There’s a Storm Brewing Between Gen X and Gen Y

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If you watched our Millennial Think Tank Hangout last week, you heard members of Gen Y push back hard against the notion that they were ‘entitled,’ or in need of validation more than those that came before them. If you listened closely, you also heard that when they spoke of ‘the generations before them,’ they didn’t seem to distinguish much between Gen X and Boomers.

A few times during the Hangout my co-host and fellow Gen X-er Hessie Jones interjected to share a bit about what it was like for us at certain parts of our lives. We talked about the dot.com bubble burst and the deep recession of the early 90’s, being unable to get credit, and feeling powerless as we were labeled ‘slackers.’ I also mentioned that a Boomer friend of mine shared hearing the same sort of labels: “entitled,” “lazy,” and “anti-establishment” placed upon his generation in the 60’s.

By the end of the Hangout it was clear to me that ‘we,’ as in Gen X, had a lot more in common with Gen Y than many in each generation may understand.

Gen X and Our Forgotten Past

I don’t recall being angry when I graduated from college with a double MA and absolutely no job prospects, primarily because of the recession of the early 90’s.  I know that I totally understood Tiffany Daniels, when she said “I had done everything right. Studied hard. Got good grades. Earned a scholarship, and graduated with a degree.” But here she was, out of work in 2009. I had the exact same experience in 1992. Returning home in glory with my MA from an ancient Scottish University, I couldn’t get a job waitressing in my hometown.

I was pondering all of this – trying to recall how I felt when I was 20 something and confused about my pathway forward, when Ryan Wynia shared this lengthy, intense post from Durga A. Truex, and so much came flooding back.

The post starts out with “Remember Us;” so much energy is focused on the 70 million+ Boomers and the 80 million+ Millennials, that yes, Gen X is often left out of the conversation when marketers speak. As a marketer, I’ve been so focused on Millennials that I hadn’t thought much about us. Statements like this really brought it home:

  • 51 million Americans- that were finishing college and starting our careers exactly as 9/11 and the Recession pulled the rug out from under us.
  • 51 million Americans- that have had to delay or sacrifice having children in favor of economic survival.
  • 51 million Americans- the first generation in American history to be doing worse than our parents.
  • 51 million Americans- that grew up in an economy that has been crashing over & over since we were still in elementary school.
  • 51 million Americans- are the original computer, tech, and internet generation.

Sound familiar Gen Y? If you are a Millennial lumping Gen X in with Gen Y, do me a favor and read the entire post – there’s truth in there; it certainly resonated with a lot of people, because at last count it had 2500 shares on LinkedIn.

The list goes on and on, and not all of it is exactly what Millennials are experiencing, but reading it all while nodding my head in the affirmative made it clear to me that we really weren’t that different.

Gen X’s Anger?

While I was pondering all of the above, I came across this Emptyage Post on my Gen X friend-Amy Vernon’s wall. I knew where Amy stood on much of this because she’d dialog-ed with an smart but angry Millennial in the comment section of my last post. And I agreed with her wholeheartedly when she said:

I do get a little tired of Gen Xers being tarred with the same brush as boomers…

… and Amy continued with this:

Xers never felt entitled to anything, because we never had anything. We have much more in common with Millennials than we’re given credit for – we graduated into a recession, were the first generation not to do as well financially as our parents. However, I have a feeling that that quote wasn’t even referring to Gen Xers, because we’re usually just forgotten about anyway.

The Emptypage Post was something Amy and I didn’t read with the same mentality though. I heard anger when I read:

“But Generation X is tired of your sense of entitlement. Generation X also graduated during a recession. It had even shittier jobs, and actually had to pay for its own music. (At least, when music mattered most to it.) Generation X is used to being fucked over. It lost its meager savings in the dot-com bust. Then came George Bush, and 9/11, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Generation X bore the brunt of all that. And then came the housing crisis. “

Amy didn’t hear anger, she found the post humorous, and it certainly was for the most part. I told her that perhaps I was paranoid and that I’d re-read it later.

My Fear About THIS Generational Divide

If you read my ‘stuff’ you’ll know that I admire and credit Millennials with a lot. I ‘feel their pain.’ I ‘get’ them. But I’ve also stated repeatedly, I don’t have much of a choice. They HAVE to save us, or else we’re doomed.  But that’s not really true, is it? WE have to save us, and by ‘we,’ I mean Gen X and Gen Y. My firm belief in that last statement is the exact source of my paranoia.

