The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Dec 082009

This is really a nice video featuring Jeff Gordinier who wrote “X Saves the World”. Very Generation X (born 1961-1981), both substance and style. Love the black shirt against the black screen. Nice of him to use dates that are closer to ours (starting in 1961) and to give the generation close to twenty years.

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  • DP Thompson

    Gordinier almost seems like he is chairing the generational equivalent of an AA meeting for GenX.”Oh come on we Genxers really are important if we just close our eyes and wish it so…”

    • 1972

      we do not care about being important, we never did–that’s your thing, not ours. we’ve been trying to tell you that since kindergarten, but you just don’t get it. and we’re sick and tired that your narcissistic-personality-disorder-suffering-generation can’t stop insulting us–have parents ever hated their children more than you hated us? isn’t enough for you that you drove you children to kill themselves in droves when we were in high school, and now those of us who survived are giving up and killing ourselves in our 30s?

      funny thing is, even though my generation doesn’t care about being important–yet, for only 16% of the population, we have already contributed way more than you guys have and in much less time. but that’s to be expected, considering that your generation prides itself on woodstock, which was about getting high and playing in the mud; but discounts liveaid, which was about raising millions of dollars to feed starving africans.

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  • JPT

    As an Xer (1975), I agree with a lot of what he had to say. I think there is an argument to be made, if you look at history, that it is “prophets” who cause the major crises, and “nomads” who solve them – Washington, Grant, Eisenhower, and so on…all nomads.

    One thing that has stood out to me over the past year is that most of the “Tea Party” people appear to be Xers, and most of the town hall/health care protesters appear to be Silents. It makes sense since those are the two groups that stand to lose the most from high taxes/debt and health care reform, respectively. You could maybe argue that in generational terms, you see two marginalized groups galvanized into standing up against the Boomers and their kids. Of course it's not really that simple. Given the poll numbers these days, there are plenty of Boomers and Millenials who don't agree with what's going on in Washington either. It is definitely true though that the whole “Obama phenomenon” is antithetical to the Generation X mindset. Like he said, we are not collectivists or “joiners”.

    As for the dates, I personally have a hard time accepting people born as early as 1961 as members of X. The business of pinning down exact dates is probably hard though, as there is undoubtedly a gradual shift from one generation to another over the course of a few years. I'm not sure exactly where the X/Millenial line should fall either. It's probably easier to do in retrospect, once the whole cycle is complete.

    One thing I'm convinced of though is that 9/11 had to be the start of the “fourth turning”, just as the 1929 stock market crash began the crisis that ended with WWII. Whether it was “early” or not may be an open question, but that had to be the start.

    • *sigh* to all of you who don't want to believe xers start at 1961. clearly, you aren't in that 1961-1964 chunk. if you were, you'd totally get how absolutely not those americans are NOT boomers. but to look at it from the outside, it seems like an academic discussion or something to banter about. really: from the inside of those years, there's nothing to argue: we're Xers – hands down.

      • Kcmilam

        you are an xer according to the author of the book “generation x,” for sure; he meant the youngest boomers, which you are also. i never understood how that label got applied to my generation, but then again most who jumped on the term never read the book.

        but you are certainly not a part of of my generation–you did not grow up with the muppets, and free to be you and me, and latchkeys, and star wars, and the breakfast club. you didn't have the highest suicide rate ever recorded while you were in high school, and you don't have the second highest suicide rate in the country now that you are middleaged. my generation will still be killing ourselves until the very last of us, at 100 finally is broken too. we aren't nomads, we PTSDs–america's saddest generation, we gave america google, facebook, myspace, youtube, blogging, forums, and skype–and america gave us incessant insults and an overwhelming desire to die.

        from what i can tell, the authors of this site have met very few baby busters in real life–and how could they, we only make up 16% of the population. one snarky guy with a blog (and people who blog are snarky in general. protip–snarky people of any age are drawn to blogging–it's not a generational thing, it's a snarky-thing), plays into these guys' confirmation bias about what people from my generation born in 1970s are like.

        • Are you kidding, Kcmilam? I was born in 1963, and I most certainly did grow up with all the things you listed. Monumentally. And dude, really? You want to talk about negative statistics? The 1961-1964 group has some of the worst. Read the book: 13th Gen for a sad but sobering assessment of GenX of which, I am, most certainly, a part.

