Talking About Our Generation

Differences between Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers

by Auren Hoffman

This article is an opinion of the writer.  The writer is responsible for all information and opinion contained in the article.
For those of us who grew up on MTV, video games, and microwave dinners, “Generation X” is far from a complimentary term. The phrase “Baby Boomer” has a nice ring to it, but “Generation X” suggests that my generation, those people born in the United States between 1963 and 1983, are lost or undefined. According to many pundits and modern philosophers, although we might be the generation that can surf the Internet or program a VCR, we lack the depth or direction to add value to society. Their “theory” suggests we are lazy, apathetic, and care little about the world – and even more notable, we are lost.

Needless to say, I have hope and pride in the generation that watches the “Simpsons” but lives the life of “Friends.” I heard another “theory” that Gen X’ers are no different from boomers 20-30 years ago. Some people say that all 22 year olds are “lost.”

Generation X is different from the boomers of yesteryear — but not because we are slackers, screw-ups, or schemers. The boomers tended to be, in the 1960’s and early 70’s, ideologues that crusaded for their causes and made love, not war. Then the boomers sold out their ideology for BMW’s, stock portfolios, and cable TV. The liberal boomers soon became Reagan Democrats or fiscal Republicans.

But Generation X is different. Though many of us have our government causes, our campaigns, or strong ideology, the Gen X’er is (and will always be) more libertarian than the Baby Boomer. We tend to distrust government control of anything – we don’t want the government meddling in our bedroom, our computer, or our income. Though socially liberal, like the young people throughout history, young X’ers are far more fiscally conservative than past generations.

Though many Boomers may have lost faith in the federal government, X’ers never had faith. We know that we are paying social security to support or parents, Medicaid to support our grandparents, and taxes to support wasteful projects like ethanol energy and corporate tax loopholes. We never expect to benefit from large government programs.

spectrumMany people think of the political spectrum as one-dimensional – either liberal or conservative. In a one-dimensional analysis, X’ers and Boomers have roughly the same distribution of liberals and conservatives. However, a real political spectrum is two dimensional. On the graphic, each person’s political ideology is represented by a set of (x, y) coordinates. The x-axis represents the traditional determination of liberal or conservative while the y-axis represents a person’s tendencies toward libertarian or authoritarian policies. Here is where an X’er differs from a Boomer. While Boomers tend to have an even distribution over the y-axis, X’ers are skewed more toward the Libertarian end. Current university students are more likely to agree with Milton Friedman than with Franklin Roosevelt.

Since Generation X is not yet a voting powerhouse, neither major political party has worked address our concerns. Both Republicans and Democrats, with the exception of the Jack Kemp wing of the GOP, tend to support more authoritarian government policies. Issues like immigration control and the minimum wage have little appeal to knowledgeable Gen X’ers even though they are the cornerstone of any Boomer campaign. But as Generation X makes up a larger part of the electorate, Republican and Democrat lawmakers will have to move “to the top” and address concerns like social security, affirmative action, and remake other authoritarian government programs.

The generation of high-top Velcro sneakers, button-fly jeans, and Y-necklaces is also the generation of smaller government, accountable legislators, and rapid response. Though the left and the right of the political spectrum is clearly defined, both parties must begin to push to the top to survive.

Copyright © 1996 Auren Hoffman. All rights reserved.