As baby boomers and millennials grab headlines, the lost Generation X asks, ‘What about us?’
Their generation, they argue, has made countless societal contributions. It produced Kurt Cobain and MTV. Gave the world the VCR, Nintendo, and the Brat Pack.
So why, they wonder, can’t they get any respect?
With a seemingly endless stream of attention being showered these days upon millennials and the aging baby boomers, Gen X — that cadre of (roughly) 39- to 54-year-olds — has been feeling forgotten, unappreciated, and, frankly, a bit left out.
Twitter storms have swept the Internet, with Xers raining complaints about slights real and perceived. Others have gathered on Facebook or around office water coolers to bemoan the phenomenon, their conversations inevitably settling on a single question.
“What about us?” asks Scott Latham, a professor of strategy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and, at 48, an official member of the generation left behind. “We’re just ignored across the board.”
Pundits and researchers have routinely overlooked them, inadvertently or not. The mainstream media have been equally indifferent; a Nexis search of US newspapers from the past month turns up 1,372 references to millennials, 486 to boomers . . . and a whopping 79 for Xers.
In the latest indignation, Xers were conspicuously left off a recent CBS News graphic that included the silent generation (born 1928-1945), baby boomers (1946-64), millennials (1981-1996), and post-millennials (1997-present) — a slight that left Gen Xers grumbling into their smartphones.
Fumed one Twitter user: “Gen X was apparently out of the building during roll call, probably too busy taking care of an elderly parent while sending an Uber to an unemployed millennial child.”
The trouble, perhaps, is that the generation doesn’t generate many strong feelings, one way or the other. Boomers get credit for changing American culture in the ’60s and for draining Social Security as they age. Millennials are branded as self-empowered by some and self-entitled by others. Each inspires love and disdain but, seemingly, not much in between.
If the boomers are a chocolate malt and the millennials a scoop of vegan strawberry with organic sprinkles, the Xers are vanilla soft-serve, plain, in a cone.
Even Xers themselves, when pressed, seem to be only lukewarm about their generational affiliation. According to a 2013 MetLife study, just 41 percent of Gen Xers self-identified as such. And in 2010, when the Pew Research Center asked Gen Xers whether they felt their generation was unique, only half answered in the affirmative — substantially lower than that of both boomers and millennials.
Asked recently to list his generation’s best qualities, Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, went silent for several seconds.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “A good question . . . ”
Some of the attention deficit Xers feel is just about numbers. They’re a smaller group than either the boomers or millennials, checking in at around 66 million people, according to Pew — compared to 74 million boomers and 71 million millennials.
Many also were raised to avoid the spotlight. As a generation that came of age as divorce changed the American family, many learned self-sufficiency from an early age — and have maintained a kind of Belichickian resolve into middle age.
“Get up, do your job, don’t cause a stink, don’t make a scene,” says Kim Ring Allen, a Gen Xer and professor of marketing at the Sawyer Business School at Suffolk University.
But there might be another reason for the lack of generational identity: At a time when most Gen Xers were barreling toward adulthood, there simply wasn’t a whole lot going on in the world, relatively speaking.
“With boomers, there was a lot of ferment in the 1960s — culturally, racially, politically — and a young, spirited generation was a part of that,” says Paul Taylor, author of “The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown” — a title that noticeably omits the Xers. “And millennials . . . as that generation came of age, they were the first to pick up technology.”
“It’s hard to find a kind of powerful or historical force that was around when Xers were coming of age.”
Of course, even as boomers and millennials have garnered headlines and attention, some Xers insist they’re perfectly content flying under the radar. “To be honest, I’m happy to let the boomers and the millennials battle it out,” says Danielle Perry, a Gen Xer and bookkeeper from Braintree. “They can fight over who’s ruining the world.”
As more than a few Xers pointed out, generational generalizations far more often target a particular group’s shortcomings than its virtues.
“Baby boomers are known for their insatiable greed in the ’80s, and millennials are known for always being on their phones,” says Rob “Hardy” Poole, a radio personality with 98.5 The Sports Hub and SiriusXM. “I shudder to think what Gen Xers might be labeled within a 10-second sound bite.”
Despite the lack of attention, however, it’s worth noting that Gen X is quietly having something of a moment.
There is a “Beverly Hills 90210” reboot in the works. And in a nod to ’80s entertainment, arcades have again become en vogue — A4Cade and Kings Dining and Entertainment are recent local examples.
And perhaps most notably, Xers’ kids have begun adopting some of the fashion trends that were popular when their parents were growing up, from velvet scrunchies to body suits.
Is it possible, then, that the Xers are on the cusp of a late emergence? Is this a sign that the tide is turning, that the forgotten generation might finally be nudging its way into the national consciousness?
Asked recently what he knew about Generation X, Tommy Armenta, a 20-year-old Northeastern student, seemed perplexed.
“I want to say they’re before Generation Z?”