The Generations and Generation X
Research shows the biggest divide facing our society is not a gender divide, racial divide, income or technology divide but it is the generational divide. For those of us involved in engaging young people it must be remembered that the gap between us and them is constantly growing: school students are always aged 5-18 but we are getting older, so we must work harder to understand them and so remain relevant.
Let’s begin by defining these generations:
(Figures from the ABS Census)
Generation X has been synonymous with young people since the name was first coined by Douglas Coupland in 1991. However many Xers are now in their 30’s and when it comes to understanding school students we are talking about Generation Y.
Why are young people so different to the other generations?
Obviously the age or life-stage of this generation makes them unique to other cohorts. Being young they have different priorities to older generations. They generally have no financial commitments, thus over 70% of their income is spent arbitrarily, with the majority going on entertainment, travel, and food. They have different recreational pursuits to other generations with their top 3 spare time activities being: “go to a party” (74%); “listen to the radio” (74%); and “go to a movie” (72%). The point is that people operate in different ways because of their age. However age is not the sole reason for generational behaviours otherwise teenagers today would be indistinguishable from teenagers of a generation ago. Yet this is clearly not the case, and it is because life-stage is just one of three broad factors that differentiate the generations.
The current economic, social, and political conditions which we all live under actually further divide the generations. The same conditions act upon people of different ages in different ways. Take text messaging on mobile phones as an example: the technology is available to all, however 74% of messages are sent by Generation Y’sv and so they are developing the new text language (eg “CU L8R” for “see you later”).
Experiences that occur during the formative childhood and teenage years also create and define differences between the generations. These social markers create the paradigms through which the world is viewed and
decisions are made.
Baby Boomers were influenced by the advent of the TV, Rock and Roll, the Cold War, Vietnam War, the threat of nuclear war, and the decimal currency.
Xers saw in the Personal Computer, AIDS, single parent families, the growth in multiculturalism, and the downsizing of companies.
Generation Y’s have lived through the age of the internet, cable television, globalisation, September 11, and environmentalism. Such
shared experiences during one’s youth unite and shape a generation. There is an ancient saying that bears much truth: “People resemble their times more than they resemble their parents”.
A little insight to the X Generation…
Generation X is a term used to describe a group of people born from 1964 to the early 1980’s the United States and Canada. This generation follows the powerful Baby Boomer generation which spiked after World War II. Although the term Generation X is used to describe people born in this time period, it has also been used to describe anyone who is “twentysomething” at the time. The biggest impact that Generation X has had on popular culture probably began in the 1980s and peaked in the 1990s.
While the term Generation X can be used to describe a wide group of people, it has come to be popularly accepted that members of this generation, wrought in the shadow of the Baby Boomers, felt alienated and disenfranchised by the cultural icons of the time. “X” described the lack of identity that members of Generation X felt — they didn’t know where they belonged, but knew for sure that they weren’t a part of the overbearing generation of Baby Boomers.
The media played its part in promoting the Generation X stereotype by portraying them as grunge-listening, Starbucks-drinking, flannel-donning slackers who were quietly revolting against their overachieving, conservative Baby Boomer parents or older siblings. While the term Generation X has been used by a more punk faction of the generation, it has also labeled a group of musicians and actors represented by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and Janeane Garafolo of the movie Reality Bites. While Gen-Xers probably feel passionate about some things, in general they have been portrayed as apathetic, disaffected twentysomethings with no course in life.
Writer Jane Deverson was the first known person to use the term Generation X in 1964. In a study of British teenagers for Women’s Own magazine, she came across a group of teenagers who were living outside of acceptable conservative mores by sleeping around, rejecting religion and disobeying their parents. When this group was rejected for use in the magazine, she co-authored a book with Charles Hamblett called Generation X.
The idea of Generation X exists in many other cultures around the world. In France, people of a similar age are labeled, Génération Bof, translated to “Generation Whatever.” Why Generation X feels as it does is another question. Many believe that the transition from colonialism to globalism and the relative safety many Americans enjoyed after World War II had an effect. Gen-Xers’ parents had marched for equal rights and felt the impact of Kennedy’s assassination, possibly giving them a stronger sense of social responsibility. Skyrocketing costs in housing and education in the 1980s and 90s, coupled with intense competition from overachieving Baby Boomers, may also have alienated Gen-Xers.
written by: The Australian Leadership Foundation Suite 12, 1-7 Belmore Street, North Parramatta NSW 2151 Australia P: (02) 9890 5363