Friday, July 25, 2008

What Comes Next After Generation X?

As a Demographic, Millennials Don't All See It as the Best Label

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Washington Post
Sunday, July 6, 2008

Everyone knows the G.I. generation of World War II and the baby boomers who followed. And everyone knows the late-20th-century demographic labeled with the non-label generation X.

But the next generation, a growing force in presidential politics, the job market and the spread of social networking, is harder to define. Lumped under millennials or generation Y, some in their 20s and early 30s say those titles and others ginned up almost daily in a brand-obsessed pop culture confuse them. They are unsure what most encapsulates their experience.

For Doan Nguyen, 26, a photo editor at the nonprofit Conservation International, figuring out her generation has become a mission, prompted partly by a documentary she is filming. One recent night at her District rowhouse, she mulled over the issue with Marshall Maher, 32, the nonprofit group's spokesman.

Maher, who considers himself between generations, ruminated about the millennials. "They're about second life," he said. Virtual reality. "I don't know if I can, like, relate."

Nguyen looked defeated. "I don't know where I am in this generational timeline," she said.

No doubt it has always been difficult for generations to accept labels and generalizations. But some in the post-X generation say their puzzlement over their collective identity is more pronounced because their formative experiences have been so splintered. Reared on rapid-fire Internet connections and cheap airline tickets and pressured to obtain multiple academic degrees, many of these young adults grew up with an array of options their parents or older siblings did not have.

"People resist labels more among the millennials because there's more subcultures," said Michael Connery, 30, author of the political book "Youth To Power."

"It's a fragmented culture in a way that it's never been. You know how baby boomers ask, 'Where's the protest music?' and lament the lack of youth activities? There is protest music, but it's so broken up into niche audiences that it doesn't gain as much traction."

Nguyen's conversations with her peers illuminate how society's shorthands easily confuse some in this age group. Some say they feel post-generational. Others say an agreed-upon label would confer a sense of historical status.

"Did Tom Brokaw write a book about us?" Maher asked, referring to the former NBC news anchor's bestseller on those who came of age in World War II. "That's my concern. We didn't get a 'Greatest Generation' book."

"Not yet," Nguyen said.

Neil Howe, who coined "millennials" with William Strauss, predicted that the generation's preference for consensus-building and nonstop, digital communication will alter business and political landscapes. Businesses, he said, will accommodate this generation by creating more team projects, and millennials will tend to reject the negative and moralistic politics they witnessed as children.

"Millennials will be the next powerhouse political generation," he said, adding that their use of technology often startles previous generations. "Millennials are turning information technology toward community-building, like you are always plugged into your friends. Frankly, for many boomers, this is an Orwellian nightmare."

Here's how the generational constellation breaks down:

Baby boomers, experts say, were born from 1943 up to 1960 (although the U.S. Census extends the range to 1964) and are characterized as idealists and moralists who fought over war, gender inequality and race. Generation X, born between the early 1960s and the early '80s, is described as economically conservative and disaffected, influenced by Ronald Reagan's presidency (and Michael J. Fox's preppy Alex P. Keaton character in the television sitcom "Family Ties"). Millennials, who experts say were born either in the late 1970s or '80s to the early 2000s, are said to have grown up sheltered and are risk-averse.

Complicating matters, millennials are sometimes known as generation Y. Then there's the Facebook or YouTube generations. Echo boomers is also bandied about. The presidential campaign has spawned the Obama generation, a nod to Sen. Barack Obama's reliance on young Democratic voters. (The Illinois senator, born in 1961, regards himself as a "post-boomer." The presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, born in 1936, belongs to what social theorists describe as the "silent generation.")

Some recycle Brokaw's terminology, noting the new generation's interest in public service. Last month on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) said that armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan deserve a 21st century G.I. Bill for education. "We keep saying this is the next 'greatest generation,' and we have seen everything they have done since 9/11," Webb said. "We ought to give them the same opportunity."

Another take is coming to television this month: "Generation Kill," an HBO miniseries, based on an Evan Wright book, about Marines at the start of the Iraq war. Still, many young people don't see the war as their defining experience. Some suggest it is the amassing of academic degrees and student loan or credit card debt.