Perhaps it is coincidence, but lately I’ve been reading a lot of posts and comments by Gen X-ers speaking out in frustration at Gen Y, or exhaustion at the tremendous amount of attention they receive. That’s natural of course, but it worries me because I am deeply concerned about our future. The only way we save ourselves is together, these two generations who have so much in common.

I wish I had a giant hammer to tamp down the divisive speak coming from both generations and do my regular ‘save the world’ rant. That is not possible, so I do what I do so often when I’m trying to figure out or ‘fix’ something, I write. So here it is, and I’m speaking to BOTH of you: cut it out. We’re in this together. We have no choice.
Photo credit: Brujo+ via photopin cc

VP of Content & Strategy at ArCompany. She has an extensive background in Sales, and focuses on generational marketing and content. With Hessie Jones she founded ArCompany’s Millnnnial, GenX and Boomer Think Tanks and writes and speaks on those topics from an insights/strategy perspective.

24 thoughts on “There’s a Storm Brewing Between Gen X and Gen Y

  1. AmyVernon says:

    Honestly, I don’t think it’s brewing – I think it’s been here for a while. Gen Y gets pissed at us. Gen X says, “Get off my lawn, you whippersnappers.” Boomers roll their eyes. We stomp our feet and go upstairs to our bedroom and turn the punk music up to 11.

  2. AmyMccTobin says:

    AmyVernon Ha! Yes, I guess I was just oblivious to it AmyVernon … but yes, we act like that. They act like that. But, we’re all in this together so we need to STOP.

  3. I am tired of hearing Gen Y whine about how bad things are and how much they should get paid when they don’t have any experience. I am tired of being blamed for things that Gen X had no control over and demonstrate a clear lack of understanding how things work.

    I am tired of being told that we are old and can’t understand digital as well as they can when the fact is we straddle the divide between the world that was and the world that is.

    One of the biggest strengths Gen X offers the ability to cross that bridge and walk either direction. Not to mention some of the silly comments I have heard about how Gen X couldn’t have developed any of the existing tech.

    Have these children really looked at who built what or thought about how we all build upon the foundation of what came before us.

    FB and company weren’t developed in a vacuum.

    Yeah, we need to work together but I don’t think it is wrong to “gently” remind them that they are not as special as they think they are. Others went through hard times and did what we had to do to make it through. Experience is valuable.

  4. AmyVernon says:

    Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Completely agree. It’s hard not to shake our fists at young’uns when they’re completely discounting the fact that Gen X is actually the generation of digital natives. Tech grew up with and evolved with us.

  5. AmyMccTobin says:

    Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes So I hear you, but part of it is because we need to TALK to them about it – it’s part of what I’m trying to do with our Millennial Think Tank….
    I don’t hear a lot of Gen Y’s complaining about us… I DO hear them complaining, but there is a lot to complain about. And I did complain when I graduated and there was a recession and I couldn’t find work.
    What I’d like to do is keep the conversation BETWEEN Gen X and Gen Y going, instead of dividing us.

  6. JoeCardillo says:

    AmyMccTobin Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes AmyVernon I don’t believe in castigating X & Y, because my personal opinion is we aren’t as far apart as the standard “look at those slackers” and “what a bunch of entitled brats” narratives we’re being fed suggest. 
    In particular, both generations have been manipulated and treated largely as consumers instead of respected as individuals. That’s disturbing.
    But, to Amy’s point and to something that came up on the Hangout, the more recent Gen Ys are struggling, and it’s not just because they are inexperienced and/or entitled. I suspect the “entitled brats” narrative is largely a reflection of the NYT style of reporting on generational change…look at all these privileged kids, they say, look at their vapid, empty habits. The reality is much different if your household is making under $100k a year. The reality is that taking on a ton of debt for college is a largely insane proposition…and I say this having walked away with $30k in undergrad debt in ’06 – which is modest compared to what they are dealing with now. Add to that the cuts in government programs that actually help educate and give experience…like Americorps, which is an excellent model but literally became a political pawn to be crushed between congress and the president. 
    All that to say that while I’m not ever thrilled about economic problems, I’m also not unhappy to see bloated, inefficient, entitled public co’s being challenged by things like Air BnB. They’re the real entitled generation.

  7. JoeCardillo says:

    AmyVernon Been turning it up to 11 for as long as I can remember!

  8. realist says:

    They (GenY) HAVE to save us, or else we’re doomed.  
    REALLY?    BS.

  9. realist says:

    “They (GenY) HAVE to save us, or else we’re doomed.  ”

    This is utter BS.  Give GenX a chance and they’ll save us.  Boomers are too busy holding on to their high paying jobs and stagnating, not letting anyone else get them.

