Is Generation X Really Disengaged?

This article in City Journal suggests that the characterization of [X] as disengaged politically is not true. They cite a survey from National Conference on Citizenship (download the report in PDF format). It’s an interesting take on the civic attitude of generations. They have stats from their surveys showing that Generation X is just as likely to volunteer or donate as [Mill] and even more so than [Boom]. Their birth years for the generations differ from the ones I use (based on the work of Neil Howe and William Strauss), but they are close enough.

So what is going on here? Are we not the cynical, politically disengaged bunch that people believe we are? Well, I think we are certainly not as extreme as we are often portrayed, but the numbers for cynicism about politics and institutions is highest amongst Gen X’ers in the report. And as for the volunteering and donation rates, we should consider comparing Gen X’ers to Millennials when we were their age. I think the numbers would show that Millennials rate much higher in these civic activities than we did at their age.

Don’t get me wrong: I think a lot of the Millennial volunteer-ism has to do with looking good for colleges and following their parents expectations. And I definitely agree that painting Gen X as a bunch of individualists who don’t care about society is unfair. Be we certainly don’t aspire to be seen as the do-gooders that Millennials seem to be. It’s just not our style.

6 thoughts on “Is Generation X Really Disengaged?”

  1. Hmmmm. I would argue that our president is a Gen Xer. So, no, we are not politically unengaged. Even if you don't agree that Obama is an Xer – just take a look at the people around him. This is the most X administration we've ever had.

  2. re; : volunteers/donating – I was employed recently to recruit volunteers and I have to say the generation doesn't seem to apply so much as upbringing and financial status – maslow's heirarchy of needs – people who are happy with a stable situation are more likely to help others or want to "give back". However… it is true that more Gen X's probably have financial challenges. Also seemed that those with more higher education, more likely to volunteer – nurses, doctors, teachers, etc. I had very fit silents dismiss requests with disgust, and also millenials. Boomers seemed to be mostly spending their winters in warm resort areas, so they weren't going to be available.

  3. I think that any Gen-X'er who is pragmatic enough to fit their generational stereotype would act exactly the way Millennials act today. College admissions systems are now so competitive that no students can afford to not do community service. No one is secure with merely high SAT scores and a good GPA; there are always countless others at least as qualified with impressive volunteer resumes as well. It could be said that Millennials cynically work the admission system in order to come out on top. I don't think that to measure volunteer and donation rates is to measure optimism or will to "save the world" in terms of how they correspond to generations. What have changed are the institutions, not the individuals.

    1. @Luke – I agree that a pragmatic Gen Xer would do the same as a Millennial, but I expect they would have a strong sense of irony about the whole process. And while I agree that many Mills may be cynical about the process, it still does set a standard early in life for Mills that they should \”give back\” to society, which definitely not a message that Gen X'ers heard. I think in the long term it will mean that Mills are much more civic-minded than X'ers, even if it feels rather forced to start with. As Mills see the results of their community service, I think many will be inspired to take action later in life when it is not just a requirement. I could be wrong, tho…

  4. I knew Obama was X because he sounded the most realistic during the whole 2008 campaign. He was intelligent very straight forward. Don't forget Millennials are the reason why he won the election.

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