What is generation X ?

I’ve heard this term before, but I don’t know what gen X is. Can some one please explain it to me ?


I believe it generally refers to the generation that followed the baby boomers, who were the post WW II generation. I’m 48 and I was born in the peak year of that boom. I think it includes people born up until ~1960. So the Gen Xers would be those born between ~1960 and ~1975.

That’s approximately correct - someone somewhere may have actually decided a precise birth year boundary.

Here’s a typical explanation, the first hit on the term “generation x” at http://www.google.com :


People who are born and grow up in a certain time period are often lopped together and ascribed a “generational” name, like the Lost Generation. It’s not, in my opinion, very accurate. For example, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are both Baby Boomers, yet I don’t think many people will want to take the time to search for similarities between the two personalities. The two do, however, have some shared experiences, and that’s what interests sociologists (and pop-culture aficionados).

Does this site suck, or what? You cynical bastard, you are a Gen X’er.

Unless of course you were asking about the band, featuring a young but still sneering Billy Idol.

Who knows what terms like this mean once they are bastardized by the media?

The term was first used as the title of the excellent Douglas Copeland novel Generation X. He defines it basically as the cynical and overeducated generation that had trouble finding better work than McJobs. I would date it as those born between 1960 and 1970 – I know that as one born in 1972 I didn’t really fit the definition.

I believe the term originates because the generation in question was the tenth generation of Americans (based on arbitrary generational definitions used by sociologists). I don’t have a cite handy, but I believe Copeland cites that reason in his book. I don’t believe Copeland coined this term though I agree with Dr_Paprika that his book is excellent.

Note that if this origin of the word is correct, the current bevy of skatepunks is Generation XI, not Generation Y.

Douglas Copeland certainly gave a definition and popularized the term, I do not know if he coined it. It certainly was not in popular use before his book. It certainly was not in Canada.

I was also born in ‘72’ and remember when I first heard the term ‘generation X’ I was just outside it. But it seemed like the years covered ‘slid’ forward into the mid 70’s after the term became popular.

In case you’re interested, they’re working this problem in the Pit also: Lost Generation

As someone born in 1971, I am certainly counted in with Gen X. Supposedly, we were the generation with so few common experiences, and no single unifying event, that we couldn’t be defined. The marketing geniuses promptly figured out a way to exploit us, anyway.


First, you’re misspelling the name of the author who created the term “Generation X”. It’s Douglas Coupland. Second, take a look at this essay by Coupland:


Here’s the most important paragraph:

> The book’s title came not from Billy Idol’s band, as many
> supposed, but from the final chapter of a funny
> sociological book on American class structure titled
> Class, by Paul Fussell. In his final chapter, Fussell
> named an “X” category of people who wanted to hop off the
> merry-go-round of status, money, and social climbing that
> so often frames modern existence. The citizens of X had
> much in common with my own socially disengaged
> characters; hence the title. The book’s title also
> allowed Claire, Andy, and Dag to remain enigmatic
> individuals while at the same time making them feel a
> part of the larger whole.

What Coupland was doing was not characterizing an entire age cohort. He was describing a specific subgroup of that group. He actually greatly dislikes the way that people have subsequently misinterpreted the term as being descriptive of the entire age cohort. (I’m deliberately not using the word “generation.” This group doesn’t really extend over an entire generation.) Coupland particularly dislikes advertisers who want to co-opt the word in order to sell products.

To understand the term better, let’s go back to the book that inspired Coupland - Class by Paul Fussell - and the book that inspired Fussell - another book also called Class by Jilly Cooper. The first book was an examination of the British class system. It was not intended as a deep sociological study of the class system. In fact, Cooper is a British novelist whose novels are rather fluffy examinations of upper-class British manners. Her book Class was an attempt to sort out (in an informal, sometimes funny way) the habits of the various British social classes. As you might expect of a book written by a novelist rather than an academic, it was rather sloppy and disorganized, but it had some rather clever and accurate observations in it.

Paul Fussell is a literature professor who’s written on a variety of topics. Fussell decided to do the same sort of survey for the American class system. His book Class wasn’t as funny, although it was a little more organized and accurate. In any case, neither he nor Cooper could be mistaken for sociologists trying to do a completely objective study of the class system. Fussell actually had a more specific and subjective point to make in his book in his book than Cooper, who wasn’t trying to do anything except entertain her readers. Fussell was trying to show how tightly bound to the unconscious attitudes of their class everyone was. In the last chapter though he defines a class he calls “Class X” which consists of those people who are willing to ignore the habits of the social class that they supposedly belong to based on their economic status. He obviously thinks that they are “better” people in some sense, more willing to do what they really want to and thus more willing to ignore what others think they should do.

Personally, I think this is somewhat of a cheat as an objective description of a social class system. Obviously any description of the habits of a group will be overgeneralized, but there isn’t really any such class as his “Class X.” There are always outliers when one tries to chart any set of social habits.

Douglas Coupland was trying to do the same thing for a certain subgroup of his age cohort. He thought of them as the rebellious set of people his age, the ones who were trying to ignore the trends, particularly the marketing trends, that they were being conditioned to. He thus hates the use of the term “Generation X” in advertisements which attempt to sell something based on allegience to one’s age group. This is exactly opposite the point he wanted to make. More importantly, he never wanted to be thought of as describing an entire age cohort.

