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Is Generation X a Lost Generation?

Old Man in Cafe in Paris

“You are all a lost generation” – Gertrude Stein as quoted by Ernest Hemingway

“Generation X is being skipped over” –session attendee at Great Ideas as paraphrased here.

The session attendee’s idea was one I had not really heard before, but which rang eerily true once spoken. Generation X had its brief moment in the spotlight—mostly for purposes of being called lazy—but attention has since moved to the Millenials (aka Generation Y). The point of the person who spoke up at Great Ideas is that organizations are pandering to the perceived needs of the Millenials, and are not making sufficient efforts to groom GenX’ers for leadership. Succession problems are sure to follow as Boomer’s retire.

Rationally, I know it cannot be true that an entire generation is being overlooked, but the thought did prompt me to do the math. Here are some typical date ranges applied to the generations. (I know people disagree–sometimes vehemently– about the ranges, but these are solid enough for my purposes here.)

Boomers: 1946-1964
GenX: 1965-1980
Millenials: 1981-2000

So, assuming an average retirement age of 62 (likely low for true retirement), the youngest Boomers will exit the workforce in 2026, at which point the oldest Millenials will be 45—a ripe age for moving into the top levels of organizations.


Well, like I said, I know it’s not rational to think that an entire generation—my generation, I should add—could be effectively skipped over. Then again, I may just need to find a good café in Paris where I can think it over some more.


Postscript, Dec. 13, 2007

This probably belongs in the comments area, in response to Lisa Junker’s comment, but knowing that a lot of people don’t read comments, I’ve decided to update the main post. Lisa points to an excellent posting by Tammy Erickson at Harvard Business. I had not been familiar with Tammy’s blog before Lisa’s comment and was struck by the fact that her (admittedly much more knowledgeable) posting appeared on the same day as mine. Just another instance of the serendipity or collective consciousness I continually see in the blogosphere and have commented on before in Connections and Comparisons: The Wealth of Blogs and Benkler and Hawken Reunited.

Photo credit: ferminet under Creative Commons license

About the Author Jeff Cobb

I am an avid lifelong learner who writes and speaks frequently on the critical role of learning in our fast-changing world.

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Jeff Cobb says

Stephen – Apologies for luring you to comment again. I completely lost Mission to Learn in a server crash at Bluehost and had to do a restore last night and today (with a manual part of the restore still to come). There may be some way to do that without the post appearing as new again in RSS Readers, but I have not been able to figure that out. In any case, I think the new comment is a good addition. I had not heard of Generation Jones before your original comment, and I suspect many other people are still not aware of the term. =- Jeff

Stephen Downes says

oh my – sorry for the double comment – it just appeared in my RSS, I thought it was new. Sorry.

Stephen Downes says

OK, once again and for about the billionth time: people born between 1956 or so and 1965 are NOT baby boomers.

If you don’t remember Kennedy’s death, much less why it mattered, you are not a Baby Boomer. If your parents were children during the war, you are not a baby boomer.

People between the Baby Boom and Gen X are known as the “Jones Generation” – a generation so obscure it hardly even has a name. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Jones

If you want a quick understanding of the Jones Generation, watch “That 70s Show”, for a generation (and an ethos) completely alien to people born both before and after.

For example: Boomers grew up in a period of wealth and plenty, took it all for themselves, and quickly abandoned their idealistic values in an orgy of self-satisfaction and hedonism. Typical Boomer presidents: Clinton and George W. Bush.

Jones generation people grew up during a period of economic hardship – the gas crisis, the recessions of the 1980s. They had little (because the Boomers took it all) but they had their values; unlike the boomers they did not sell out and did not lose their idealism (that they even had idealism is what distinguishes them from GenX). Typical Jones president (there will only be one): Barack Obama

So – stop calling us Jones people Baby Boomers. They are *nothing* like us. Really.

admin says


I agree that whether or not GenXers are being overlooked by the media doesn’t much matter. (And, in any case, we did get quite a bit of attention when we were the “next” generation.) The person commenting at the conference, however, was much more concerned about whether Xers will be overlooked, at least relatively speaking, when it comes to leadership roles. Quietly going about our business and being successful at it is great, but that in and of itself doesn’t address the leadership question.

For you or any other readers who are in the know, I’d be interested in finding about any studies that suggest Xers are or are not moving into available leadership roles at a rate comparable to previous generations. (I know defining things like “leadership roles” and “comparable” rate would be tricky, but presumably any well-done study would offer defensible definitions.)


GenerationXpert says

We’re not being looked over. In terms of media, Boomers love to discuss how wonderful it is to be a Boomer and how they are reinventing everything. The Millenials are their kids, so it makes sense that the Boomers would would also give that group attention.

As Xers, I think we are quietly going about our business. I am 36 and so are most of my friends (give or take a couple years). We are all doing great career-wise. We’re professors, attorneys, physicians, marketing directors, journalists. And I don’t live in a major metropolitan area. I live in Michigan, where the economy is in the toilet. And yet Xers are still succeeding.

We may be overlooked in the media, but who really cares.

Michele Martin says

Well I was going to argue as a 1963 baby, I feel more a part of Gen X than the Baby Boomers, but then I see that Stephen is suggesting that I’m part of Gen Jones. Either way, I definitely am NOT a part of the Boomer generation and feel the crunch between the Boomers and Gen Y (love the article Lisa shared, btw). I’ve chosen to create my own path in part because of frustrations over Boomers, but can definitely relate to that “lost” feeling of being squeezed out.

Jeff Cobb says

Stephen–Duly noted. And it is telling that Generation Jones was not a term that even came up in the conference session I attended (which was the basis for the list). More evidence, I suppose, that it is a truer candidate for lost generation status. Jeff

Stephen Downes says

If you want to talk about a ‘lost generation’, consider the Jones Generation, that doesn’t even make your list.
As a member of the Jones generation (1956-164, give or take), let me tell you, we are very definitely NOT baby boomers.

Jeff Cobb says

Lisa–Thanks for the link to Tammy’s posting. Well worth reading, for anyone who is paying attention to these comments. I have also updated the original posting to include a link to it. Jeff

Lisa Junker says

One of the Harvard Business Review bloggers actually discusses this issue fairly often, and she has some interesting things to say about it. You might be interested in her latest post, How Generation X Can Survive the Boomer-Gen Y Love Fest (at http://discussionleader.hbsp.com/erickson/2007/12/the_view_from_the_middle_the_b.html ).

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