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Closing the Gap: The Mentoring of Generation X

By Bova, Breda; Kroth, Michael | Journal of Adult Education, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Closing the Gap: The Mentoring of Generation X


Bova, Breda, Kroth, Michael, Journal of Adult Education


Generation X is the 13th generation to be born since the American Revolution. Sometimes referred to as the 13ers, this generation was born between the years 1964 and 1977. This purpose of this study was to investigate the nature of the mentor relationship from the perspective of Generation X. A qualitative approach was used for the collection of data. This included focus groups, interviews and literature analysis. Participants indicated that the mentor relationship was a relationship that they value in the workplace.

Each generation has its own unique story. Generation X , sometimes referred to as the 13th generation, since they are the 13th generation to be born since the American Revolution, has been the subject of much discussion. Generation X is considered to be those individuals born between 1963 and 1977. As of 1996, they accounted for approximately one third of the 125 million people in the United States' workforce (Tulgan, 1995). The term was coined by advertising executives to categorize or label those forty million plus young Americans they considered difficult to pin down as a target market. The term gained mainstream notoriety in 1991 with the publication of "Generation X" by Douglas Copeland. In the book, Copeland painted an unflattering picture of a generation which are extremely independent, ambivalent about the future, and has little to no faith in traditional organizations (Copeland, 1991).

Since the publication of Copeland's work, the American media has been filled with stories about this peculiar new generation that faced terrible employment prospects, exhibited perverse tastes and behavior patterns, and was even more politically apathetic than its predecessors. Then researchers found that some of the characteristics the media attributed to Xers contradicted each other. Other Xer labels were not supported by trend data, and still others applied to a minority of young adults (Tulgan, 1995).

Sweeping generalizations about any generation are bound to produce inaccuracies. But equally mistaken is the notion that there is nothing different or noteworthy about today's young adults. In fact, trend data from national surveys such as the Current Population Survey and the National Endowment for the Art's Survey of Public Participation in the Arts demonstrate that the current crop of 18to-29-year-olds differs from its predecessors in several important regards. Their economic situations and prospects are different, as are their educational enrollment and attainment patterns. Their media and recreation habits are different, also. Even their relationships with their parents are different than were those of Baby Boomers (Zill & Robinson, 1995). Taking a close look at these facts is the best way to separate the truth about today's young adults from the media-fueled hype.

Life experiences shape the way people view the world. The following demographic information should offer us insight into this unique group:

a) This is the first generation to grow up with a large percentage of both parents employed outside of the home. In addition, 40% of these young adults spent at least some time in a single-parent family by the age of 16 (Zill and Robenson, 1995). Consequently, they tend to be independent problem solvers who are good at getting a job done on their own.

b) Many, if not most, of this generation grew up with computers. As Brown (1995) has reported, they are technologically literate and are very familiar with quick access to the internet for locating the most up to date information on issues. Personal computers shaped the lives of many of this generation both as children and young adults. The introduction of personal computers in the early 1980's initiated an information revolution as these children became the first generation to use multimedia technology at home as well as in school, and for many the internet replaced video games as the electronic entertainment of choice.

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