In a three-week period of generational kibitzing, Nguyen interviewed several young people for her sister Thuc's documentary on the presidential election. One night, they met at a friend's Dupont Circle apartment. Seated on futons and surrounded by books and Trader Joe's wine bottles, the interviewer and her subjects wondered, off-camera and after taping, if they belong to generation X or the millennials/generation Y.

"My sister is 32. We believe them to be generation X, but it's not that many years apart," said Giacomo Abrusci, 26, an American Chemical Society project coordinator. "But they managed to get through their education without technology."

Nguyen said that Thuc, 32, says she's in the previous generation but identifies more with the younger one. "My sister thinks she's in gen X, but she's also super into Facebook and MySpace."

Nguyen and her friends sifted through various labels without knowing their origins: generation X (the name of a Douglas Coupland 1990s novel on post-boomer angst), generation Y (an alphabetical sequel) and millennials.

"I don't pay attention to labels," said Kate Gersh, 28, a nonprofit grant writer and former White House intern. "I've never heard of millennials."

"What about generation Y?" asked John Williams, 28, a part-time waiter and international development company recruiter.

"No," Gersh said.

"Yeah, I think you're supposed to spell it W-H-Y," Williams said.

Abrusci thought of something: "I read another definition of us as generation T -- because we wear T-shirts . . . that cost, like, $120."

Nguyen nodded. On her bookshelf at home, she has a book, tagged with pink stickies, titled "Generation T: 108 ways to transform a T-shirt."

Some research suggests that people in their 20s and 30s might be defined by their politics. They are the first generation in at least three that calls itself "liberal," said Michael Hais, who with Morley Winograd wrote "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube & the Future of American Politics."

A Washington Post-ABC News poll in May found that 59 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds are Democrats or Democrat-leaning independents and that 58 percent would favor Obama over McCain.

Another night, at Nguyen's rowhouse, many were split on whether the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks marked them. "Things like 9/11 or the Iraq war . . . we were too old to be shaped by that," said consultant Leah Bannon, 24. (She added later that the disputed 2000 election was more influential.)

"I think it's where you were when it happened," said Colleen Vollberg, 27, a nonprofit program coordinator, recalling Sept. 11. "I saw people jumping out of one of the towers."

Talk turned to whether Obama would be their emblem. But Nguyen said she doubted young people are more politically active. "You've heard of 'Rock the Vote' for years, and it's like, we're still not voting," she said.

Actually, votes cast by 18- to 29-year-olds rose 25 percent in the 2004 election, compared with 2000, and participation by young voters in this year's primaries rose in nearly all states where comparable data were available, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at the University of Maryland.

For her last interview, Nguyen met Will Bower, 35, a Thomson Reuters researcher, at a coffeehouse near Dupont Circle.

Bower felt old. "I am 35, and it sounded like you were wanting younger for the interview," he said.

"I think we're interviewing people from ages 18 to 35," Nguyen said.

"Generation . . . Atari," Bower interjected. "Well, yeah, X can be broken down to Atari and Nintendo. So, I'm still generation Atari."

"I wasn't allowed to play video games," Nguyen said. "I did play Nintendo because I would sneak to my neighbor's house because I liked 'Super Mario.' "

Nguyen smiled. Finally, she figured it out. She belongs to generation Nintendo.

Staff polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.


  1. Politics for an Undefined Generation

    26-year-old Doan Nguyen hosts friends for dinner and interviews them about the 2008 presidential election for a documentary about how those in their early 20s and 30s view politics. Doan says she is unsure which generational label applies to her age group.

    Δείτε το σχετικό video

  2. @g700

    Μ'ολη την συμπαθεια που σας εχω, η θεματολογια σας τεινει προς θεματολογια περιοδικου ποικιλης υλης τελευταια (nitro, cosmopolitan etc.)

  3. I concur with tyn.

    Besides, the Question Hellenique has already been deliberated on, and precisely defined.

    It was, thus, decided that the after-X Greek Youth shall be labelled the Angela Dimitriadou Generation for this portrays in an explicit and implicit manner the IQ, the Education, the Culture and, last but not least, the Aesthetics of our youngsters.

    Ici Place Regilles. Bonjour a tous.

