Throughout U.S. history, social commentators and historians have labeled each succeeding generation in an attempt to capture the defining characteristics of its members as well as to contextualize the generation within the spirit of the times. Generation X is the label used to define the more than 79 million people born roughly between 1961 and 1981. Although both social scientists and marketers employ this tag, the U.S. mainstream media gets credit for skyrocketing this label into our popular culture lexicon, particularly throughout the 1990s.
The term, however, was coined decades earlier in a 1964 pop sociology study conducted by two British journalists, Charles Hamblett and Jane Deverson, who used the term to describe their subjects—British teens—whom they interviewed on matters of sex, money, parents, and politics. In 1976 Generation X, a British punk band featuring Billy Idol, hit the London scene. The term eventually worked its way—via the media—into American popular vernacular after the release of Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, a bleak social commentary by three twenty-somethings who “drop out” from their corporate-world careers to take on no-future “McJobs” that provide little pay, benefits, or dignity. Immediately, Gen Xers—subsequently referred to as “slackers”—were officially characterized as lazy, laconic, and unfocused; however, many took issue with this assessment, describing themselves as diverse, independent, and individualistic.
The members of Generation × are arguably natural products of the intellectual atmosphere in which they grew up, for they are the first generation to be raised in the age of postmodernism—a widespread cultural development of the last quarter of the twentieth century. This paradigm shift marked a generational difference between Generation × and their baby boomer parents. Understanding the transition from modern to postmodern culture is necessary to understanding Gen Xers. Whereas modernism values a single worldview rooted in objective science, postmodernism values multiple world-views based on subjective experiences and contingencies. Information and knowledge are gathered in a linear fashion by modernists, but Gen Xers seek out information from fragmented and nonlinear sources, such as hypertext, visuals, and audio sampling. Whereas the modernists revere classical art and literature, postmodernists broaden their frame of reference to include pop-culture productions such as music videos and animation. Institutions such as government, education, corporations, and media, which are seen as authoritative by modernists, are viewed with a critical eye by members of Generation X.
The civil unrest of the late 1960s and early 1970s, followed by the overconsumption of the 1980s, provided the background to the 1990s—a decade laden with social problems. Violent crime, environmental degradation, widespread homelessness, spikes in both teen pregnancies and suicides, corrupt politics, and the AIDS epidemic, coupled with fundamental changes in the family unit caused by rising divorces rates and dual-working parents, were the realities in which Generation X came of age. Many Xers resented the baby boomers for leaving them to repair or endure a society seemingly gone mad.
Despite the initially dismissive media portrayals and self-proclaimed cynicism about the condition of the world in which they came of age, most members of Generation X—who have reached adulthood—have learned to cope. They, like all preceding generations, are striving to attain or maintain the American Dream, albeit in different ways from the methods of their predecessors.
SEE ALSO Baby Boomers
Coupland, Douglas. 1991. Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Hamblett, Charles, and Jane Deverson. 1964. Generation X. London: Tandem Press.
Howe, Neil, and Bill Strauss. 1993. 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? New York: Vintage Press.
Judy L. Isaksen
"Generation X." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/generation-x
"Generation X." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved April 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/generation-x
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Gen·er·a·tion X • n. the generation born after that of the baby boomers (roughly from the early 1960s to mid 1970s), often perceived to be disaffected and directionless. DERIVATIVES: Gen·er·a·tion X·er / ˈeksər/ n.
"Generation X." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/generation-x
"Generation X." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved April 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/generation-x