Generation X: What They Think and What They Plan to Do
Losyk, Bob, Public Management
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 its members tick? What impact will they have on us and on 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.
Fewer in Number
Twenty years ago, employers did not worry about finding enough good people. Just like a box of tissues, there always was another candidate that would pop right up. But the 18-year baby boom of 1946 through 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'ers," as they were dubbed in a 1991 novel by Canadian writer Douglas Coupland, realize the numbers are on their side. They now are mainly in their 20s, and they see themselves as 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, X'ers' gloomy view of the world has been shaped by such numerous negative events 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 percent of X'ers are products of divorce, and many were brought up in single-parent homes. The emotional upheaval and conflict this caused 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 that their chances of finding the job and salary they want are bleak.
Some resent the baby boomers in a big way. They feel that the boomers spent too much time partying and messing up the world that X'ers have inherited. Now, the X'ers have to fix it, and they see the boomers as standing in their way. This view has made them highly cynical.
Couple the high divorce rate with the fact that many X'ers were latchkey children, and you get a generation that may have had more time alone than any in history. They also are the first to spend considerable time in daycare. At home, they were weaned on MTV, high technology, 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 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.
Generation X is much more diverse than its boomer predecessor. U.S. Census Bureau figures show that the number of non-Hispanic whites now is less than 75 percent of the U.S. population. Generation X includes more African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians than previous generations. …