The other day Robbymac mentioned that he was not part of Gen-X, but was part of Generation Jones. Heh? What? I hit the url, and without really reading anything, I decided I didn’t want to be associated. Apparently this has to do with some angst I caused him, but I think Rob said it tongue-in-cheek. While I’m on about it though, I want to rant a little about just what Gen-X actually is, because this has bugged me for some time now. Apologies in advance, apply wherever obliged or deserving.

First off, you want to base your thinking on this kind of stuff on the writings of real demographers, not on pop-psychology, pulp fiction, or fancy graphics-laden websites. I highly recommend Boom Bust & Echo by David K. Foot with Daniel Stoffman. The book is subtitled, “How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Shift” but you should ignore that… the book is solidly about demographics, and any additional conclusions you wish to draw are mostly up to you — the author just gives you the tools, explaining how demographics affect pretty much everything, despite being ignored by most of the people who should be paying attention. My copy is the 1996 edition, but the revised ones should be every bit as good or better.

Next, you need to understand that the baby boom is not a global phenomenon: it affects only Canada, USA, Australia, and New Zealand… and it does not equally affect these nations which experienced it. Despite most assumptions about boomers referring to Americans, Canada experienced it the strongest. Here, the boom was more pronounced than in the USA, where it started earlier and ended earlier, partly due to the way troops were brought home after WWII… a large part of their war effort was in the Pacific, which wound down sooner. In Australia, the birth rated didn’t climb quite as high, but the boom continued 10 years longer, partly because Australians were slower to adopt the birth control pill and because women there did not enter the workforce in large numbers as early as in the USA and Canada. The baby boom ended in 1964 in the USA and in 1966 in Canada.

Generation X is the tail end of the Baby Boom generation, from 1960-66 (in Canada)…. although they are an identifiable group, they are a subset of the boomers, not those who came after them. Let’s pause on that one, because most people miss it, and that’s where the trouble is: Gen-Xers are Boomers, but they’re a special type of boomer that doesn’t relate to most other boomers. This point has not been properly understood. Well into the 1990s, confused writers were calling Generation X “twenty-somethings” despite most of them being over 30. Basically they confused Gen-X with the Baby-Buster generation which followed it… but the differences between the two are profound.

So here’s the next bit. Each of these “generations” or demographic groups are called “cohorts.” Your best bet is to be born at the beginning of a small cohort, because there are fewer people to compete with, and you arrive first. This is the heart of the problem for Gen-Xers: they are positioned in the worst possible space in history…. at the tail end of the largest cohort we have known since we started making such observations. When Gen-X entered the workforce, the front-end and mid-boomers had already satisfied it, having entered the job market when it was starving for fresh blood and willing to pay for it. At age 30, front-end boomers were earning 30% more than their fathers at that age — at age 30, Gen-Xers were earning 10% less than their fathers at that age. I don’t want to recap the entire book, but suffice to say that situations like this affect everything… and the tail end boomers, the Gen-Xers, have so little in common with the front-end boomers it isn’t even funny. One small example, the front-end boomers drove up house prices so the tail-end boomers couldn’t afford them, and then talked about what a great investment real estate was. It’s all just demographics.

Oh, and the Busters? In Canada that’s 1967-1979. They’re a small cohort, so as a group they’ll do well. Don’t waste your sympathy on them, and don’t confuse them with Gen-X.

The next large cohort is the Echo generation, the children of the boomers, born in 1980-1995. Here again, since the Boomers represent a large cohort, the Echo generation will be a larger cohort than the one that precedes it. This said, those at the beginning of that cohort will have a much easier time of it than those at the tail end of it. Those that follow from 1995-2010 will be members of a smaller cohort. Because we waited to have kids rather than starting a family within a few years after we were married, we unintentionally shifted our kids away from being tail-end Echo kids to being front-end (and middle) “millennium kids” …so they will be more demographically advantaged than they should have been, statistically speaking.

Oh, and here’s another observation: 5-10 years from now, the tail-end of the Echo generation will start turning 18 and 20 years old… and it’s highly plausible to suspect that they could be almost as disenfranchised and despairing as Gen-X was. Of course, the front end of the Echo generation is already 25 years old and happy to have cars named after them and marketed directly to them.

Generation Jones? Sorry, never heard of you… but you’re really just a bunch of Gen-Xers who don’t understand what Gen-X is, thinking it refers to the Busters, but you’ve got just a bit of Buster-optimism mixed in for good measure. And 1 in 4 in the USA? In Canada, that’s 1 in 3, so the impact of this group is even bigger here. But sorry, I’ve got enough challenges being a properly-demographically-defined Gen-X male… I don’t have the time or inclination to keep up with the Joneses.

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