Defining Generation X and Millennials: Main Differences


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Birth Years In a review of the literature on Xers and Millennials, the research revealed the following: there is no single, accepted age range or label of the generations of individuals born after the Baby Boomers. For example, according to Collins (2002), some researchers mark Generation X as those born between 1960 3 and 1980 (p. 29). Tulgan (1995) reports that Generation X ranges from 1963-1981, while Howe and Strauss (1993) put Generation X birth-years from 1961-1981. While many generational experts have laid out specific age ranges to define the members of a cohort, these are just guidelines (Lancaster & Stillman, 2002). For this review, the twenty birth years between 1960 and 1980 are sufficient for understanding the evolution of Xers. Unfortunately, Tapscott (1998) confuses the distinction between Xers and Millennials by overlapping their birth years to form one major, ‘Net Generation,’ representing children born between 1977-1997 (p. 3). 

Lancaster and Stillman establish the Millennial birth years from 1981-1999 (p. 13). Howe and Strauss’s research more accurately puts Millennials’ birth years between 1980 and 2000, and for this analysis these dates are the most appropriate. Labeling There is some disagreement of the source of the term Generation X. According to Cannon (1990), the label ‘Generation X’ is borrowed from an album by rock star Billy Idol (p. 1). Holtz (1995) discovered the more commonly accepted origin of the moniker. The name ‘Generation X’ is coined from the Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel Generation X. Using the mathematical symbol for the unknown, the X pays homage to the post-Baby Boom generations’ distain for accepting any single definition (p. 3). 

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The label X symbolized the mystery of what they were really like and why there seems to be such a blank in the center of their lives, filled with rock music and conspicuous consumption (Rollin, 1999, p. 312). Holtz prefers another label, Free Generation: ‘free’ in the sense of liberated spirit, a defining event or experience, of racial and gender stereotypes, lifestyles, and career choices (p. 3). Owen (1997) learned that too many people associate Gen X with the derogatory term ‘slacker.’ According to Owen, the media has stereotyped Xers as white, middle-class kids who grew up in suburbia, went to college, and are searching for a career but end up working at The Gap (p. 2). 

Owen uses U.S. Census data to show that almost 35 percent of those in the 10 to 29 age group were non-white or Hispanic (p. 2). In addition to the label Generation X, the following tags have emerged: Gen X, Xers, and the 13th Generation (13th Gen or Thirteeners) since they are the thirteenth generation since the founding of America (Howe & Strauss, 1993). The Millennial generation follows Generation X with such terms as 4 Generation Y, Echo Boom, Baby Busters, Generation Next, Nexters, Generation Tech,, Gen Y, Boomer Babies, and Generation XX (Howe & Strass, 2000; Collins, 2000; Lancaster & Stillman, 2002). 

Researchers confirm that as we describe the two generations we should not stereotype Xers and Millennia ls, but rather treat them as individuals in order to learn something about them that the reader might not have known before (Cannon, 1990; Beaudoin, 1998; Lancaster & Stillman 2002). Similarly, Cannon’s (1990) focus group study confirmed that learning to appreciate and value differences, including intergenerational differences, simply means better communication and understanding (p. 2). 

Lancaster and Stillman found that each generation shares a common history; the events and conditions each of us experiences during our formative years determine who we are and how we see the world. As a result, each generation has adopted its own ‘generational philosophy.’ Icons and conditions play out in the lives of each of the generations and shape its attitudes, character, values, and work styles. Icons can be people, places or things that become reference points for a generation. Conditions are the forces at work in the environment as each generation comes of age (p. 14). Generation X is possibly the most misunderstood generation in the workforce today, according to Lancaster and Stillman (p. 24). Since Xers grew up seeing every major American institution called into question, including the presidency, organized religion, higher education, and corporate America, they have been marked by skepticism (p. 25). 

Even with the institution of marriage, the divorce rate tripled during their birth years. Xers are a generation that distrusts the permanence of institutions and personal relationships. As a result, Xers tend to put more faith in themselves than in institutions that have failed them time and time again (p. 25). Lancaster and Stillman’s research points out that the Xers (1965-1980) are an influential population of forty-six million, despite being smaller then the eighty million Baby Boomers (1946-1964). 

