Gen-X vs. Millennials: I Don’t Think So

My Brother Aram sent me this video:

This is a powerful statement about the marketing of the Millennials generation as the anti-Generation-X kids. The generation they are referring to as “Lost” is probably not the true Lost Generation (born 1883-1900) but the next generation that followed in a similar vein (Generation X, my generation). We actually have a lot in common with the Lost generation. The Lost were ignored as children (adults were busy with adult issues like Suffragettes), alienated in our youth (think “roaring 20’s” young adults) and pretty pragmatic by the time they hit midlife (on the way through the Depression and leading up to WWII). In general we are viewed as pessimists (I would call us pragmatists, but then, I am an optimist 🙂

The Millennials can be seen as the polar opposite. Raised with careful attention (starting with “babies on board” in 1981) and strong values as well as high expectations, they are set to be the next “Hero” generation (much like the GI’s born 1901-1924). So that “can do” attitude is more than marketing, it is the real hopes and aspirations for an entire generation. That is the vibe that Obama (a pragmatic X’er) struck upon in his campaign so successfully. Optimism is in. Yes we can, yes we can. My kids are part of this generation.

If you wait until the end of the video you will see the organization responsible for this message is the AARP, which is primarily focused on issues concerning a different generation, The Boomers. The older Millennials are the kids of Boomers (while much of the younger portion is parented by Gen-X). This is the same generation that has given us ideological and culture wars for the last 20 years or so (Bush and Clinton were both Boomers).

On the surface, the message in the video is very true to each generation

  • The pessimistic Gen-X’ers and the optimistic Millennials
  • The individualistic Gen-X’ers and the team-oriented Millennials
  • The pragmatic Gen-X’ers and the idealistic Millennials

But the idea that somehow the Gen-X’ers failed and the Millennials will succeed is a fallacy. Comparing these generations attitudes during their youth is not as important as seeing how they will work together to change the world. Having the tough, capable and pragmatic Gen-X’ers working alongside the idealistic, team-oriented and enthusiastic Millennials is just the right recipe. We both have lots to teach each other.

19 thoughts on “Gen-X vs. Millennials: I Don’t Think So”

  1. Wow, good post, Dave! I liked the AARP video. Very cool and optimistic. I guess you could say I’m a cynic in search of redemption, so I liked its hopeful tone.

    1. Jen,

      I think there are many of us Gen-X’ers who are in that same boat: tired of being cynical, but still not sure how to get redemption. But, as usual, making the effort is the important thing and I believe our generation is key in the transformation that is coming.


  2. I sometimes wonder how much of the “vs.” in “Xers vs. Millennials” is due to the direct and indirect influence of Boomers. There are huge cultural differences between Xers and Yers, but I’m beginning to wonder if there is a latent synergy there that is going to blow what the Boomers did out of the water in the next 20-30 years. I’m beginning to suspect that Boomers sense this, and part of the “taking Yers under their wing” is not just due to them being Boomers’ kids age, but also a desire to co-opt collaboration with them and use them as a fountain of youth and relevance. I’ve spent years resenting certain aspects of both Xers and Yers, but I’ve come around to the idea that collaboration between the two generations is long overdue. I can’t see any other way than that to keep Boomers from taking yet another bit of thunder.

  3. Typical boomer stuff. Gen-Xers don’t care because we don’t care the way that they want us to, or using their catch-phrases.

  4. This blog is similar to what you spoke about in class, which I enjoyed and found very thought provoking. Basically at the surface it seems as though neither the boomers or generation Xers really like us. they think we waste your lives watching TV and going on Facebook. And yes we do do that on top on everything else. We are the multitasking generation and I have no hope we will end up living up to our “hero” archetype because thats the thing about us, it may seem like we are stupid and can’t even read more than two paragraphs but we are just different. Our generation had adapted to the modern world and thats the natural cycle. The newest generation is the most evolved, not the smartest or the dumbest. Any competition between generations is a total waste of time. Like the blog said, gen xers have strengths that my generation doesn’t and vice versa. And thats a good thing.

    1. @Tessa – I agree that you are great multi-taskers and I hope it is clear that I also have little doubt that your generation will live up to the Hero archetype. I also agree that every generation has strengths and weaknesses and that the task of each generation is to figure out how to use all of our strengths together as effectively as possible. As you point out, understanding and accepting these strengths and weaknesses (rather than calling them “dumb” or “smart”) is the first and most important step in that journey.

  5. Being the typical millennial I didn’t read my comment through until after I posted it…oops.
    Correction #1- they think we waste OUR lives…
    Correction#2- …I hope no DOUBT we will end up living…

    Btw, thank you for coming to our class and giving us a new perceptive on the generations.