          Oh, and by the way, your stats about being 16% of the pop are totally off. GenX are the same size as Millennials, weighing in around 80 million; easily 25+% larger than Boomers. Stop moping. Start reading. 🙂

  • DP Thompson

    I agree that 1961 is an early starting date for X: I've always thought that 1965 was closer since it is the first year of the demographic bursting of the boomer bubble. As I've stated before, Xers are an abbreviated or attenuated generation,as are Silients. Boomers and Millennials are elongated. This is why Boomers and Millennials consist of two salient components: early and late. Xers and Silients seem more homogeneous,lacking a more distinct internal gradation. This point is extremely important when the considering generational dynamics of our historical moment.

    • Comment

      A generation is at least 20 years long. Howe and Strauss write Xers are born 1961-1981. Now the truth finally comes out after all these years.

  • kelly85

    I noticed too that many sources other than your books often make Generation X shorter on both ends. On the older end it seems like many people firmly believe in the 1946-1964 “fertility bulge” Boomer generation, and since 1961-born Obama falls in this disputed range I've seen quite a bit of debate about this since the election last year. On the younger end there seems to be less of a commonly accepted ending date for Generation X, but I've seen numerous sources use dates earlier than your 1982 (with some as early as 1977) for the beginning of the Millennials (or “Generation Y” or whatever they call X's successor generation) but only one or two with a later cutoff date than yours.

    The shortening of Generation X reminds me of when I was younger why I was told February had fewer days than the other months: Back when our calendar was formed February was considered an unlucky month so they gave it fewer days to make it go by faster. With Generation X since many consider it an “unlucky” generation (hence S&H calling it the “13th Generation” when they wrote their earlier books) those who define the dates tend to make it shorter and put the people on the ends into the “better” adjacent Boomer and Millennial generations.

    • DP Thompson

      Before this latest spate of generational banter (replete with Jungian archetypes) the demarcation for boomers was always considered 1946-1964, part of why they are termed boomers. Suddenly with more seemingly at stake, others,primarily Xers,have sought to shift the starting and ending dates around.If you wish your generation longer, then borrow a couple years from Millennials; I'm sure they wouldn't mind,at least for now.
      As for the issue of these demarcations being optional based upon convenience, I'm not so sure. Mark Twain once quipped something along the lines of ” History may not repeat itself but it sure can rhyme”. A closer look at the Hegelian cycles of history and one sees ebbs and high tides. Generational attributes and volumes seem to be minutely dictated by the overarching periods of war and peace,boom and bust, prosperity and hard times.

      • JPT

        “Suddenly with more seemingly at stake, others,primarily Xers,have sought to shift the starting and ending dates around.”

        I'm not sure where you get that from, or what you're referring to, but Mr. Howe is a Boomer, and his work is one of relatively few sources that place the line as early as he does. If, as I believe, X runs from about 64/65 to 82, that's 18/19 years – hardly a major truncation. It's about average.

        • DP Thompson

          I hate to sound anti-X in many of my comments, but I do believe due to the alternate stretching and contraction of historical flow, and additional factors ,that Gen X ,like the Silents,represent an abbreviated generation. Boomers and Millennials,although perhaps merely a couple of years longer, are generations that appear to have two internal groups: early and late. For instance, early Millennials were born in the 80s,late Millennials in the 90s.The same internal gradation can be seen with Boomers. The identical dynamic is not nearly as apparent with Xers and Silents. I do not need to tell you how important the ramifications of this sub-group distinction is for these four most recent generations.

          • JPT

            I was referring to your statement about “Xers trying to shift dates”. I'm not even sure what you mean by that. As an Xer myself (1975), I think there are two groups – those who grew up during the 70s and those who grew up during the 80s. There are a lot of differences between them.

  • JPT

    “Suddenly with more seemingly at stake, others,primarily Xers,have sought to shift the starting and ending dates around.”

    I'm not sure where you get that from, or what you're referring to, but Mr. Howe is a Boomer, and his work is one of relatively few sources that place the line as early as he does. If, as I believe, X runs from about 64/65 to 82, that's 18/19 years – hardly a major truncation. It's about average.

