1. People & Relationships
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

What is Generation X?

Generation X struggles with economic uncertainty and the boomer legacy


Smiling mature friends enjoying food and drinks on patio at resort
Hero Images/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Generation X is the term often applied to the generation born between 1964 and 1981, right after the end of the post-World War II baby boom (1946-1964) that gave boomers their name. Generation X is often abbreviated as Gen X, and members of Generation X are commonly referred to as Gen Xers. For a time, Generation X was called the "baby bust" generation, because of the declining birth rate that started in 1964, officially ending the post-war baby boom.

What Distinguishes Generation X
Members of Generation X are often characterized as being well-educated but under-employed, and marked by economic uncertainty that may result in low expectations about their careers and traditional success models. They are sometimes described as working to live rather than living to work.

Statistically, people in Generation X hold the highest education levels of any age group, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2009 Statistical Abstract. Generation X was also the first group of young people to challenge the long-held belief that each generation is destined to be better off than the one preceding it. A study called, "Economic Mobility: Is the American Dream Alive and Well?" found that men in their thirties in 2004 earned 12 percent less than their fathers had at the same age in 1974—reversing an historic trend.

Who Coined the Term Generation X?
Ironically, the term Generation X was first used to describe a completely different generation than the one that now bears the name.

Renowned photographer Robert Capa coined the term Generation X in the early 1950s and used it as the title for a magazine photo essay about young people coming of age in the years following World War II, which appeared simultaneously in the January 1953 issues of Picture Post in the United Kingdom and Holiday in the United States.

In December 1952, the editors of published a short column introducing their upcoming "Youth and the World" series, which would showcase Capa's photographs. In that column, the editors wrote: "[Generation X] is our tag for what we believe to be the most important group of people in the world today—the boys and girls who are just turning 21. These are the youngsters who have seen and felt the agonies of the past two decades, often firsthand, who are trying to keep the balance in the swirling pressures of today, and who will have the biggest say in the course of history for the next 50 years."

Scholars believe that is the first time the term Generation X appeared in print. It wouldn't be the last.

How Did the Real Generation X Get Its Name?
Generation X also became the title of a popular book about teenagers of the early 1960s, written by British writer Jane Deverson and Hollywood correspondent Charles Hamblett. Woman's Own magazine asked Deverson to interview teenagers of the Mod subculture that originated in London and was all the rage throughout Britain at the time, and write a series for the magazine about her findings.

What Deverson found was a generation of teenagers who "sleep together before they are married, were not taught to believe in God as 'much,' dislike the Queen, and don't respect parents." When the results of Deverson's findings proved too controversial for Woman's Own and the editors refused to publish the articles, Deverson teamed up with Hamblett to write a book based on her research. British punk rocker Billy Idol later named his band Generation X after the book.

The term Generation X really became popular as a label for the post-baby boom generation after publication of a 1991 novel by Canadian author Douglas Coupland titled, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, which portrayed the lifestyles of young adults during the late 1980s—people who were members of what we now call Generation X.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.