Xennial Schmennial: Why Xennials are Not a Thing
NEXT EXIT: TOMORROW
July 19, 2017
Over the last month, the internet has embraced the idea that there’s a generational cohort of people born in 1977 through 1983 that should be labeled “Xennials” (half Generation X and half Millennial).
To that I say: “Poppycock.” Okay, not quite. I’m an American. What I really say is: “Bullsh*t.”
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a group of people at a certain stage of life trying to find common ground. In fact, someone in my Boomer generation tried the same thing some 15 years ago with the invention of Generation Jones — a group consisting of late-stage Boomers and early-stage Gen Xers. Social commentator Jonathan Pontell posited that those born in 1954 through 1965 are neither fish nor fowl, but “Jonesers.”
While clever, these ideas are not particularly accurate or even helpful.
To start with, what makes a group of people a generational cohort is what happened when they were coming of age, essentially during their teenage years. Each generation is shaped by external forces — world events, politics, pop culture, societal trends, etc. — happening at that time of their life. The talk about Xennials today is more about what they are experiencing now, in their late-20s and early-30s. It’s more about life stage than generational cohort effects.
On top of that, social scientists and demographers (those academics out there) will tell you that a generational cohort is about 20 years in duration, tying in roughly to the length of time between family generations. Each cohort needs to last long enough for the oldest member to give birth to the youngest member, potentially. Every generation, then, naturally has a front half and a back half.
So, for Boomers, for example, it’s no wonder there are Bob Dylan Boomers and Bruce Springsteen Boomers — front half and back half. These people aren’t of two different generations, just two halves of one.
The same is true for younger Gen Xers and older Millennials who apparently are feeling somewhat detached from the rest of their generations. Ultimately, research consistently shows that each of these marginal groups will have more shared values with their generational brethren than with some invented microgeneration in the middle. Tough luck, Xennials.
Now, what’s been happening online recently is actually fascinating to us futurists — because it’s backward from the traditional model. We teach people how to understand and anticipate cultural trends by first applying a generational lens. Yet here, the only way to understand the invention of Xennials is by first understanding an underlying cultural trend.
And we’ve reported it: America is moving from being a melting pot to being a bento box. This is the growth of pluralism in America — where everyone has a place to belong. As clear majorities fade away, everyone today wants and needs to find their place — or their identity — so that they can belong. No identity is superior, and all are welcome.
This need to find a place to belong is feeding the urge to define those between the ages of 25 and 34 today as Xennials. It’s a new identity that these people can call their own.
There’s nothing wrong with it, of course.
It’s just not really the thing. Finding a place in the bento box is.
Next time: How tomorrow belongs to those with an open mind and open doors