“The word generation signifies the entire body of individuals born and living at about the same time, most of whom are approximately the same age and have similar ideas, problems, and attitudes.” – Wikipedia
Generational evolution shows that growing up, children evolve into adults based on the characteristics learned and defined by their parents and the generations before them. As years pass, the way in which they live their lives and the ideals they grapple with change as well. Environmental and societal factors contribute to overall evolution as a people, proven and documented from early generations (The Lost Generation) to the current Gen Z.
Perhaps most heavily discussed and analyzed are the younger adult generations of today, known as Generation X (“Gen X”) and Generation Y (“Gen Y”).
Opinions vary on exact demographic details, but Gen X typically includes those born in the late 60’s into the very early 80’s (35-50 years of age; approximately 51 million in population). Gen Y, (better known as the oft-referred term Millennials) is defined as individuals born in the 80’s through early 00’s (currently between 18-34 years of age; approximately 75 million in population).
Characterized by sweeping, broad generalizations, Gen X is known to be cynical but hard working – meanwhile, Gen Y is said to be a bunch of entitled crybabies that expect the world to be handed to them on a silver platter.
A variety of characteristics and behaviors separate Gen X from Gen Y, and perhaps they contribute to the opinions above; below are some of the instrumental factors that span these generations:
Gen X had a variety of popular music ranging from pop to rock, but they were probably best classified by the alternative and rap/hip hop scenes of the early 90’s. Grunge rockers Nirvana – and many others like them – created the alternative “Seattle scene,” and gangster rap legends like Tupac, Biggie Smalls, and Dr. Dre simultaneously filled the airwaves; Gen X’rs fondly recall and lay claim to have come of age during one of the most influential eras of music. Meanwhile, Millennials grew up listening to The Spice Girls, Britney, and a bevy of boy bands, including N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, and 98 Degrees. The heavier messages of struggle and oppression interlaced in the music from the early 90’s slowly shifted into more upbeat, optimistic, pop ballads, which perfectly characterizes the pessimistic outlook of Gen X versus optimistic Millennials.
Technology has absolutely exploded during the lifetimes of both of these generations; spanning from the introduction of the first microprocessor from Intel in 1978 to modern day technology that includes smartphones and voice-operated electronics – not to mention the rise of social media. Whereas Gen X was slowly introduced to the privilege of technology, Millennials have always had it available at their fingertips; they have never experienced any other way of life. Some of the results of the new technology now enjoyed (and likely where some of the entitled, narcissist characterization originates from): Millennials are obsessed with selfies and social media; slang and acronyms are replacing proper English to ease the process of communication within electronic formats (some argue this is breaking down the process of communication altogether), and cyber bullying has been introduced as a new epidemic to confront and battle as resulting suicides continue to occur. Great strides have been made in the past few decades, but everything comes with a price – technological advancement included.
Gen X relied on and valued personal communication in their social interactions and interpersonal relationships. Communication took place via actual telephone calls, before emails, texting and direct messages became an option. Perhaps heavily related to the above point, technology has provided Millennials with more possibilities on how they wish to communicate with others – quickly – yet the ease and convenience with which they contact others may have removed some of the more personal element.
Dating and Romance
Dating and romance has largely also become technologically based, with less and less people meeting organically in unplanned circumstances and social settings. Gen X relied on the tried and true methods of face-to-face interaction at the local bar, or even blind dates, with a hookup courtesy of a helpful friend, and were more likely to settle into relationships as a result (and maybe lack of options). Millennials tend to peruse dating apps like Tinder, knowing that the next best thing may be available in the next swipe to the right; with so many options, they are avoiding commitment altogether. A new undefined phase of dating status has been born as a result: a girl and guy may not technically be together, but are definitely more than friends. Netflix and chill, anyone?
Sex and Sexuality
Gen X introduced the sexual revolution as we know it, as it became commonly accepted to be open and comfortable with the topic of sex and sexuality.Vastly differing from the previous generation of conservative Baby Boomers, the late 60’s and 70’s were all about peace, rock and roll, and making love. This attitude continued until the effect of unprotected promiscuity resulted in the widespread epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. Millennials grew up with familiarity of the terms HIV and AIDS, and have more available access to education and understanding of the causes and effects of unprotected sex as a result. Despite the increased education, Millennials are generally even more relaxed than Gen X’rs – at least when it comes to necessity of a relationship as the foundation for sex. Sex is largely viewed by Millennials as casual in nature, and commonly occurs without the presence of a committed relationship.
