Born Like This, Into This: Thoughts from a Gen Xer Turning 40, Part 3


The Breakfast Club

The first two parts of this series are here and here.

On the brink of turning 40, the  thing about generations that stands out to me most is how our differences slowly but inevitably evaporate. The stances that made me a generation warrior in my twenties really don’t matter much now.

As intense as the conflict was between Gen Xers and Boomers in the early 90s, you’d have thought we would never agree on anything, but much the opposite has happened. We agree on many things, as a recent PEW survey showed. And as it turns out, the Millennial generation isn’t too far removed.

A few examples:

Between Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials, who thinks being a good parent is one of the most important achievements in life? According to PEW Research, most of us do, to the tune of 50-52%.

What about having a successful marriage—how does that rank in importance between the three generations? According to the same survey, we rank it all about the same, and not particularly high: 32-35%.

How about living a very religious life? We’re all also in agreement on that one, with Gen Xers and Boomers being just slightly more religious (21%) than Millennials (15%).

Who works more hours, Boomers or Gen Xers? According to the Families and Work Institute, they work roughly the same number of hours every week at their main jobs (an average of 45) – which also happens to be the longest number of hours for any living generation.

Who’s more dissatisfied with the state of the nation?  According to PEW, we’re all plenty dissatisfied, with Boomers (70%) more annoyed than Millennials and Gen Xers (55 and 57%).

No doubt, there are still some differences, but increasingly those differences are between much farther removed generations.  For example, Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials hold similar opinions on whether the man of a family should be the bread winner and the woman maintain the home (most say no)—but this opinion is starkly different than that of “Matures” (those 65 and older) most of whom say “yes,” according to the Families and Work Institute.

Another interesting tidbit is that, collectively, the three younger generations are becoming increasingly skeptical about trusting anyone or anything. In 1997, about 40% of people over the age of 30 described themselves as “trusting,” as did 35% of those aged 18-29.  But in 2010, we’re all about the same: only 30%, and the trajectory is headed lower.


image via

What’s interesting about that statistic to me is how it parallels our feelings about an extremely uncertain world.  All of us experienced 9/11 and its aftermath, watched as we went to war on two fronts, and now, together, we’re experiencing the worst recession in a century.  It seems that these experiences have done more to meld the perspectives of Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials than push them apart.

Another observation (and I don’t have a statistic to quote, but I have a gut sense that it’s true) is that us Gen Xers who are older now and hold higher positions in organizations are empathetic to rising Millennials.  This is partly because we didn’t appreciate the contempt thrown at us in our twenties and see no reason to continue the same sordid pattern.

But it’s also because we see the value of making sure the next generation, and the ones after that, find their place in the world and contribute to solving problems that are scaring the hell out of us all.  I think the average Gen Xer’s attitude is something like, “I don’t care where the ideas come from, as long as we have good ideas to work with.” 

Ending this series with a thought on turning 40… I once heard Sam Keen, a great writer and speaker, say that if you think your life is going to be anything but chaos before you turn 40, you’re wrong.  He was right, though I’m not sure I see any less chaos on the horizon after 40, either, but I’m good with that. More than anything, I’m just glad I made it.


One thought on “Born Like This, Into This: Thoughts from a Gen Xer Turning 40, Part 3

  1. I think the challenge of turning 40 today is that, 10 or 15 or 20 years ago, you likely had a job, had had it for a while, felt secure in your work, in your home and flying on airplanes run by American companies. All gone away for millions of us.

    I agree there is more inter-generational empathy, or should be, as we’re all semi-screwed these days somehow.

    Stay healthy. That’s your most crucial challenge in the next decade(s.)

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