Generation X

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Generation X (born 1961–81) grew up as the children of the Consciousness Revolution, an era when the welfare of children was not a top social priority. They learned young to distrust institutions, starting with the family, as the adult world was rocked by the sexual revolution, divorce epidemic, and a shift to a more explicit pop culture. As women entered the workplace before childcare was widely available, many endured a latchkey childhood. Their school achievement leveled out, yet The Nation At Risk report accused them of being “a rising tide of mediocrity.” Come the 1980s, their new cultural statements—hip-hop, grunge, heavy metal, alt-rock—revealed a hardened edge. In the late 1980s, the crime rate surged.

As young adults navigating a sexual battlescape of AIDS and blighted courtship rituals, Xers dated cautiously and married late. Many of them have begun to reconstruct the institutional strength of family that they missed in their own childhood. In jobs, they embrace risk and prefer free agency over loyal corporatism. Through the ‘90s, they faced a Reality Bites economy of declining young-adult living standards—a consequence masked by the phenomenal wealth of young movie stars, athletes, and dot-com phenomes. They responded by becoming the greatest entrepreneurial generation in U.S. history. They have also emerged as the most immigrant generation born in the 20th century. Politically, they lean toward non-affiliation and tend to see volunteering as more effective than voting. They were slow to come to public office, but they are now arriving with a typical brand of get-it-done pragmatism, from President Obama’s “post-Boomer” politics to the “young guns” who entered Congress in 2011.