I just want to show society what people born after 1960 think about things… We’re sick of stupid labels, we’re sick of being marginalized in lousy jobs, and we’re tired of hearing about ourselves from others.
– Douglas Coupland, Canadian novelist, interview with the Boston Globe, 1991, about his novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
I read an online article today on the Pew Charitable Trust’s recent study and its conclusion that Generation X’ers were the hardest hit by this past recession compared to the four other age groups that were also examined. Gen X’ers – also dubbed the slacker and the Boomerang Generation – have been saddled with student loans and credit card debt, although I’m sure a lot of Generation Y or Millenials are in the same situation. I looked up the time periods for the different generational groups because beyond Baby Boomers I don’t know Generations X and Y from Adam. Myriad sources differ vastly on the start and end years, which only adds to my generational confusion. Therefore, I’m relying on the Pew Internet and American Life Project’s delineations because I’m familiar with their studies and I reference their research in my work now and then. So according to the Pew Research Center: Older Baby Boomers (1946-1954), Younger Baby Boomers (1955-1964), Gen X (1965-1976), and Gen Y (1977-1992).
It never made sense to me to define any generation within a span of nearly 20 years because of the broad spectrum of political and cultural changes that occur in that time frame and the different impact of those events and movements on children and adults. I associate Baby Boomers with stability, one-company careers, big house and two cars in the suburbs, and two-week or more summer vacations. In fact, they were the young adults navigating through upheavals such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. It’s important to divide the generation into Younger and Older Baby Boomers because they grew up differently. The Silent Generation (1937-1945), which grew up in the aftermath of the Great Depression and endured WWII and the Korean War, worked to overcome those hardships and establish the suburban lifestyle that their Younger Baby Boomers would enjoy and expect when they became adults. While I never really thought of myself as a Baby Boomer, as a Young Baby Boomer, I could relate to having those aspirations. And even though I wanted to be a writer since I was a girl and have a career, independence, and travel, I realize that I expected to follow The Brady Bunch path. I just needed to get my degree, travel, work hard, and then get married, raise a family, and drive that station wagon into that two-story house’s garage.
Long before Douglas Coupland wrote Generation X in 1991, the photographer Robert Capa coined the term to describe the twentysomethings who grew up post-WWII and were subjects of a photo-essay that was published in 1953. It’s not quite the time frame that we think of today as being Generation X. Regardless, some put Generation X starting as early as 1961. Really though, is there that much of a difference between 1962 and 1965, which is the year that David was born and also the year that the Pew Research Center marks as the beginning of the Gen X generation? As much as he gives me a hard time about being older than he, there’s little difference – musical tastes aside. There’s a big difference, however, between someone born in 1965 and someone born in 1984, which is the span that The Harvard Center defines as Generation X. My family, friends, and acquaintances born in the 1960s are, for the most part, hard-working and earned the fruits of their labor. David will complain about co-workers, born after 1980, who are listening to their iPods with earplugs, clicking out of Google Maps when their managers walk by their cubicles. That’s the description we’ve come to associate with Gen X’ers. It’s not me and it’s not David. And to be fair, it’s not the majority of people born within those years.
But back to the article’s study: while I don’t think of myself as a Gen X’er, I will say that perhaps one trait that I do share with Gen X’ers is a smidgen of disillusionment with certain adages, such as good prevails over evil and hard work pays off. This may be a trait that spans generations because cynicism and disillusionment are everywhere. That said, despite the rockiness of the past five years, I remain hopeful that most of the time good prevails over evil and most of the time hard work will pay off. Sometimes I feel as if on one level I’m no different from my mother; I’m just as exhausted at the end of the day as she, who picked grapes in the summertime and packed oranges in the wintertime. Perhaps I am not better off than my parents, depending upon how you define “better off,” as many experts tell us is the case. To be sure, my mother lived a harder, more physically demanding life than I do. But I also have many memories of her laughing and gossiping as she and her fellow rummy players sat around the card table in our family room on Sunday afternoons, with the sound of Louis Prima’s trumpet sputtering from our huge stereo console speakers. Those memories make me realize that it’s not all one way or all the other way. We are shaped by the world around us and hardwired at birth, which makes each of us unique. Whether we have a lot of money or not, whether we have a lot of time or not – which to me is much more precious than money – and whether we’re Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, or Millenials, we can make decisions, and continue to make decisions, to define who we are and to determine the quality of our lives.