Negative stereotypes aside, Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980) is a generation of promise.
Despite the negative hype, today’s youth are going to college in greater numbers than any generation in American history.
Expecting little and working hard to survive, Xers should arrive at midlife both successful and happy. Who can ask for more?
A Promising Generation
Today’s youth--they’ve been called slackers and whiners, unintelligent and irresponsible. Pick up almost any newspaper and you will read how their crime rates are up; their test scores, down; their values, flawed; their work ethic, nonexistent; and their future, bleak. Yet researchers who actually examine this generation, as well as those of us who live and work with them on a daily basis, know better. Negative stereotypes aside, Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980) is a generation of promise.
Admittedly, this generation did not begin with a hopeful outlook. They grew up in the most blatantly anti-children decade of this century. The ‘70s became known as the Me Decade partly because adults sought fulfillment at the expense of their offspring.
And, yes, the ‘70s left its mark on Generation Xers. They did struggle with rising rates of depression, suicide, and drug abuse. Yet as they move into their 20s and early 30s, today’s young adults are demonstrating a resiliency tempered by the fires of their childhood trials. They are breaking the stereotypes placed on them by an older generation. They are showing their promise.
According to columnist Karen Ritchie, Generation Xers "place a greater importance on the home and family life they missed as children and are unwilling to compromise that ideal for a job." Yet they are not bitter towards parents who may have held different values. Ritchie says that 51% of Xers admire their parents more than anyone else and 29% describe their mother or father as their best friend. And since they are marrying later than their parents, Ritchie predicts an increased stability in home and family life.
Despite the negative hype, today’s youth are going to college in greater numbers than any generation in American history. A Newsweek study shows that 47% of today’s 18-24-year-olds have completed some college compared with 31% in 1980. They are also more computer literate, a fact Newsweek says will translate into increased employability.
A Positive Work Ethic
"Say good-bye to the Generation X stereotype of suicidal, aimless whiners," says researcher Ed Carson. "The much-derided under 30 ‘slackers’ are working and are positively positive about their jobs." Carson cites a recent study that shows workers under age 30 more satisfied with their jobs than any other age group. "In contrast," says Carson, "boomers are the most negative."
Finally, the greatest strength of this generation may lie in what many see as its greatest weakness, low expectations. According to a Roper poll, only 21% of Xers rate their future as very good. In this they are more like their Depression-era grandparents than their boomer parents.
Yet, like their grandparents, Xers are more likely to find a way to endure tough times. They will accept low-paying entry-level jobs. They will live at home in order to afford college. They will delay marriage and child-bearing. In short, they will do what it takes to survive.
And survival is not the only plus of low expectations. Happiness is the result of exceeding your expectations, something that has been hard to do for those of us raised in a more optimistic era. But our children will not have to overcome this barrier. Expecting little and working hard to survive, they should arrive at midlife both successful and happy. Who can ask for more?
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