  10. BrianMckenzie says:

    no no, there is a choice;  opt out – let it burn.  Screw the Boomers, and the walls they built, and to hell with those that think they are entitled to anything I have build, saved, earned. Let it all burn. 
    I left America – I am quite happy to watch the inferno from abroad.   
    WE don’t have to all get along, we don’t have to all hold hands and sing kuymbaya – and to fuck with it taking a village to do anything. 
    Going Galt, Walking Away – let it all Burn.  
    PS – Gen-X and I just don’t fucking care.

  11. steve_dodd says:

    Wow, this kind of discussion is really sad. What a pity
    party.Amy and Hessie, you are absolutely
    right.You (they) must save yourselves (just
    like every past generation has done).And, if you really think deeply and search within yourselves, you will
    find the answers. I know what I’m about to say is going to get me in deep
    “doodoo” but ……………………

    Every generation has lived through it’s own hell. The kicker
    is that as each generation passes, things are happening (changing) faster and
    faster all the time. Yes, I’m a “boomer” and seemingly the cause of
    all of the MTT participant’s grief.One
    of the funniest things I hear every day is “it’s different now” and
    as an “older worker” don’t tell the younger folks what “used to
    be”, they’re not interested. I can understand that if the
    “message” is not delivered with a parallel explanation to relate then
    to now as it won’t have an impact.Do
    you think it was any different when “we” were “your”
    age?Maybe when someone says something
    to you like “when I was your age” you should probe, develop some
    parallels and learn something from it rather than just brush it off as some old
    fart rant. Basic economic and human fundamentals never change, they just need
    to be applied differently.
    So, if I/we can’t help the “emerging”
    consumers/workers understand the basic fundamental that history repeats itself
    and how to learn from it, you will be stuck in the mess you think you are in
    until, and make no mistake about it, in 30 years YOU will be saying the exact
    same thing about your “next” generation as I am saying to you right
    this second. And more importantly, THEY will be saying the exact same thing
    about YOU! Why? Because that basic “history” has repeated itself
    since the dawn of time.
    IMO, the biggest “mistake” my generation made was
    giving you the idea that getting a better education would “entitle”
    you to better jobs.And to a certain
    degree, our education system has given you the same idea to encourage you (aka
    self serving marketing) to do so.You are the most
    “educated” generation there has ever been.And each generation before you was more
    educated than the one previous.So, let
    me ask you, what did you “learn”?IMO, two fundamental things.
    1. History – yes everything you “learned” was
    something that has already happened.Sometimes
    you were introduced to “futuristic” concepts and ideas but
    fundamentally your “lessons” were based on something that has already
    occurred – history. Yes you learned some basic fundamental skills but the
    application examples for those “skills” were all based on historic
    examples (albeit sometime recent but still in the past).
    2. How to Learn – IMO, this is the point that has been
    lost.The further you advanced, the more
    you were forced to learn how to learn and apply what you have been taught to today’s
    reality.To me, this is more important
    than the details your were taught but also the key value that has been ignored.

    So, if you are still with me, I’ll leave you with these
    three thoughts.
    1. Think your way through your dilemma, stop whining about
    it. You’ve been provided with the skills to do so unlike any generation before
    you, so please use them.
    2.Do not expect or
    focus on “instant gratification”. It’s results are more painful than
    you’ll know because ultimately you are mortgaging a potentially great future
    for something that will be meaningless in a very short time.
    3. In 20 years, you will be referring to today as “the
    good old days” so make something of it now or you will forever be
    wallowing in the pity of what could have been.

    • I would love to be able to retire in 20 years… but the new managers (GenY) are afraid to hire someone that might be as good as them. Why not take the chance? What would a 20 something be afraid of, hiring someone that’s older? Great managers surround themselves with people that know more than they do. Not whining.. not in the least. Boomers have held on to their ‘seats’ because they’ve either had to financially, or (and it’s sooooo true of their generation) are afraid to lose control. So, in turn, they’ve literally skipped over the next generation to hire the younger ones, then they will still ‘look good’ because “No one can replace them”. Simple as that.

  12. hessiejones says:

    steve_dodd I love those thoughts Steve. We definitely have lived similar patterns regardless of generation. You know the sad thing? History isn’t really repeating itself here. For once since the great depression are ALL generations keenly aware of the ebb and flow economy — a time where stabiiity has had its day and we come to expect an economy where we’re perpetually keeping our heads above water. The things we’ve trusted: education, housing economy to push us ahead are now moot points.

    I’m hoping in 20 years the genXers will have retired comfortably and the millennials and next gen will have less struggles than what exists today.