  • Dave

    The way I see it, the end of the “boomer” generation has more to do with the end of the period known as the “high” than with the actual end of the high numerical number of births. (from my reading of the 1st book). The post-war victory high was probably wearing off at the time, but it must have clearly ended abruptly with the JFK assassination. I don't know if it actually did or not (wasn't around yet), but it could have triggered the “spiritual awakening” period in that it made people realize that life could be snuffed out at any moment, for any reason; if it could happen to the president, it could happen to anyone. So I would say that 1961-2 would actually be a pretty good date for the start of the current “reactive/nomad” generation, as those kids born in that year only had a year or two of their childhood in a “high” and the rest in what followed. The last year of the Idealist would be 1960-ish, as 3-4 years of the last bit of the high might have had enough of a stamp on their personality.

    I have to say I disagree with the labeling by Strauss/Howe of the 3 present active generations, baby-boomer, 13th, and millenial. All of the previously named generations are named with an adjective; silent, G.I., Lost, missionary, etc. The current 3 are named with random numerical designations that seem designed to make the prophecies self-fulfilling.

    Case In Point:

    The baby boomer label is representative of the generation's sheer size.

    The 13th is nothing more than the number of the generation that has seen the U.S. flag. “13” hinting at an unluckiness.

    Millenial is related to being at some early stage of life when a major milestone year clicks over marking time from the birth of Christ. A positive notion hinting that it is “once in a thousand years”. (what, do non-christians who follow a diffent calendar lose out? 😀 )

    By rights, for fairness, the Millenials should just be referred to as the 14th generation, and the boomers nothing more than the 12th. Or, some other consistent naming convention used to look at each one objectively until their archtype personality truelly manifests itself.

    Surely, the baby boomer one has reached this stage by now. Has there been any consensus as to what that is ( I have never heard it, and nobody ever calls it “Generation W”).


    (PS- I believe Xers have the early/late thing too, mybe just harder to see)

    • DP Thompson

      The particular “high” period in question is tracked by the large number of births which persists as the bellweather of most high periods,i.e., populations are confidant,economies are humming,people are expecting good things in the future,hence they tend to have children. The last year of that reproductive optimism ceased in 1964 with a sharp drop- off in births.This happened to coincide with several seminal events that moved this country away from the general optimism that characterized the postwar period.

    • Remember, Boomers are considered a large generation, vis-a-vis the generation they followed, an artist archetype born in a Fourth Turning (winter) when births are typically low.

      GenXers are actually much larger in population/US Census numbers than Boomers and are equal in size to Millennials, though this will start to shift as GenXers die (and our gen does have a lot of earlier deaths for reasons all related to being the Nomad archetype).

      Rock on.

  • Teddy

    Like the video and agree with him. However, let's get this straight – there were no baby boomers born in the 1960s. None. And no Gen Jones either.

    Generation X began in 1961 and carries to the year 1975. Most of the first and second wave Xers came of age in the 1980s, including Obama, who turned 20 in the year 1981, when most first wave Xers entered their 20s.

    The period of 1975 to 1981 is a Post-Xer generation, not quite “millennial,” but they relate to late-wave Xers born in the 1970s. They came of age in the 1990s.

    Generation Jones (1953-60) is a post-boomer generation that was too young to take part in the counter-culture revolution of the late 1960s. That generation came of age in the 1970s, when Gen Xers were still children in elementary and high school.

    The whole lie of Boomers being born from 1946-64 is just that – a lie designed to make the Boomer generation “feel” younger than they really were. This generation is scared to death of aging and always has been. Remember, the Boomers were the generation that coined their tern, “Don't trust anyone over 30.” When they turned 30, what to do? Not trust yourself?

    Boomers were born during the Second World War and I have their dates from 1939 to 1953 – a 14-yr. period of time. The Boomers have had their time as the establishment (1993-2011) and that time is now coming to an end. They lost their clout, and they know it. That's why they've been on a tear to destroy everything in their path from A to Z in society, politics, economics, education, etc., etc., – and we can all see that they've done a bang up job on the world. It is time for them to go…

    Generation X is about to become the new establishment – without all the hype so characteristic of Boomers. There's a lot for Gen X to do: not only providing a vision for the future, but in cleaning up, and clearing out of the total mess the Baby Boom generation left behind.

    From the time that Gen X enters as the new establishment in 2011 to the time that it should complete its job as the nomadic generation, it should be the year 2030.

    This means that after all is said and done, Gen X will have truly “saved the world” if the generation stays on course in getting the job done without the fanfare, total incompetence and rampant cynicism so typical of the Baby Boomer “me generation.”