The grunge generation grows up
They were known for their lack of commitment. Now Generation X is making waves, its own way.
If the term "Generation X" brings to mind "slackers" who listen to grunge rock, you might want to take a closer look at the parents dropping off their kids at day care these days.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
While no one was looking, Gen X grew up, and signs of their maturing are everywhere - from the release last month of the 10th-anniversary edition of the movie "Reality Bites," to a trend in stay-at-home moms.
Depending on whose measure you use, the first of the Xers will turn 40 next year - more than a decade after trend-spotters found similarities between the socially disengaged characters in the 1991 novel "Generation X" and the 20- somethings of the day.
Many of those in Gen X (born roughly between 1965 and 1979) now own their own companies, are raising children, and scoff at the stereotypes that were created about them in the early 1990s - particularly that they are cynical slackers who avoid commitment to jobs and relationships.
"That doesn't sound like me or most of my friends," says Tim Nekritz, a public relations professional and graduate student in his mid-30s from Oswego, N.Y. "We're like our parents' generation, in my opinion. We're getting married, having kids, settling down, buying houses.... I think we're like a lot of other generations that approach middle age."
Generation X may not have the numbers or the name recognition of the baby boomers, but its members - now approximately 25 to 39 years old, and 60 million strong - are putting their stamp on everything from parenting to planning for the future. Approaching their years of highest earning, this group is poised to influence not only housing prices and car styles, but social policy as well.
More independent-minded than baby boomers, Gen Xers have been forging their own approach to adult life in recent years. Unlike their own parents, who had high divorce rates and dual incomes, Xer moms and dads are spending more time with their children, even leaving the workforce to raise them. Those who are single are also trying to balance work and a personal life.
"The legacy that the boomers gave Gen X was permission to do what you wanted, essentially," says Ann Clurman, a senior partner at Yankelovich, a marketing consulting firm that tracks generational trends. "And Gen X has really taken up that banner: If you want to have kids, have kids. If you want to work, work. If you want to stay home, stay home."
Whereas boomers tend to feel they have a moral duty to tell the world when they find the right way to do something, members of Gen X are more private, says Ms. Clurman. Xers are less ideological than boomers, and "that's one of the reasons that people sort of ... ignored them for a while, because they were hard to understand."
But the picture is becoming clearer of what this generation looks like as CEOs and diaper-changers. Defying the apathetic label, Xers have shown an entrepreneurial spirit and are more attuned to the need to invest for retirement, having been told there may be little Social Security left when the 76 million boomers are done with it. Gen X is said to be the first generation that may end up worse off than their parents, but they are also the first to enter the workforce as major innovations in communication technology - e-mail, cellphones, high-speed Internet access - were taking over.
The result? They live the way they want to.
"I believe my generation is constantly seeking ways to blend work and life together," says Heather Malec, who's in her early 30s, by e-mail from Chicago.
Ms. Malec says she doesn't mind working from home before and after typical office hours if it means she can make it to an afternoon tennis class, for example. "It gives me the flexibility to work from wherever I need to in order to get the job done and still have a life."