    • Sadly, we won’t retire comfortably… because, as proof positive, I have 20 somethings that tell me I have too much experience to be hired, when in reality, they’re worried I want their job. I don’t want THEIR job, I want A job.

      • Hessie Jones says:

        Susan, I don’t think we’re all in the same boat. Ageism in our 40’s and in our 50’s. Funnily enough I hear Millennials say that they are “aged” out in their 30’s because they’re not willing to work the hours. What an awful world we’ve come to live in.

  13. AmyMccTobin says:

    BrianMckenzie Well Brian, I can’t say that you’re wrong – I lived abroad, and life was certainly easier for me in many ways. A lot of this stuff is manufactured angst anyway.

  14. AmyMccTobin says:

    @realist Well, the reality is that GenY outnumbers GenX by at least 30 million…

    • Only because we are given a shorter number of years (12-15) comparatively speaking. GenX have almost completely been based on economic, socio-demographic contingencies, encompassing technological advances. It would be a kin to separating those in the Great Depression and the advent of the industrial revolution. To look back to that era, you would never separate the two… but, I digress… hindsight is 20/20.

  15. Rob says:

    You know the funny thing about Gen X (and I am a Gen Xer)? We say things about Gen Y like the author did “I admire and credit Millennials with a lot,” that they don’t ever, and wouldn’t ever, say about us and we should stop doing that. It’s stupid and it doesn’t help. 

    Gen X grew up as the first run kids of the Babyboomers and for the most part they did a horrendous job. They were drug addicts, alcoholics, legendarily selfish, divorces all over the place. They beat their kids, they gave their kids booze and drugs, and then sent them off to bootcamp and outwardbound when the kids then partied. The amount of abuse and neglect that went on cannot even be imagined by Gen Y nore do they care, they worry about them, and the Babyboomers, as usual, don’t want to acknowledge it and take responsibility for their actions, so Gen X is forgotten.  They won’t even market to us because they don’t want us to have a voice, because they know what they would say if they treated how we were and then got a voice.

    And while we suffered, the Babyboomers told their 2nd run kids, Gen Y, our little sisters and brothers, that we were the world biggest losers. “Thats why you brother or sister went off to outward bound/doesn’t have a job/ ect, ect, he/she was a loser/dreamer/sap, dope head, just thank God you’re not like them, and what ever you do don’t associate with them, he/she is a creep.” And Gen Y ate it up, never questioned it, and was more than happy to play the part of the bratty golden child, because that served them. 

    And what was happening is Gen Y was getting played by the boomers and they were too disrespectful and selfish to ever recognize it, or realize there would be a down side to it, much less care about Gen X, the way they see it to this day is they are definitely above ever caring for Gen “Creep”.

    Gen X, on the other hand, was taught that people were people, the rock star babyboomers were just like us, so don’t ever target them or them them they are old and irrelevant, and that society would get better if we all worked together and dropped the prerequisites. 

    And Gen X longs for that day, especially because so many of us had very hard lives, were thrown out at 18, and had families that treated us like unwanted garbage. And we are taken advantage of by this hope. Gen Y just doesn’t feel the same way. They are a bunch of spoiled narcissists. They don’t want a world where beautiful people work together for a better tomorrow, they want a world where they call the shots and everyone else can f v ck off, and its as simple as that. They see Gen X, and our beautiful world ideas, as idiot saps that are easy to take advantage of because we are stupid enough to care about anything but money and feeling good right now.

    Gen X needs to quit feeling bad that they have this attitude. We didn’t cause this, nor can we change it. A fitting name for Gen X would be Gen Scapegoat and a fitting name for Gen Y would be Gen Goldenchild. And Gen X will keep playing the role of disrespected, invisible, scape goat until we finally start taking care of ourselves like all the other generations are doing. We should worry about our problems, promote our own generation and its beauty and engage in the behavior that both boomers and Gen Y is so good at and we seemingly find taboo–banding together. For some reason Gen X thinks this would be cheating, the other generations are all too happy to do it and, get real, we will have to do it to thrive and be happy.

    I’m sure not worried about the storm brewing between Gen X an Y. Its long overdue. I don’t hate them, but they hate and despise my generation and they are more than happy to paint us with the same brush as the boomers that finally kicked them out at 32 rather then 18. And we simply can’t put up with that. I am not going to take Gen Y under my wing and teach them how to put me out of my job and disenfranchise me from our society, because exactly what these little cut throat narcissist, opportunist would do if they got a chance to. 