In addition to interviews and consulting experiences, their findings come from the BridgeWorks Generations Survey, which used a multigenerational sample of several hundred people in order to quantify a topic that can seem very anecdotal and personal (p. 34). Zemke, Raines & Filipczak (2000) administered surveys, facilitated focus groups, and interviewed over 100 managers and those 5 employees who report to them, in addition to interviewing leading experts in sociology. They found that Xers formed their worldview in the 1970s during the post-Vietnam/Watergate era. 

Their conclusions have been corroborated with a growing body of research about generations conducted by such organizations as the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, Yankelovich Partners in New York, and the National Center for Educational Statistics in Washington. The core values of Xers are diversity, thinking globally, balance, techno-literacy, fun, informality, self-reliance, and pragmatism (p. 98). Representing the next great demographic boom, Millennials (1981-1999) represent seventy-six million Americans (Lancaster & Stillman, p. 13). Lancaster and Stillman found them to be smart, practical, appreciative of diversity, and techno-savvy individuals, having traveled the world on the Internet (pp. 27-28). Millennials are realistic about the challenges of a modern life for a modern kid. 

Ranking ‘personal safety’ as their number one workplace issue, they have experienced violence closely with personal threats stemming from outbreaks such as Columbine, readily available illegal drugs, and the proliferation of gangs. They feel empowered to take action when things go wrong, and the best word that describes Millennials is ‘realistic.’ (Lancaster & Stillman, pp. 29-30). According to Howe and Strauss (2000), youth culture is on the road to a radical shift. Several studies reported that in general, Millennials are team-oriented, optimistic, practical, and trusting of authority and traditional institutions (Rollin, 1999; Collins, 2000; Howe & Strauss, 2000). 

However, Raines (1997) found Xers as having a more pragmatic view of the world than Millennials, and even Lancaster and Stillman discovered that Millennials have an entitlement attitude (p. 17). Xers learned to be self-reliant since survival was a big part of their growing up time (Raines, 1997). The views of Millennials are diametrically opposed to those of their parents. Over half the Millennials say they trust political leaders to do what’s right most of the time. When asked ‘What is the major cause of problems in this country?’ Millennials named ‘selfishness’ more than anything else (Howe & Strauss, 2000). In surveys, their research discovered that Millennials tend to be more optimistic about the world in which they’re growing up. Nine in ten described themselves as ‘happy,’ ‘confident,’ and ‘positive’ (p. 7). 

Millennials are cooperative team players, accepting of authority and rules (p. 8). In 13th Gen, Howe and Strauss found that Gen X was shaped by a changing society experiencing divorce rates that rose from less than 10 percent in 1950 to almost 20 percent in 1980, according to U.S. Public Health Service data . They also discovered that in 1988, only 50 percent of American youth aged 15 to 17 lived with both their biological parents. Similarly, Losyk’s (1997) research revealed that about 40% of Xers are a product of divorce, and many were raised in single-parent homes (p. 40). TV became an easy parental substitute and has had a tremendous impact on Xers (Owen, 1997, p. 9). 

In addition, several studies indicate that with the rising divorce rate, Xers turned to their close friends more often than their parents or relatives to serve as surrogate families (Zemke, Raines & Filipczak, 2000; Howe & Strauss, 1993; Lancaster & Stillman 2002; Owen, 1997). Male-female relationships were just as likely to be based on friendships as romance. This reordering of priorities and restructuring of relationships came to be reflected in such sitcoms as Friends and Living Single, and the importance of friendships helps explains why these shows have become hits (Owen, p. 11). Xers understand that the world has developed into an unsafe place. 

Since Xers were exposed to more drugs, AIDS, drunk drivers, sex, violence and broken homes on TV and in reality, they grew up much faster than their parents did (Lancaster & Stillman, 2002, Owen 1997). According to Owen, friends as family, serialized storylines, and the use of music are three ingredients found in every Gen X TV show (p. 11). More so than Boomers, Xers became voracious consumers of entertainment of all types, requiring something new and different (p. 14). Researchers have determined that the online world of the Internet is also a part of the Xers’ search for community and friendship with people who have similar thoughts and interests (Lancaster & Stillman, 2002; Owen, 1997).

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