  4. Copyright
    Το οποίο σας επιτρέπει να χρησιμοποιείτε τον όρο, αλλά υποχρεούσθε εκ του Νόμου να αναφέρεσθε στον υιοθετήσαντα Κομφούκιο.

  5. tyn gia sena dude tha ftiaksoyn ena customized ergastiro sofistike koybentas gia na sizitas me ton komfoy me epistimi kai logiki. Personally I like the arthraki ki oli ayti i koybenta peri genias kai pos prosdiorizetai. I angela generation einai entelos akyri san orologia. Angela belongs to genia polytexneioy my friend einai 80s cult kai blaxomparok and has nothing to do with our generation. einai vampir poy perase i mpogia tis and she wants to go on and on , have mercy on us god

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. ok dude για πες μου,

    τι σου εμεινε εσενα απο το αρθρο?
    με 2 σειρες, γιατι να σου πω την αμαρτια μου σταματησα καπου στη μεση να διαβαζω. Το ΝΙΤΡΟ τουλαχιστον εχει και κανεναν καλο κ..ο

  8. Δηλαδη εσυ αυτοπροσδιοριζεσαι ως γενια Χ, Υ Ζ?

    Σαν είναι ο τράγος δυνατός
    δεν τον βαστάει η μάντρα
    Ο άντρας κάνει τη γενιά
    κι οχι η γενιά τον άντρα

    που θα'λεγε κι ο Ανδρουλακης :)

  9. Age wise i am gen X, but that doesn't mean shit to me. Actually i am a league of my own. the lebowski generation. There's plenty of us around

  10. Eγώ πάλι θεωρώ εαυτόν transcedental, διαχρονικό.

    Στα σοβαρά τώρα. Μόλις γύρισα από δω κοντά, ήμουνα σε dinner στο Βoschetto, στο Αλσος του Ευαγγελισμού.
    Αssessment: σε κλίμακα από 0-10

    1. Service: 10/10 (αν και τους συνέλαβα να ΜΗ γνωρίζουν ότι όταν έχεις τα μαχαιροπήρουνα χιαστί σημαίνει ότι συνεχίζεις να τρως, άρα είναι περιττό να ρωτνε, "Τελειώσατε;")

    2. Ambiance: 10/10 (Φωτισμός, περιβάλλον, τραπεζομάντηλα, κλπ)

    3. Wine List: 9/10

    4. ΠΟΙΟΤΗΤΑ ΦΑΓΗΤΟΥ: -10/10 (μείον δέκα)!!!!

    5. Cost: 156 Euros γιά 2 ΑΤΟΜΑ!!!!!!!!!

    6. VALUE versus MONEY: -10

    7. ΓΕΝΙΚΗ ΕΚΤΙΜΗΣΗ: 1/10

    Η ΑΠΑΤΗ του ΑΙΩΝΑ.

    ΔΕΝ φταίνε παίδες οι κυβερνήσεις. Είστε ΚΑΡΑΒΛΑΧΟΙ και ΑΝΑΣΦΑΛΕΙΣ και σας αντιμετωπίζουν ως ΓΥΦΤΟΥΣ.

    And guess what: ΚΑΛΑ ΣΑΣ ΚΑΝΟΥΝ. Το ΑΞΙΖΕΤΕ!!!

    Tην ΔΕΥΤΕΡΑ θα πω στην κ. Καλογήρου να ανεβάσει τις σαγιονάρες στα 500 ευρώ. ΕΤΣΙ πρέπει να σας αντιμετωπίζουν.

  11. η ουσία του άρθρου είναι ότι με τόση διαφορετικότητα και κοινωνική ποικιλομορφία και τόσες υποκουλτούρες να ανθίζουν στο χώρο των νέων δεν μπορεί κανείς να ληξει το θέμα του προσδιορισμού τους με ένα απλό gen Y ας πούμε και τέλος. Αυτό λένε και οι ερωτώμενοι εδώ πέρα έχω την εντύπωση.

  12. επίσης θα συμφωνήσω με τον tyn σχετικά με το ότι το άρθρο είναι λίγο ό,τι να ναι, αλλά θα διαφωνήσω ότι είναι άσχετο με την προβληματική του blog.

  13. εμ κι εσύ ρε κομφούκιε θες άλσος ευαγγελισμού πάνε στον μπαϊρακτάρη να είσαι τζετ