This post is a rebuttal to Matthew Jones’ article on Inc.com titled, “The Brutal Truth About Why Gen-Xers Hate Millennials (That No One Wants To Admit)." I encourage you to read the article, but for the sake of this post, Jones’ conclusion was this: “The brutal truth is that Generation X is terrified that they are going to die.” His belief is that Generation X resents the Millennial generation because Xers fear their own mortality and Millennials own the future.
While I’m sure there are Gen Xers who live with the constant fear of death, I fear Mr. Jones has overestimated this factor as a source of “hatred” toward Millenials. This might be due to the fact that as a therapist, he is exposed to a disproportionate number of people in a negative mental state. According to the Social Security Administration’s life expectancy calculator, a 45 year-old man has a life expectancy of 82 years. That is quite a bit of life in which to look forward. Live long and prosper Xers!
The real reason Generation X “hates” Millennials has to do with three factors.
As we mature, we are faced with different circumstances and, as a result, ourperspective changes. Because we view the world through the lens of our perspective, it is often difficult to relate to people with different perspectives. What matters most to a 65 year-old is vastly different than that of a 45 year-old. And what matters most to a 45 year-old is inconceivable to a 25 year-old. This has always been the case.
2. There is often friction between generations
Let’s examine the relationship between the two previous generations in broad-brush strokes—The Silent Generation and Baby Boomers. The Silent Generation (aka The Traditionalists or the Greatest Generation) was shaped by the Great Depression and WWII. They faced what seemed like the end of the world and it had to be a terrifying and unsettling experience. As a group, they were patriotic, respectful of tradition, modest (which is why they were labeled “silent”) and they sacrificed a great deal. They also saved for a rainy day because they had lived through a decade-and-a-half long typhoon. Who could blame them?
Boomers were shaped by Vietnam and the social unrest of the 1960’s. They were given their name due to the baby boom that occurred after WWII. It was a time of economic expansion and prosperity the country hadn’t experienced since the 1920’s. As hippies in their youth, Boomers sought to change society. They wanted to uproot traditions and rewrite social conventions. Free love! And, don’t trust anyone over 30!
As they grew older, hippies turned into yuppies and they once again turned the tables on the previous generation by expressing their success overtly through excess or conspicuous consumption. They were a not-so-silent generation, which is why they were called “The Me Generation.”
To say these two generations didn’t see eye-to-eye would be an understatement. They were often diametrically opposed and that caused quite a bit of friction.
3. Common experiences shape generations
By the 1970’s women were entering the workforce in record numbers. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 1950 only 34% of women ages 25 – 34 were in the civilian labor force. That number grew to 65.5% by 1980 and to 76.3% in the year 2000. In fifty years, the percentage of women working outside the home more than doubled.
Another societal change that affected Generation X was the dramatic increase in the divorce rate. In 1950, the divorce rate in the United States was 26%. By 1970, it had risen to 33% and by 1980 it reached 52%. The divorce rate doubled in only 30 years.
So, in the 1970’s and 1980’s there was a dramatic shift in the family structure. Overall, fathers were around less while mothers were working outside of the home more. This created something called Latchkey Kids, defined as kids coming home from school to an empty house. They were unsupervised by an adult for at least a part of the day. This phenomenon was unique to Generation X.
In previous generations, mom was home when the child arrived from school or at the very least another member of the family. It was much more common to have multi-generations living in the same household in 1950 than it was in 1980. Just after WWII about a quarter of Americans lived in extended family households. By 1980, that number had dropped to 12%.
What all this means is in their most formative years, Xers were under-parented. While that experience fostered a sense of independence in Latchkey Kids, it also took a developmental and emotional toll on this generation. Without the proper structure, Latchkey Kids demonstrated less initiative. So, they were unfairly labeled, “Slackers.”
Everything began to change in 1981 when a six year-old boy was abducted from a mall in Hollywood, Florida. His name was Adam Walsh. It was a terrifying and heart-wrenching story that shook the nation. A powerful made-for-television movie about the event titled Adam was released in 1983. By 1988, John Walsh, Adam’s father, began narrating the television show America’s Most Wanted, which depicted the terrible crimes committed by the countries most dangerous fugitives. The show ran for a remarkable 25 seasons.
Those events ushered in the age of the Paranoid Parent. And the pendulum swung to the other side of rationality. By the time the original Home Alone movie was released in 1990, the Latchkey Kid era was officially over. No parent would ever think of leaving a young child home alone.
In the post-Latchkey Kid era, “good” parents had a watchful eye over their children. Because the divorce rates remained high and most women were working outside of the house, children were shuffled from one supervised activity to another. Schools, nannies, daycares and after-school programs oversaw the Millennials every move. These kids were under constant supervision. In essence, they were micromanaged from birth.
This is the environment in which Millennials were raised. They were over-supervised and over-parented. Their schedules were over-scheduled and over-structured. Their self-esteem was over-protected and they grew up to be overly dependent. As adults, they are moving in with their parents in record numbers. Pew Research Center reported, “In 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.” All this handholding led to the perception that Millennials have a sense of entitlement.
In many ways, Millennials are the opposite of Generation X. Millennials were raised to behave like children as adults, while Gen X was expected to behave like adults when they were children. Two ends of the spectrum. Neither particularly healthy.
Xers were taught to be resourceful, independent and self-sufficient, while Millennials were trained to be collaborative, inclusive and respectful of others’ feelings. All of these traits are positive and yet, often at odds. Like the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers before them, the value systems of Generation X and Millennials are seemingly diametrically opposed. Unfortunately, this opposition creates friction and confusion and resentment.
The word “hate” is provocative, but it is inappropriate in this situation. I do not believe these two generations hate each other. At least I hope not. I believe they are frustrated with one another, which is to be expected because they have such different value systems.
So, what is the solution?
There isn’t one. No silver bullet. No bandage. We can’t re-parent Millennials just like we can’t re-parent Generation X. But we can treat people as individuals, instead of stereotyping them based on a group to which they belong. Once we categorize an individual, we make assumptions about their character based on perceptions of the group. Then we look to confirm our initial judgments. It sounds like this: “All Xers are like that” or “All millennials do that… see, I told you so.”
We do it with race, gender, religion, political ideology, sexual preference, socio-economics, height, weight, hair color, etc., etc., etc. And we are usually wrong. We are tricked by the many biases tucked neatly away in our unconscious mind. We must remember that generations are extreme generalities made up of millions of unique individuals.
Mr. Jones, as member of Generation X, I can assure you that I’m not afraid of dying. I don’t hate Millennials or Baby Boomers or the Silent Generation. I do not hate people who happen to be members of groups to which I do not belong. The one thing I do hate is being lumped into a group with which I may or may not have anything in common.
I suspect Millennials feel the same way.
Stereotyping is one of the Seven Deadly Sins of Decision Making. I wrote about it extensively in my book, PERSUADED, now available on Amazon. Pick up a copy today.