Raise your hand if you can identify anything about Generation X. So many books and articles published in recent years tend to mention Gen X only in passing as a small, insignificant, "in-between" cohort leaving few lasting impressions. Instead, we hear about the Millennial state of mind, and how the Millennial-Baby Boomer relationship appears to be flourishing and providing all the nourishment the current generational identity checks seem to need.
As someone who has researched Generation X around the globe for years, I know that the Millennials and their younger "Generation Z" siblings owe a great deal of their generational identity to Generation X. Born between 1960 and 1980 in the United States -- now between the ages of 34 and 54-years-old -- Gen Xers laid the political, intellectual, social, creative and personal ground upon which the Millennials today walk, talk and text.
The transitional and transformational time when Generation Xers grew up, as well as their current impact and influence at the height of professional careers, should not be ignored or erased. To understand how the Millennials think and act today and might change the world tomorrow, the cloak of invisibility must be lifted.
Let's start with the numbers. The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown is a recently-published book based on data collected by the Pew Research Center. While Paul Taylor's project provides valuable insight into the world and mind of the Millennials, I was struck by how an entire generational identity could be determined by scientific data sets based on a subjective selection of birth dates.
Chapter two starts with the claim that, "Millennials and Boomers are the lead characters in the looming generational showdown by dint of their vast number and strategic location in the life cycle." My first reaction was, Where did the Xers go? Taylor considers Baby Boomer birth dates to range from 1946-1964, Generation X birth dates from 1965-1980, and the Millennials to begin in 1980, with no end date in sight. A closer look at these dates, which each researcher can determine as he or she chooses, uncovers that the supposedly "vast numbers" attributed to the Boomers and Millennials are based on dates that have reduced Xers' existence to a mere 14 years, compared to 18 and 20 years in the other two cohorts. Indeed, this way, the booming sound of the two demographics does become quite loud, leaving that mysterious Generation X to fend for itself, lost in the middle.
Most troubling is any thinking that Boomers and Millennials are "also each other's children and parents, bound together in an intricate web of love, support, anxiety, resentment, and interdependence." While some certainly are each other's parents and children, what happened to the Generation X parents who between the ages of 20 and 40 have given birth to many Millennials born between 1980 and 2000? Was the legalization of the birth control pill in 1961 so powerful?
Why has parental status and impact been thwarted when the Millennial psychology has in fact been heavily influenced by GenX life experiences and beliefs related to politics, family, class, religion, culture, technology and sexuality, among many other subjects?
The Pew study is no exception of the degree to which Generation X's impact is minimized in studies concerning the Millennials. In a book titled, Generation We: How Millennial Youth are Taking Over America and Changing Our World Forever, authors Eric Greenberg and Karl Weber reduce Generation X birthdates to such a degree -- to a mere 13 years -- so as to argue that, "sheer numbers mean that Generation We is going to have a gigantic impact on American society, and in turn, on the world." Their approach undermines the gigantic impact of a supposedly inclusive "We" generation by both excluding worldwide perspectives from their research and squeezing Gen Xers out of the equation.
Proclamations about how U.S. Millennials will rule or change the world seem to include little to no understanding of the historical, political, social and personal factors that have shaped the lives of their peers around the globe. Particularly ironic is to talk about the impact, reach and global connectivity of a generation when applying a microcosmic and U.S.-centered vision alone, as over 35 international contributors will tell you in Generation X Goes Global.
A more comprehensive approach teaches us that cohort birth dates vary by country and experience, that generational engagements can be complex and contradictory, and that cultural influences shift and change as people move from city to city, leaving bits and bytes to be remixed across nations and people. For instance, current political activism has strong roots in Generation X's punk and DIY culture. The U.S.-born underground feminist punk movement of the 1990s known as the riot grrrls, whose goal was to bring issues of rape, abuse or racism to light, has moved through time and space to inspire a group of young Russian protesters (ranging from ages 20 to 33) calling themselves Pussy Riot and challenging Vladimir Putin's politics through guerrilla performances posted to the Internet.
To engage with the Millennials means paying tribute to a past generational worldview with a long and strong history and a spirit that has gone viral. Let's not forget about the contributions from Generation X when we talk about the Millennials. We are not going away anytime soon.
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