Generation X: The Forgotten Middle-Child

We were once called "slackers" and gave the world grunge and the existential angst of Kurt Cobain and the Jagged Little Pill of Alanis Morissette.

We are Generation X. Remember us?

I’ve got to take this one personally. You see, I am part of what’s called “Generation X”—a group sandwiched between the two most influential generations in today’s society. And it is a real bummer.

You see, there are around 81 million Americans who could be called Baby Boomers, and reports are that the folks of Generation Y account for even more of the population of the United States—something like 85 million.

And Gen X? We account for 61 million of the “active” population in today’s society. But despite that number, and the buying power of this group currently in their mid-30’s to late 40’s , we’re really rarely considered in discussions, and marketers tend to forget about us as a group. When was the last time you heard “we need to target Gen X-ers with this new campaign? Marketers and sociologists tend to segment boomers as conspicuous consumers in need of things like insurance, financial services and pharmaceuticals as they age, and pay attention to Gen Y just as their lifelong brand preferences are forming—selling them everything from toothpaste to Toyotas.

But what of Gen X? What traits or life stage are we in that makes marketers and sociologist pay attention to us? Aren’t we spending enough money for you? Doesn’t anyone care for the “X”?

The problem is not that this age group (folks born roughly between 1963 to 1979) doesn’t spend money or have an impact on society; it is more that we are rather undistinguished from the characteristics of the boomers or Gen Y.

We’re the middle child. Not the first-born—the eldest (boomers) or the precious baby (Gen Y), we are the forgotten, undistinguished middle child with issues around our identity and character.

Think about it. What are the traits of a Middle Child? They tend to be the most difficult to pin down. They are guaranteed to be opposite of their older sibling, but that difference can manifest in a variety of ways.

Middle children often feel like their older siblings get all the glory while the baby escapes all discipline. Because the middle child feels that the world pays him less attention, he tends to be secretive; he does not openly share his thoughts or feelings.

As Generation X came of age, we were the rebellious 20-somethings sitting around Seattle and Austin grunge bars and coffee houses exchanging ironic witticisms about life and doing not much else with their time. Our defining trait was that of “slackers”—as we fought against the responsible nature of the baby boomer generation.

But as we matured, the slacker mentality wore-off, and we went graduated from college (on the 5-year program), married (a few times) and had kids (in our late 30’s or early forties). We became milk toast.

And then along came along the “Me” generation—the Millennials, the Gen Y’ers who took up our hipster, slacker mantel and with the self-confidence embodied in them by their parents, they took over the spotlight. You know the joke about how you can spot a Millennial—right? “You know you’re a Millennial if your parents told you that the “S” on your clothing labels stands for “Special” rather than “Small.”

So, no one remembers that Generation X fought through a childhood in the inflation-ridden 1970s, and was bushwhacked by the other Great Recession of the early 1990s and led us through both the dot-com boom and bust. Yes, we've produced a few Internet millionaires, but Census Bureau figures reveal that the men of Generation X are grossing less than their fathers at the same age—those damn high-flying boomers. We’re sorry to have given the world New Wave and Madonna, but the boomers gave us Disco and the Millennials came up with Dubstep, and re-enstated "Hipster" as the definition of cool.

Sorry, I guess my bitter tone is coming from the Middle-Child resentment that marks me as a full-fledged member of Generation X.

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