This might be wrong, but I heard the X meant the 10th generation of Americans. A generation is 20 years so 20x10 = 200 years added to 1776 brings you to 1976.

I find Coupland’s claim that Fussell was the main inspiration for the name Generation X highly dubious. The band Generation X had been around since 1978, while Fussell’s book wasn’t published until 1983. As a certified pop culture junkie, Coupland surely knew of the band’s existence when writing the book. Maybe he just doesn’t want to share the glory with Billy Idol. Though this page says Idol himself took the name from an unspecified 1964 book:


(Next thing ya know, Brett Easton Ellis will deny the title Less Than Zero was taken from a song by Elvis Costello…)

I will start this by saying I’ve only skimmed this thread and the one in the Pit. I’ve done this mostly because VileOrb is my roommate and I’ve been hearing variations of this debate/rant/question for a month now. (Love you, Dave, but I can only take so much. :))

My question is, who actually defines the generations? Yeah, so Copeland wrote a book stating this year to this is GenX. So? If I write a book that says monkeys fly out of Copeland’s butt, does that make it so? Or do I have to wait to be backed by popular opinion?

Maybe it’s just my faith in All Things More Powerful Than Me (the very thing that makes me shudder when I see bank tellers younger than myself. Hands off my money, whippersnappers!), but I always believed that the generations were defined by some sort of strict criteria, such as a set number of years that does not waver from generation to generation. After the fact, and when the generation reaches a certain age, some catch phrase naming becomes popular, and then status quo. This is not so?

I’m not sure about the “X”=10 bit. A university sociology class I took, oh, 6 years or so ago also used the term “13th Generation” to describe the generation after the baby boomers. I think the textbook itself was called “13th Gen.”
Also, IIRC, the period that encompassed this generation was a bit wider. I am positive the cut-off year was 1981, though I can’t remember the starting point. Sometime in the late 60s. Then, there’s a subgroup that was mentioned in this book. The “atari-wave” GenXers vs the “nintendo-wave” GenXers. I was born in '75 and I always understood that I was part of GenX. Definitely not GenY (as some call the following generation.) What does this mean? Not a hell of a whole lot but, from what I gather in this discussion, the years have been pushed back over time.

OK, even further back than I thought…according to this source (and a couple of other sources on the web), it’s 1961-1981. And this one says it’s the 13th Generation.

Thanks, Wendell, for referring me to this thread.

I think that Douglas C. has a right to be frustrated that his book title has been misinterpreted. However, I think that it’s inevitable that the media pick a name for a group of people with similar experiences. My rant in the Pit was mostly frustration that I felt people like me had been skipped and forgotten. I definitely have different experiences from the boomers, and also from the people currently called Gen X. Judging by the Life Magazine article and some sociology books, the Boom generation extends until 1964, and then Gen X starts. That puts me (born 1966) into the beginning of Gen X. But, in describing these generations, they mostly describe people born before '57 or people born after '70. The people born between are lost, which is why I called my pit thread what I did.

Obviously, people are individuals no matter when you were born. Because no one in my immediate family was either in the “Greatest Generation” or the “Baby Boom” I am missing some significant experiences that are a big part of what makes someone a Baby Boomer. That also goes for my brother who was born in '58. Because I recently have been hanging out with a bunch of people in their 20’s I have been especially conscious of the fact that we have a very different image of the past. Thus, I conclude that I am neither.

Sorry, Nym, for boring you with my excessive discussion of this as well as my obsession with Baltimore. I think the Gen X talk will be satisfied by this discussion, but 23 years of living in Bmore will probably result in endless anecdotes and comparisons, hope you can stand it.

Sociologists define generations, but then popular opinion screws it all up. When Coupland (yeah, I’ll grab my copy and spell it correctly this time) wrote his book, he was writing about people my age. Now, ten years later, little skate trash tell me I’m too old to be GenX. They want to be like the media portrayal of GenX, so they’ve defined themselves to be Genx. Regardless of where the term comes from, people will tweak it to mean what they want it to mean.

Well, FWIW, I consider myself a part of GenX, on the tail end. I was born in '77. My rationale is that my parents were Baby Boomers, and thus, I’m part of their next generation. Also, few people will deny that my sister, born Jan '74, is in Gen X, and it’s pretty hard to say that me and my sister are not of the same generation. Anyway, the 61-81 sounds about right, since Generations are supposed to last 20 years, and Baby Boomers started in the 40s.


I don’t know who decides these things, but for years I’ve seen the Baby Boom generation defined as people born between 1946 and 1964. GenX is supposed to follow the Boomers, so GenXers were born between 1965 and ???

Which brings us to my questions – when did GenX end and what is the subsequent group called? I don’t see how everyone born from 1965 through the present can be the same generation. The Boomer generation is about as long as span of time as makes any sence to call one generation.

Maybe it’s just that no one has yet come up with a designation or start date for the post-GenX people? But surely it’s about time to do so? Is someone lying down on the job?

I’ve heard them referred to as Generation Y (see my above post.)