Generation X: What They Think and What They Plan to Do

By Losyk, Bob | The Futurist, March-April 1997 | Go to article overview

Generation X: What They Think and What They Plan to Do


Losyk, Bob, The Futurist


They may be exasperating, but they're energetic, creative, and fun. And they are the future.

It's often said that kids today aren't what they used to be. But is this new generation of teenagers and young adults, commonly referred to as "Generation X" or the "baby busters," really so different from previous generations? What makes them tick? What impact will they have on us and our institutions as we move into the future?

To answer these questions, I conducted an in-depth literature search and interviewed and surveyed young people and their managers and supervisors. The following trends emerged, beginning with the current and moving on to the more speculative. Keep in mind that no generation is homogeneous in its beliefs, values, or attitudes.

CURRENT TRENDS

Fewer in Number

Twenty years ago, employers did not worry about finding enough good people. Just like a box of tissues, there was always another candidate that would pop right up. But the 18-year baby boom of 1946-1964, when birth rates peaked at 25.3 births per 1,000 population, was followed by the 11-year "baby bust," when the rate fell to a low of 14.6 births per 1,000. This means the smallest pool of entry-level workers since the 1930s: There are 77 million American boomers compared with just 44 million X'ers.

"Generation X," as they were dubbed in a 1991 novel by Canadian writer Douglas Coupland, realize the numbers are on their side. They are now mainly in their 20s, and they see themselves as very marketable in the workplace. They feel that they can be patient when choosing a job, and they can look for the best wages.

Negative View of the World

This generation has watched more TV, and as a result has probably witnessed more violence and murders, than any generation in history. In addition, their gloomy view of the world has been shaped by numerous negative events, such as the Persian Gulf War, escalating crime, riots, AIDS, the nuclear threat, and pollution.

Their parents practiced birth control and abortion and were highly concerned about "making it" financially. About 40% of X'ers are products of divorce, and many were brought up in single-parent homes. The emotional upheaval and conflict this causes helped shape their view of the family and the world. It seems to have sent out a negative message to X'ers about their value and worth.

Many young people believe that their economic prospects are gloomy. They believe they will not do as well financially as their parents or grandparents. They know that the average income for young people, even with one or two college degrees, has declined significantly over the past generation. Many feel their chances of finding the job and salary they want are bleak.

Some resent the baby boomers in a big way. They feel the boomers spent too much time partying and messing up the world that they have inherited. Now, the X'ers have to fix it, and they see the boomers as being in their way. This has made them very cynical.

Home-Alone Individualists

Couple the high divorce rate with the fact that many were latchkey children and you get a generation who may have had more time alone than any in history. They are also the first to spend considerable time in day care. At home, they were weaned on MTV, high tech, video games, and computers. They became independent at a young age. Many had to grow up fast, taking on family responsibilities or part-time jobs to help out. All this has helped them become very freedom-minded, individualistic, and self-absorbed.

Many resent the fact that their parents were not home to spend more time with them. An often heard sentiment is that things will be different when they raise their own families.

More Diverse

Generation X is much more diverse than their boomer predecessors. U.S. Census Bureau figures show that the number of non-His-panic whites is now less than 75% of the U.S. population.

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