By: Anna Pekrul, BSW Candidate, Kovir LLC Intern
Understanding Generation X
Generation X was born during a very unique time in history. As children and young adults of the 1980s and early 90s, this generation grew up in a world whose societal values were rapidly shifting.
Compared to the generation that came before them, Generation X experienced much more autonomy during their childhood. This can mainly be attributed to the rising number of women participating in the workforce as well as an increase in divorce rates that lead to single parenting. As a result of these changes, Gen X received much less supervision from their parents during childhood and were subsequently given the label of “latchkey kids” because they would often return home from school to empty houses (CFI, 2021).
The childhood years of Gen X also coincided with the emergence of home computers. While computers had been invented before Gen X was born, they weren’t exactly commonplace until the 1980s. In fact, Gen X children were the first to have access to computers at home and at school. Early introduction to the personal computer made Gen X more technologically savvy than any other generation that had come before them.
Gen X was also the first generation to grow up after the civil-rights movement. As schools began to integrate, early Gen Xers were some of the first children to be bused into public schools. Because of this, many people in this generation became familiar with concepts like equality and diversity at a young age. Strauss & Howe (1997) even went so far as to call Generation X “…by any measure the least racist of today’s generations. Certainly, none other in U.S. History has been as amenable to working for, voting for, living next to, dating, marrying, or adopting people of other races” (13ers Entering Young Adulthood: Top Guns, section 23). While this assertion may not ring true today, their place in the civil rights timeline is still notable.
During their teenage and young adult years, Gen Xers were heavily influenced by pop culture. This can mainly be explained by the emergence of the MTV television channel in 1981. The channel most notably brought hip hop music and culture into the mainstream, while also introducing Gen Xers to the alternative rock and grunge music scenes (CFI, 2021). Gen Xers were heavily influenced by the music, culture, clothing, and visual aesthetic that were presented to them on MTV, and their dedicated viewership of the channel earned them the nickname “MTV generation”. Their position as the “middle child” of generations may provide some explanation as to why this cohort was so drawn to MTV. O’Connor (1991) explains how Gen Xers flocked to MTV to “…establish a cultural niche for themselves, something that [would] distinguish them from the hippies and baby boomers and yuppies of times past” (On MTV, Talking About the MTV Generation).
Independent: Because they grew up with little parental supervision, Gen X became accustomed to caring for themselves at an early age. As latchkey kids, Gen X became resourceful and self-sufficient out of necessity, as they were often home alone. Their independence during childhood translated into their adult lives as well. As adults, Gen Xers “…value freedom and responsibility and try to overcome challenges on their own” (Indeed Editorial Team, 2021).
Flexible/Adaptable: Gen Xers grew up in a world with rapidly changing social, economic, and technological environments. As a result, they became very flexible and open to change. As the world transformed before their eyes, Gen Xers came to understand that nothing is permanent, and if you don’t like something, you can change it, or it will eventually change by itself.
Critical Thinkers: While some have labeled Gen X as the cynical generation, a more appropriate description would be that they’re critical thinkers. Gen Xers were brought up during a divisive time in history. “Between the Watergate scandal and the divisive Vietnam War, Generation X had fair reason to think critically about the world around them” (Smith, 2021).
Self-Reliant: Baby Boomers grew up in a “world that beckoned them”, and came to understand that the future was theirs for the taking. Growing up in their shadow, many Gen Xers “…felt the future had been given to their parents and older siblings and found the future disappointing and somewhat unappealing” (CFI, 2021). Realizing that opportunities wouldn’t be handed to them, Gen Xers learned to depend on themselves in order to get things done.
Tech Savvy: Growing up during the transition from analog to digital technology, Gen Xers learned to adapt to new technologies with ease. Remember, they were the first generation to have access to computers at home and at school. Later in life, they also witnessed the rise of cell phones and the internet.
Gen X. Corporate Finance Institute. (2021, March 13). Retrieved December 3, 2021, from https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/other/gen-x/.
Indeed Editorial Team. (2021). Characteristics of generation X professionals. Indeed Career Guide. Retrieved December 3, 2021, from https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/generation-x-professional-characteristics.
McKenna, A. (n.d.). Generation X. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 3, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Generation-X.
O’connor, J. (1991, November 6). Review/Television; on MTV, talking about the MTV generation. The New York Times. Retrieved January 23, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/1991/11/06/arts/review-television-on-mtv-talking-about-the-mtv-generation.html?pagewanted=1
Smith, R. (2021, November 18). Generation X: History and characteristics. FamilySearch Blog. Retrieved December 3, 2021, from https://www.familysearch.org/en/blog/generation-x-characteristics-history.
Strauss, W., & Howe, N. (1997). What Future Awaits Today’s Youth in the New Millennium. Angelo State University. Retrieved December 3, 2021, from https://web.archive.org/web/20160808195038/https://www.angelo.edu/events/university_symposium/97_Strauss.php#footnote1.