Gen X was the first generation to really experience divorce, as this act of dissolution was previously shunned by society. As a result, ‘single parents’ and ‘latchkey kids’ became familiar household terminology. Divorce rates continued to grow and were reported to be consistently around 50%. Millennials have taken heed of the mistakes made by those before them, and are trying to make better choices when it comes to long term commitment; the divorce rate is currently reported to have dropped to about 42%. According to The Huffington Post: “In fact, a new piece in the New York Times’ data blog Upshot suggests that the divorce rate has actually been dropping for some time now. Looking at the numbers, the Times suggests the high divorce rate of the late 1970s and early 1980s may have just been a “historical anomaly,” rather than a trend.” (link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/02/divorce-rate-declining-_n_62569…)
Gen X experienced a shift in family life; products of their parents’ and their own divorces, (paired with the shift of women being expected to work outside of the home and provide a dual income) family life took a back seat. Millennials have since adapted well to resulting divorce and merging families; similar to marriage (and armed with better education on sexual health & reproduction, paired with easier access to birth control), they have adopted a cautious, more calculated decision-making method when it comes to bearing children. Many Millennials are waiting to start families, unlike previous generations who married and had children by their early to mid-twenties. Marriage is also not necessarily a requirement – it is more openly accepted to procreate without walking down the aisle first. Family is defined much more by the individuals themselves, as traditional models of Mom and Dad have changed to embrace the evolution into a more accepting society and feature other parental/family models.
Societal & Cultural Shifts
Gen X started a movement of general acceptance that refers back to the sexual revolution, and it continues to progress. Gen X, stuck between the conservative Baby Boomers and the more relaxed Gen Y, have helped aide in the process on the path to equality for all. Millennials are well-known for their open, accepting nature of all people, and they especially encourage individuality – to break from the norm and be unique. Growing up in modern day society presents experiences and interactions with people and situations that previous generations did not have as much familiarity with; Caitlyn Jenner is a prime example. Never before has such a “taboo,” publicly announced move been not only accepted, but celebrated, as she is applauded for her courage in coming out as a transgender woman. While hatred of different groups is unfortunately not a thing of the past, the fact that this progress has been achieved over the years speaks volumes, and it indicates that further progress is guaranteed in the future. Millennials are paving the way to increased acceptance of all people, regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation.
Gender Roles & Equality
Previous to Gen X, women largely held the role of wife and mother; they stayed home to tend to the children, and keep the house clean. Gender roles have since been burst wide open at the seams, starting with Gen X and continuing on the path of progression with Millennials. Women – and men – can do anything they hope and dream, whether it means being a stay-at-home wife and mother, or being a kick-ass CEO of a communications company – or maybe both. Stereotypes of boys’ clubs in corporate America no longer apply, as women regularly rank not only at home with their families, but in the boardroom as well. Likewise, men also fulfill roles previously designated for females only, such as nurses and stay-at-home fathers. While gender equality is still a work in progress (women make about .70 cents to a man’s dollar for the same position, experience, and education), it is a very positive step in the right direction.
Career and Finances
Gen X as well as Millennials are ambitious and willing to work hard to further their careers and professional success, but their approach is what differs. Gen X has a healthy respect for their superiors, believing that job title and experience demands respect, and will complete a task if asked; Millennials in the workplace are more likely to question authority – i.e. discuss why they are being asked to do a task – not out of insubordination, but curiosity for the process. In addition, Millennials do not automatically hand out respect to their bosses based on perceived experience or job title; rather, they reward those that prove their competency accordingly. Millennials often expect to be rubbing elbows with the CEO, even in an entry level position, as their sense of entitlement and yearning for professional guidance coincide; dissatisfaction can occur if this perception doesn’t become reality. Older Gen X’rs watch on as this occurs with disbelief, as face time with upper management is to be earned – not handed out. Financially, Gen X has it all figured out; they work to live, and save, save, save. Millennials, born in the “Me” generation, are avid consumers that expect instant gratification. As a result, their spending habits can be a bit irresponsible at times, and get them into trouble if they are not careful. Gen Y is more about working to live, as they search more thoroughly for personal fulfillment in their career, dualized with the ability to give back to society as it applies.
These are but a few of the summarized factors; clearly, the span of nearly 40 years is sure to have an impact, as time and surroundings change and mold the people born within them. While the generalizations made for Gen X and Gen Y may present some truth, overall it is irresponsible (and maybe even dangerous) to assign a broad statement to any group or generational class. Progess has definitely been made, with Millennials bringing the present society closer to a more tolerant, accepting future. The defining factors of any generation come back to the overall evolution of time and society; with compassion and a call to charity being of utmost importance to them, Millennials just may put us on the path to help save the world – entitled or not.