new dollars for “the singles industry.”
#26. They tended to be much less self-trumpeting than Baby Boomers were.
#27. They have grown up in an America where the whole family eats fewer and fewer meals inside the home.
#28. Older Gen Xers have emerged as “stealth fighter parents,” hands off until something needs an intervention and then getting involved forcefully.
#29. When the first Gen X kids were starting to school, they didn’t read a Scientific American prediction that the United States would face severe energy shortages by the year 2000.
#30. Recent surveys have found them happy and fulfilled, with special attention to work/life balance: pretty good for “America’s neglected middle child.”
#31. Earth Day has always been normal.
#32. As they grew up, Michael Jackson was their favored entertainment icon; Space Invaders their favorite game; the videocassette their favorite technology.
#33. They were the last American generation to have had a low-tech childhood.
#34. Their love of grunge–and Richard Linklater’s Slacker–stamped them as a cynical gang of unfocused youth.
#35. Now in their 40s and 50s, they wonder if Seinfeld and Kramer would have ever talked to each other if they’d been afflicted with smart phones.
#36. They grew up with Johnny on NBC after the evening news and have no idea who Jack Paar was.
#37. Unless one counts the Iranian hostage crisis or attempted murder to Ronald Reagan, they came of age with little national trauma.
#38. They were the first generation of schoolchildren that, if they had a Tuesday morning exam, could record Monday Night Football somehow.
#39. As they grew up, the arrest rate for women went up much faster than did the rate for men.
#40. The average American family size has always been declining and in their lifetimes has never been as high as 4.
#41. They are the last generation in America to be spanked in school constitutionally.
#42. Films have always been shone on planes.
#43. They are the first generation to grow up in a world where a plastic card—so that you can buy stuff you can’t afford—has been an essential American possession.
#44. They grew up with unisex, condemned by Jerry Falwell; their kids are growing up with trans-sexuals, condemned by Jerry Falwell, Jr.
#45. They have never applied to Harvard when the male-female ratio was anything other than 50-50.
#46. They were the first kids to have the privilege of reading People while waiting to have their cavities filled.
#47. For as long as they can remember, jogging has been routine.
#48. Public acceptance of pre-marital sex in America has always been on the rise.
#49. As they matured, it must have seemed that the FBI and CIA were always apologizing for something.
#50. When the first Gen X kid was born, no one thought the 1964 Civil Rights act had anything to do with gender; when the last Gen X kid was born, the Army proclaimed that “some of our best men are women.”
As long as Xers have been alive, there have always been Ford Mustangs, Pop Tarts, Lucky Charms, Coffee Mate, Flairs, self-service post offices, zip codes, Diet Pepsi, domed stadia, all-news radio stations, and Moog synthesizers.
Tom McBride is co-author of The Mindset Lists of American History and The Mindset List of the Obscure. He has also written three mystery novels: Godawful Dreams (selected by public radio’s Chapter a Day last summer), Rox & Darlene, and The Homicide at Malahide; and has also written The Great American Lay: An All-Too-Brief History of American Sex. All are available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. He, Ron Nief, and Charles Westerberg frequently speak around the country on generational, especially Millennial, issues. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org