  6. Why does their music suck? It is terrible and unlistenable. Maybe the sunset is creeping up on me and I am getting old man syndrome? I was listening to my favorite sports talk radio station the other day (dominated by Gen Xers) and they had a roundtable discussion with millenials. One of the kids mentioned Blink 182 as "their generational band"…case in point. Gen X: Millenials :: Greeks: Romans, with the perspective that the Romans stole their culture from the Greeks.

  7. Great post – appreciated the demographic comparisons. And the AARP ad was genius! Thanks for putting it all together in a helpful way. From a boomer who continues valuing the unique and effective contributions of Gen-Xers and Millennials!

  8. The biggest problem we face is this: After reading Generations, Al Gore bought a copy for everyone in Congress. Then, Newt Gingrich became a big fan. Mathmaticians started measuring the Chaos Theory of the dynamic system. The NSA starts hiring people specializing in Chaso Thoery. Strauss-Howe is taught in universities. The Yers are all hyped about being the "hero" generation. Marketing firms use Strauss-Howe in its marketing plans. All of this ends up that Strauss-Howe becomes a script. I doesn't matter if it is (or was going to be) correct or not. The fact that it is out there and accepted makes it more likely.

  9. cont…

    Think about all the things from The Fourth Turning (leaving out any "you should really take your meds" conspiracy theories) such as a changing the cells that they can become tracking devices, demand for public order (street cameras), rampet immigration, extreme "outsourcing" of jobs, lack of career type positions offered, Generation X believing Social Security will not be there, and a massive devaluation after an introduction of realestate derivatives. It is like a script. Strauss and Howe even became so-called "business consultants" in Washington DC (not New York or LA, but Washington for business?). Things can be very bad for us of no fault of our own, but because Strauss-Howe has become a script.

  10. Gen X fucked up the entire United States. You chased after the yuppie dream that was apparent in your youth on borrowed money. In the process, you saved little, had kids, moved twice and bought McMansions. Your BMW was more important that your child's college tuition. Your M.O. is "charge now, pay later", which fueled the corporate machine your generation believed to be shunning. Now, Gen Yers have greater competition for low-pay jobs, higher competition to get into quality graduate programs, and not acquiring the type of experience necessary to succeed later in life…All because you have a family to take care of and kids that need to learn soon after, while paying for your house that has lost 30% in value.

    Good luck in the future. I just hope there are politicians that are smart enough in your Generation to help fix the mess we're in (i.e. cutting medicare, medicaid, privatizing social security, and eliminating public-employee unions…the worst of all evils that humanity has created).

    1. You are an idiot. In the 80's, I was between the ages of 10-20. I have saved , bought 20 acres of land, and finally realized my dream of becoming an artist. I did all of that without living beyond my means. The only generation that has fucked up the US is the boomers, who are self-absorbed, arrogant assholes who only want their way . Believe it or not we are on your side. We want you to be able to get good jobs, not have to be in debt up to your eyeballs just to get a good education, and enjoy life. Please do not buy into the idea that they are right and we are just slackers(a label they gave us by the way). I am now 41 and I don't know if we will ever be able to retire or enjoy the golden years like my grandparents did.

  11. Gen y Guy, you’re on crack. Blaming Xers for being yuppies? Ruining the country? Excuse me, motherfudger, what generation is in power now in Washington d.c and wall street? Boomers! So sorry YOUR HELICOPTER PARENTS EFFed you up.

  12. Bwhahahahaha

    Your an idiot, Boomers are the ones holding the credit card, we're the ones always holding the Bill. Personally I think Boomers and millennials are both self absorbed generations who diverse each other. We on the other hand have never cared what people think about us and never will. Go ahead blame us, mis placed as it may be, why not? Do you really think we care?

  13. I have to work with Millenials and I have come to the conclusion 95% of them are useless. I'm a GenXer who had the bright idea of not having children. I saw my generation breed , spoil and coddle their children for no specific reasons, giving them a sense of entitlement in complete disproportion with their actual value.The result of that is a generation who can't function as individuals and need to be in groups at all times, with a peer pressured personality and a very high level of social anxiety. This is a generation who is being sold all kind of disorders as a badge of specialness: ADHD, etc…

  14. Millenials are not more technologically intelligent, they might know how to use a computer at an earlier age, but they are just consumers of technology. Knowing how to tweak your Facebook profile is not a proof of relevance.

    The 5% that I left in my study are those who do not "buy"things whether with their wallet or intellectually, and care beyond the latest IPad. They have true empathy and compassion as opposed to fake compassion of whatever idea is popular in their peer group.

    We just had riots in London, and you could see what Millenials really do with their technology: incite others to steal and rebel, not for any kind of higher purpose but so they can get the latest IPad.

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