Generation X

There was no respect for youth when I was young, and now that I am old, there is no respect for age – I missed it coming and going. –J.B. Priestly

Little People Generation X

Who Is Generation X?

An Overview of the Latchkey, Slacker Generation

A definition of Generation X along with the years, size and characteristics including major, defining events like divorce, the Civil Rights Act and entrepreneurialism.

January 15, 2012

When happily ever after fails
and we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly…

– Don Henley’s End of the Innocence, 1989

Generation X Definition

Little People Generation XGeneration X by broadest definition includes those individuals born between 1961 and 1981. The collective persona of Gen Xers (discussed later) is frequently debated and discussed among academicians and marketing experts worldwide. It traditionally applies to North Americans including people from the United States of America, Canada, Australia, and various European countries.

Generation X (the generation) should not be confused with Billy Idol’s band, Generation X, or the comic strip of the same name.

What Are The Years For Generation X?

The years for Generation X vary from one historian, government agency and marketing firm to another. Neil Howe and the late William Strauss, defined the generation in the broadest terms I have come across: 1961 to 1981.

little people mini van

The United States Social Security Administration defines Generation X as “those born roughly between 1964 and 1979, while another federal agency, the U.S. Department of Defense, sets the parameters at 1965 to 1977.

The point is, opinion varies on when generations begins or ends. In my opinion, people should lay claim to the generation whose collective persona most reflects their own life experiences.

How Big Is Generation X?

According to Douglas Coupland, author of Generation X: Tales of an Accelerated Culture, Generation X was born during the single most anti-child phase in American history. In the early 1960s, the birth control pill became widely available, and in 1973, abortion was legalized. These are two factors that are said to have contributed to the generation’s low numbers.

Fisher Price Grandma SchoolAccording to Jeff Gordinier, in his book, How Generation X Got the Shaft, But Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking, Baby Boomers number 76 million and Millennials, 80 million. Generation X is sandwiched between them with 46 million. This is expertly challenged, however, by the 2010 Census, which puts the total U.S. population around 311.8 million. The following generations’ numbers are for everyone over 18. These individuals collectively represent 236.8 million Americas.

  • G.I. (born 1901-1924), 4.5 million
  • Silent (born 1925-1942), 26.2 million
  • Boomer (born 1943-1960), 65.6 million
  • Generation X (born 1961-1981), 88.5 million
  • Generation Y (born 1982-2001) 18+, 52.0 million
  • Two-thirds of the remaining 75 million are Gen Y who are under 18
  • The remaining one-third (25 to 30 million) is Generation Z.

So, why do we hear that Generation X is so small when the numbers tell a different story? That’s a great question…

Characteristics of Generation X

JFK Generation QuoteWhen it comes to generations, characteristics are often referred to as the collective persona. Not everyone buys into generational theory and some accuse historians and marketers, etc., of stereotyping people. I am not one of these people. I love the book, Generations, by Neil Howe and the late William Strauss. These historians came up with an a “bold and imaginative” theory that is based on recurring generational cycles in American history beginning in 1584.
This theory is difficult to summarize, and I couldn’t do it justice even if I tried. A brief overview of the framework, however, may inspire you to check their book out of your local library. Basically, the historians maintain that generations fall into one of four archetypes and occur in one of four cycles that go on repeating themselves.

The archetypes are prophet, nomad, hero, artist and the cycles are high, awakening, unraveling and crisis. Everything they’ve written about Generation X has been spot-on for me. Others may see it differently.

With that, here are some of the mile markers on the dominant Generation X trajectory. Key Events and Milemarkers for Generation X:

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended racial segregation in schools. Generation X in its entirety was raised in schools that were racially diverse. In 2010, a Florida newspaper ran an article about Generation X being the first “colorblind” generation.

How Divorce, Working Moms and Latchkey Kids Shaped Gen Xers

I think we’re alone now
There doesn’t seem to be anyone around…
– Tiffany, 1987

Black Little PeopleFrom the late 1960s to the early 1970s, divorce rates in the United States more than doubled. In addition, between 1969 and 1996, the number of working mothers in the workforce also doubled. Consequently, many households were headed by working single moms. It’s estimated that as many as 40 percent of Gen Xers were latchkey kids who returned home from school to empty houses. Their childhoods and youth were marked by a lack of supervision, and excessive household and family responsibilities.

The pendulum swings wide on the consequences of the latchkey childhood. Unsupervised Gen X children and youth ran the gamut of those who watched too much TV and didn’t do their homework to those who fell into escalating levels of crime.

According to Coupland, inwardly-focused Baby Boomers sometimes regarded their children as “obstacles to their self-exploration,” and thus resulted permissive parenting of grand proportion. In addition, on top of spending many hours bored and lonely, Coupland also concludes that Generation X was “rushed through childhood.”

Are you there God quoteToday, the number of latchkey kids has declined. In 2000, Generation X parents along with school administrators helped to get federal legislation passed, which provided seed money for after school tutoring programs in lower income schools. Generation Xers understand firsthand how dangerous the hours between 3 to 6 p.m. can be for children

Bonus: For an interesting perspective on growing up without a dad, read My Uncles Can Beat Up Your Uncles.

Generation X as Entrepreneurs

little people men

A lot of Gen Xers struggled to find jobs after college. According to a report by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the year my husband graduated from college (1988), there was a sharp rise in joblessness among college-educated men age 24 and under. (It rose from 4.8 to 7.9.) This trend continued until 1991. The situation wasn’t much better for Gen X women. Thus, many Gen Xers roamed aimlessly after college, unable to secure what they were told a degree entitled them to: A job or at least something more than a McJob.

