Great Xpectations of So-Called Slackers


  • Share
  • Read Later

(4 of 4)

If boomers once boasted of never trusting anyone over 30, Xers have even more cause for disillusion. Between 1965 and 1977, the divorce rate doubled. More than 40% of today's young adults had spent time in a single-parent home by age 16. Did the psychic toll produce latch-key basket cases or self-reliant survivors? Undoubtedly, both. In their coupling habits, Gen X is the "youngest copulating and oldest marrying generation ever recorded," note Strauss and Howe. Since 1970 the average marriage age has crept up from 23 to 27 for men and from 21 to 25 for women. For many, it signals caution born of pain. "If I marry, I will never get divorced," says Angel Gambino, a University of Oregon law student whose parents split when she was three. Next year she plans to move back with her mother and sister, following another trend. Whether for economic or emotional reasons, 30% of men and women in their 20s live with their parents. "For me," Gambino says, "the American Dream is a stable family."

Whether Xers stay home or strike out on their own, the generation gap yawns as wide as ever. Twentysomethings can paint a scathing portrait of their elders. "I think I was conceived on an acid trip," muses one Xer in the film Reality Bites. Another asks, "How can we repair all the damage we inherited?" Novelist Coupland, in a memorable essay in 1995, accused boomers, "pummeled by the recession and embarrassed by their own compromised '60s values," of "transferring their collective darkness onto the group threatening to take their spotlight." Indeed, pollsters find that boomers are markedly more pessimistic than Xers. Fully 71% of boomers say, "If I had the chance to start over in life, I would do things differently." Only 59% of Xers and matures agree. Likewise, while Xers see themselves more as life-long job hoppers than as company loyalists, they profess far more satisfaction with their work than their elders. "Boomers entered the marketplace years ago with high expectations," says Yankelovich's Smith. "And when they were disappointed, they thought the future looked bleak for Xers. So they portrayed them as a loser generation."

But today's twentysomethings have learned to cope. They may be cynical about institutions, but they remain remarkably optimistic as individuals. At least half believe they will be better off financially than their parents. And an astonishing 96% of Gen Xers say, "I am very sure that one day I will get to where I want to be in life"--showing far more confidence than boomers did a generation ago. For all their ironic detachment, today's young adults embrace an American Dream--albeit one different from the vision their parents or grandparents had.

For Gen X, the lyrics of Alanis Morissette's Hand in My Pocket defines the guarded hopefulness of the new generation:

I'm broke but I'm happy I'm poor but I'm kind... I'm lost but I'm hopeful baby What it all comes down to Is that everything's gonna be fine, fine, fine I've got one hand in my pocket And the other one is giving a high five.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. Next Page