Generation X a bunch of slackers? Not so, says new study

October 24, 2011 | By Michelle Healy

Forget what you've heard about Generation X as a bunch of insecure, angst-ridden underachievers. Most of the once-nicknamed "slacker generation" are hardworking, family-oriented adults who lead "active, balanced and happy lives," suggests a 20-year study of 4,000 Xers out today.

The notion that Gen X won't do as well as their Baby Boomer parents and the World War II-era Greatest Generation "doesn't seem to be the case," says political scientist Jon Miller, director of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation.

"We have moved from a mechanical to a more information-based economy, and most of (this generation) can survive and thrive in this kind of environment," Miller says.

Age breakdown

The Longitudinal Study of American Youth uses the generational grouping developed by social historians William Strauss and Neil Howe. In their 1991 book, Generations: The History of America’s Future, they define social generations as a collection of people “whose common location in history lends them a collective persona.”

Among the generations Strauss and Howe identify:

  • Lost Generation 1883-1900
  • G.I. Generation 1901-1924
  • Silent Generation 1925-1942
  • Boom Generation 1943-1960 
  • *13th Generation 1961-1981
  • Millennial Generation 1982-2000
  • New Silent Generation 2001-present

*Strauss and Howe’s book does not use the term Generation X, but instead the “13th Generation,” which refers to this group being the 13th generation in American history dating back to Benjamin Franklin.

About 84 million Americans were born in 1961-81. Now ages 30 to 50, they are the parents of today's school-age children. Increasingly they lead the nation in government, business, education and social and cultural affairs, so "it's important to understand their values, history, current challenges and future goals," Miller says.

Survey participants (contacted yearly from 1987 through 2010) are now either 36 or 39 years old, the middle of Gen X. Instead of growing up disconnected and isolated — the Bowling Alone future predicted in a 2000 bestseller — they are "active in their communities, mainly satisfied with their jobs, and able to balance work, family and leisure," the report says.

In addition to using social networks, from book clubs to children's sports clubs, this generation has turned to the Internet for group interaction and "tweeting, talking, posting and sending digital photos of their children," Miller says. "Perhaps the most extensively wired (and now wireless) generation in American history," members of Gen X stay "better in touch with their relatives and friends than their parents ever did."

The struggling economy has hurt Gen X, Miller says, but "not devastated them. On the whole, it's a pretty resilient group," unafraid of extra work to get ahead. "Previous generations would have been hurt even worse by this recession."

A study of 2,952 white-collar, college-educated Xers released in September from the non-profit Center for Work-Life Policy also highlighted the demographic's resilience.

Findings on busy Gen X lifestyles:


Spend 40 or more hours a week working and commuting.


Are married, and 71% have minor children at home.


Participated in at least one recreation or leisure activity a month.


Are active members of a church or religious organization.


Average level of happiness on a scale in which 10 is very happy.


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