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Generation X: History and Characteristics

Generation X—so named because of the generation’s refusal to be defined—witnessed some of the world’s greatest advancements, including space exploration and the development of the computer.

Generation X is a relatively smaller generation than those that surround it. Because of the size and influence of Baby Boomers and Millennials, Generation X is sometimes referred to as the forgotten middle child of the generations. While this generation is certainly outnumbered, many of this generation have shaped the world during pivotal years of great change and technological advancement.

Why Are They Called “Generation X”?

The term Generation X  has been used in a couple earlier ways, but the primary use of the term now is used to define the generation following the Baby Boomers. The X was used to give the idea that the generation resisted being defined, with reference to the variable “x” rather than some other characteristic. Generation X—or Gen X for short—was also known as the Baby Busters, the Latchkey Generation, and Post-Boomers.

generation x woman holding a cup looking away

Generation X Birth Years

According to the Pew Research Center, the birth years of Gen X are 1965–1980. This date range may vary depending on the institution, but what is agreed is that Gen X was born during a unique time in history. Their childhood was defined by many things, such as space exploration, great tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the development of the modern computer.

Generation X Characteristics

  • Independent: This generation is sometimes referred to as latchkey kids or the latchkey generation. These terms were used because a number of them, due to dual-earning parents or other circumstances, came home alone after school. It’s possible that this upbringing fostered the independence in Generation X that we see today.
  • Flexible: Gen Xers have lived through some of the most drastic social changes and developments in history. Of necessity, they grew to be flexible, ready for change when it comes, and prepared to work through it. This flexibility (combined with critical thinking) also led to changes in communication, workplace environments, and culture as Gen Xers questioned cultural practices, such as why a suit was necessary for certain jobs or why some communication was so formal.
group of generation x women taking a selfie
  • Critical Thinkers:  While some have called Generation X cynical, a more apt description may be that they’re critical thinkers. As with all generations, Gen X attained higher levels of education than the previous generation and grew up in a time where there was great division in society. Between the Watergate scandal and the divisive Vietnam War, Generation X had fair reason to think critically about the world around them.
  • Self-Reliant: Similar to their independence, Gen Xers learned to depend on themselves and make the best of their situation. Having grown up with the threat of nuclear war over their heads, they didn’t often have the brightest outlook on the future, but they were driven to make a difference and to make their own way in the world.

Their Slice of History

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

While the fall of the Berlin Wall was a historic moment in the lives of all generations who witnessed it, it was especially poignant for Gen X. Generation X was born in a time marked by deep tension between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Birth of the Personal Computer

personal computer

Similar to how Millennials grew up with smart phones but remember a time without them, Gen X grew up with the very first personal computers. Though computers were invented before the Gen X generation, the technology was mainly used by large companies or governments. During their youth, Gen Xers witnessed the first use of personal home computers. Though personal computers are commonplace now, their use was revolutionary back then!

Post-Civil Rights Movement

Gen X was the first generation to grow up after the civil rights movement. Many people in this generation grew up with ideas of equality and diversity and don’t remember a time before the civil rights movement.

The Growth of Education

Harvard law school building

Generation X received more education than previous generations. As with the experience of Baby Boomers, Gen X grew up with a greater emphasis on STEM education, a trend that has continued for Millennials and Generation Z.

The Gen Xers in Your Family

Which members of your family are from Generation X? Find the Gen Xers in your family tree, and ask them about their experiences. You can always record their stories, favorite bands, and anything else in FamilySearch Memories.

Explore the History of Generations

Interested in learning who came before Generation X? Discover the history and characteristics of the other generations.

Source: Family Search

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