This is one of the challenges explored in the iconic Generation X movie Reality Bites. Janeane Garafalo plays a college graduate who works as a sales associate at The Gap.compound matters, the student loans that Generation X used to finance college, were loaned at a much higher rate than what Baby Boomers enjoyed. For example, my sisters, who are eight and 10 years older than me, borrowed at a rate of 3 percent. My loans, however, were at 8 percent. The cost of a college education also rose sharply.

This and more helped nurture the entrepreneurial spirit of Generation X. Famous Gen X entrepreneurs include the founders of Google, Twitter and the Brazen Careerist.

Interestingly, it also helped nurture one of the prevailing and negative stereotypes of Generation X: the slacker who lives in parents basement until he’s in his 30s. This image of Gen Xers caused many to distance themselves from identification with their generation. Today, younger Gen Xers take far more pride in the Gen X label than older Xers who came up with the original stereotype.

Generation X As Cynical

Much has been written about Generation X being a cynical generation distrusting of authority and large institutions both corporate and government. The following is a list of historical events that occurred during Generation X’s coming of age, which contributed to the Gen-Xer-As-Cynic stereotype.

The Energy Crisis of the 1970s
Iran Contra (1980s)
Nuclear Disasters including Three-Mile Island, Silkwood/Kerr McGee, Union Carbide and Chernobyl
Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster
Widespread Layoffs of the 1980s
Dot Com Boom and Bust of the 1990s
Corporate Greed

Generation X Parents

Little People BathroomI will be walking one day
Down a street far away
And see a face in the crowd and smile. –Amy Grant, 1991

Here are some posts I’ve written about Generation parents and over-parenting and Gen Xers as helicopter parents.

The Growing Backlash Against Gen X Parents: Helicopter Parents and Overparenting
Generation Latchkey
Latchkey Memoir
Generation X: Most Devoted Parents In History Create World’s Rudest Kids
Teacher’s Guide To Gen X Parents
Bring Your Mom To Work Day

Here are some other Generation X labels I’ve used to help categorize content about Generation X parents.

Generation X Men
Generation X Dads
Gen X Moms

This is a brief, not exhaustive overview of Generation X. I’d love to hear your thoughts, as the information on this page represents several years of reading, writing and thinking about Gen Xers.

Generation X Infographics

Here is an infographic I created covering all the wars and conflicts since the birth of Generation X in 1961.

Generation X War Infographic covering all conflicts during the lives of Gen Xers.

Generation Congflict: Gen X War Infographic

Here is a fun infographic I created about the sordid parade of cartoon and pop culture characters Generation X grew up with.

Generation Infographic featuring popular characters from 70s and 80s pop culture

Infographic covering the sordid parade of pop culture and cartoon characters stalking Gen Xers for decades.

Generation X Books

Check out Generation X titles via my Generations Bookstore on Amazon.
my Generations Bookstore on Amazon.

Click here to view the site map.
Jennifer James McCollum


15 Responses to “Generation X”

    • metoo

      This is so true. US and world Economists have tried to stretch out the Baby Boomer years into the early X years and it is so frustrating. From being treated as the younger peskier siblings to now being included in the older Boomers generation, even though some of us share older parents. Our experiences of the world in the 60′s were not the same as the older Boomers, us being babies, many of them old enough to be our parents. Woo hoo for mini skirts, the pill, hairy hippies and their big sell outs. What’s worse are their bratty kids. Not the same!

      And to those born in the 80′s. You are not generation X.


        Well, of course, I agree with everything you said. Are we going to survive it all? I hope so! Thanks for your comment. Made my day!

  1. Mike

    As a genXer it was easy to become cynical by just watching the news. I’d come home to an empty house and turn on the tube. Both my parents had career jobs. I’ve seen more than my share of terrible events all caused by greed and stupidity, thanks to the Boomer generation. Even in my mid to late 40s I still hold on to the belief that things will get better. One just has to make it happen what ever it takes. Still I do think of the early 90s when I finally went to college and Nirvana and other grunge bands music which reflected the same ideas and issues faced with my generation. Those sweet old days when living outside the material aspect of life was so grand.

  2. Will B.

    I was born in ’85 yet I somehow feel that I relate more to Gen X than I do with Gen Y. The circumstances regarding my upbringing would have it that Gen Y’s cultural beginnings had yet to start. I vividly remember a lot of the old technology and pop culture, but not quite historical events except for the Clinton Years. Perhaps I am a Gen Y that had lived in a Gen X world. Call it what you will, but I feel distant from the best-known characteristics of Gen Y. I honestly can’t relate. Your typical Millennial wouldn’t know half the stuff I know.

    Anyway, great article.

  3. Bill Davis

    With a week here and there, we can be the greatest generation. We aren’t as blind to the entire world as some in the past, not as idealistic (and ready to throw it out the window for security and greed) as some.

    We have it all and the the unhandled vision to do something about it.

  4. Derek "Raven" Wood

    Just found your website tonight as I was googling Generation X, Rv traveling long term. Good to see perspectives from another Gen Xer, great insights :-) My wife, Teresa, is the talent behind our travel blog. Cheers, Derek.


      Hi Derek,
      Thanks for stopping by. I think I wrote a blog post about Gen Xers and RVs one time. Thanks for the blog link and traveling mercies. I’ll check out your blog soon! Thanks!


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