You will read a lot about “Generation X+”1 on this Blog. Let me explain why, and then I will define who is a member of this pivotal generation.
Generation X cannot go it alone
As I have noted elsewhere, this Blog is dedicated to encouraging civic engagement on the most pressing problems facing the U.S. over the next 25 years, issues that my generation — Generation X — should care deeply about. Unfortunately, even if we voted in large numbers (which we don’t), Generation X would not have the voting power to solve these problems on our own. We are substantially outnumbered by Boomers and Millennials. So, if we want to fix the country, we will need to recruit like-minded, voting Boomers and Millennials to the cause.
We have kindred spirits among the Boomers and Millennials
All generational boundaries are imperfect and exclude people on each end who share the attributes of the target demographic. But the especially short duration of Generation X suggests that we may be missing more of our kindred spirits than other generations. Generation X has been defined by most demographers to include just 16 birth years: 1965 – 1980. By contrast, the Boomers have been given 19 birth years (1946-1964). And the Millennial generation spans at least 17 birth years (1981 – 1997), and it could be much larger because the last birth year is still up for debate in (highfalutin-sounding) “demographic circles.” Thus, if we just looked at birth years, I suspect there are Boomers born in 1963-1964 and Millennials born in 1981-1982 who are actually more like Generation X than their purported generations.
As it turns out, this hunch is probably correct. There is substantial evidence that there is actually a community of interest that spans the youngest Boomers, all of Generation X, and the older Millennials. In its generational studies, Pew has often found that younger Boomers and older Millennials more closely resemble Generation X than they do their assigned generations. In its own demographic study, MetLife found that half of “trailing edge Boomers” (birth years 1959 – 1964) refused to call themselves Boomers and that 35% of this group preferred to be identified with Generation X. For these reasons, some have redefined Generation X to include people born in the early 1960s through the early-to-mid-1980s. Rather than take on the powerful demographer lobby, I have chosen to adopt the term “Generation X+” to refer to those who share many of the demographic attributes normally associated with Generation X.
The members of Generation X+ have shared experiences and concerns
As I noted above, generational boundaries are fuzzy. For this reason, I will offer three methods for establishing the somewhat imprecise bounds of Generation X+:
- Generational Gerrymandering
Generation X+ includes younger Boomers, all of Generation X, and older Millennials.
- Birth Year
Generation X+ includes people born from the early 1960s through the early-to-mid-1980s.
- Shared Experiences and Concerns
Generational boundaries are often defined by reference to milestone events and shared experiences. Although I am not a demographer, I play one in this Blog. In this role, I have designed a quiz to determine whether you are a member of Generation X+. True or false:
- You vividly remember exactly where you were on the morning of September 11th.
- You were working or wanted to work during the Great Recession.
- You are much more concerned than your parents were about navigating an adult financial obstacle course that includes: paying off student loans; buying and keeping a home; paying for your children’s college educations; saving for your retirement; and caring for your parents as they age.
- You are technology-conversant rather than technology-defined.
- You remember a time before the internet and understand that this is not the first time the NASDAQ has hit 5000.
- You still read books (sometimes not on a Kindle).
- You are familiar with the progression from Atari and Commodore 64 to Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox, even if you haven’t owned every one of these systems.
- You own an iPod, but you might still play your vinyl collection.
- You can debate—or at least follow a debate about—the merits of a BlackBerry versus a phone that is actually smart.
- You know how to read a map (or believe you could) and could drive a car without a navigation system (if you had to).
- You have driven a car without an automatic transmission.
- You hold our political institutions and parties in very low regard and are largely desensitized to political “scandals,” having lived through Iran-Contra, Whitewater, two government shutdowns in the 1990s, Monicagate and the President Clinton Impeachment, a “bridge to nowhere,” a robed Lady Justice and an unrepentant Monica Goodling, the Benghazi blame game, another government shutdown, never-ending IRS confusion regarding email retention, and now potentially classified email stored on the former Secretary of State’s unclassified email server.
- You believe that your generation has lived through so many scandals, in fact, that it had to drop the “gate” suffix and replace it with more clever formulations influenced by the books you read your young children: Remember “docs in his socks”?
- You believe that scandals have robbed your generation not only of faith in government, but of words as well: Your generation can no longer use the expression “slam dunk.” Instead, you must now quote from “The Sure Thing,” which is ok because…
- You like to quote from movies.
- You and your peers could not stop saying “like” even if they wanted to (which I call the curse of “Valley Girl”).
- In social settings: if someone is injured, you tell them “it is but a flesh wound”; if something is loud, it “goes to 11”; if you are headed to the bathroom, you say “I’ll be back” as you leave; if something is not very surprising, you say it is “inconceivable”; and if you go to McDonald’s, you order a “Royale with Cheese.”
- In a verbal joust, you might ask a friend “how do you like them apples?” after making a strong point. If she’s got a good rejoinder, she might start her response by saying: “As if!”
- When you accept a job offer, you have to resist the temptation to yell: “Show me the money!”
- Although I would like to take credit for the first use of the term “Generation X+,” I cannot. In doing research for this Blog, I found a 2011 blog post entitled “Talkin’ ‘bout my Generation” by Shoshana Greenberg. In her post, Ms. Greenberg argues, correctly in my view, that the oldest Millennials are actually far more similar to Generation X than they are to younger Millennials, and she therefore includes these older Millennials in “Generation X+.”