    They can just learn to deal with life, thats what we had to do and they despised us for it. Maybe they will gain a new perspective now that they are going through some of it, probably not though, Gen Y seems like one of their main themes is “never learn anything, especially from Gen X creeps,” so with attitudes like that they may perish and that was their choice. We certainly didn’t get ahead by refusing to learn from the generation above us and being totally disrespectful at every turn to them, in fact it would have killed us. Gen Y thinks its too good for this though, and that its going to inherit the world rather than ever work with Gen X or be respectful to it, so time will tell. 

    If they are right they will have proven that Gen Y really is the generation that gets a trophy just for showing up, and that Gen X can just go eat $ hit cause they sure don’t need us. One thing is for certain though, Gen X can’t trust anyone above 50 or younger than 32 and we should act accordingly. The other two generations are out promoting, lamenting and caring about themselves and if we are ever going to thrive we have to do that too. First as individuals, and then hopefully we can finally break that Gen X taboo and band together. Don’t worry my fellow Gen Xer’s, banding together and solving our own problems isn’t cheating.

  16. Rob says:

    BrianMckenzie Right on! Thats what I’m talking about. If more Gen Xer’s had this attitude our generation would do waaay better.

  17. Rob says:

    hessiejones steve_dodd “Come to expect?” LOL That’s the difference. See when we were teens we were told by everyone from our parents to preachers to AA members “don’t expect anything or you will be disappointed, you don;’t know what tomorrow will bring.” We thought about that and realized that was how life was, and you could hope, and work for, but not expect.  
    However, if someone told that to your generation you would light up the b!tchernet. How dare they!

  18. Rob says:

    AmyMccTobin AmyVernon We want to stop, and that’s beautiful, but they don’t want to stop and they won’t. And we have act accordingly. The Tina Fey “Mean Girls.” line of “can’t we just all stop acting this way?” is a nice dream but its not reality, the reality is that gen will cut our throat if we adopt a “can’t we all just get along,” approach.

  19. Lately I’ve been indulging on this generation stuff, especially the past year or so (although I’ve reflected on it for much longer). I’m a Gen Xer, raised by baby boomers (early ones) although my mom is actually a very late Silent Generational (but she identifies with boomers). My parents both came from upper middle class households. They went to college in the 60s, dropped out and became hippies, even went to Woodstock! They later divorced and each married other boomers. I grew up in a Brady bunch like environment, was a latchkey kid. By the time I finished high school I had witnessed two divorces each of my parents. My youngest brother and sister are Millenials. What I’ve come to understand is this: Baby Boomers really grew up in a fantastic time economically. I think the hippie area was important and real, but also realize that the skyrocketing divorces were often about selfishness, and truly affected their children. My parents later became professionals, my dad a classic yuppie, and much more materialistic. Throughout the 80s and 90s they continued to accumulate. As I am in my 40s now, I realize that most of the opportunities they had, whether it was cheaper college, more and better jobs, cheaper housing, just don’t exist anymore. And I realize my Generation X has truly been screwed over more than any generation previously. And many of us are deeply struggling. While my boomer parents raised up in a way that promoted extreme independence on our part, they absolutely sheltered and spoiled my younger brother and sister who are Millenials. From an early age, I realized that these younger siblings were obsessed with money, and didn’t care a lick for education. They actually tried to leapfrog me and others in the Gen X category, but not by honest means. Now, my older Gen X siblings have a variety of challenges- drug and alcohol, single parenting, divorce, lack of jobs, disablity, poverty. But my Millenial siblings are even worse off- they both have pretty severe emotional problems, substance abuse, and lack education to fall back on getting a better career. I think both X and Y have been given the shaft- the biggest difference I’ve noticed is that Millenials are much more materialistic and narcissistic then us Xers.

  20. God… thank you… thank you all! I posted a pleasant piece on LinkedIn about this. GenX fer sure, with a healthy GenY perspective. Difference is that I HAVE experience! IDK… I’ve been trying to break into a ‘regular’ 9-5 job, but the GenY’s that interview me…. well… we can stop there.

    Would love to connect on LinkedIn with pretty much every one of you, some of you… I already have and am grateful!

    GenX has ALWAYS been the flexible one. We have been inclusive, not intrusive. Caring and sharing, not stake the claim or abandon all hope. The reason why there are less of us? When they categorize GenXers.(and you can check with a bit of Freakanomics info).. they pretty much never gave us a full 2 decades, but a 12-15 yr time span (for starters) like Boomers and Y’s. Y’s should be grateful… as most of us are their parents and have had to sit between two haves, when we’ve been shrifted.

    We have been the catalyst for most of the progress, yet get very little credit. Indeed the ‘middle child’ syndrome would appear to be fitting.
    OK… my rant is done, but let’s connect. I want to continue the conversation, so we, again, can find the solution.

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