Guest Post by Stephanie Shepard
In the 1990’s Neil Howe and William Strauss wrote the best selling books on generational theory. They created a new historical theory and proved that history was not linear, as most would believe, but it was a cycle. An 80 year cycle, the average time of a human life span, of four different generations interacting with one another throughout history. Their expertise has been hailed as accurate and prophetic interactions of the generations.
I don’t agree with Howe that I am a Millennial. The defining characteristic seem very off to me, they always have. I am suppose to be civic minded and a team player. I have never identified with those groups. I was suppose to be a over protected child and given trophies for showing up. I never identified with those childhoods. I am suppose to be a digital native who has always the internet and instant connectivity. I remember a childhood of playing outside.
Through my own observations and nostalgia, I can attest there is another generational cusp. A big one. Generation X and Millennials are a bigger cusp than any of the generations. Estimated I would say by two decades. A solid generation right in the middle. Generation Xers are estimated between 1964-1982, and Millennials are estimated between 1982-2002. Of course there is back and forth bickering of these dates. It still doesn’t change my theory of a full generation in the middle, starting in the mid 1970s and ending in the mid 1990s.
Generation X and Millennial Cusp
In the 1970’s the first no fault divorce law was passed in California, it gave couples the right to divorce without explanation, and seemingly with little consequence. The social and economic structure went unharmed for a few years. The consequences bore out of the new mass divorce rates would take a decade to effectively observe. Largely they were swept under the rug as just a sign of “troubled adolescence” of the teenage Gen Xers.
They hurt really bad.
I tried hard to have a father,
But instead I had a dad.”
There is nothing I could say,
That I haven’t thought before.”
The first rise of the teenage angst culture started in 1991 with the release of “Smells like Teen Spirit”. The early wave of Gen X were getting out on their own, to only realize there was nothing waiting for them. Much like their childhoods, their was no warm embrace in the real world. They were on their own to figure out and survival mode would be the generational characteristic that would forever stay. The Nomad Generation was fulfilling their roles in the generation scheme.
Following Nirvana’s long shot success, many other Seattle grunge bands began to emerge in mainstream music. A new genre was born out of childhoods of being in the shadows of their parents’ vanity. They grew up raising themselves, going home to empty houses, and watching wholesome value programming of the Brady Bunch. Never knowing a two parent household and homemaker mothers. The wave of the latchkey childhood had begun and would continue for decades.
When Neil Howe wrote about the Millennials there were a few characteristics that he did not anticipate lingering from the Gen X childhood. For over two decades birth control, abortion, and divorce would define a huge cusp generation. Many of the Millennial predictions have not come true because of not taking into account how culturally changing the effect have been. Gen X childhood alienation was not an abnormal trend. The same traits that stirred contempt in their generation carried over to the Millennials.
Generation X and Millennials have an odd connection. The cusp I am referring to is one of a generation raising itself. While many of the Millennials had single moms or working moms, their entertainment was largely unguided. Millennials grew up with Generation X writing and producing the very same entertainment. The music, television programming, movies, video games, and cartoons were written and produce by older generation Xers. Older Millennials were the target audience in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The cultural influence of entertainment during the time had a lasting impact.
The Alternation Rock and Rap during the 1990s, written by Xers, were the storytellers of the pain Millennials were facing while growing up. My parents are divorced. They got divorced in 1991, I was five years old. The first memories I have of my childhood were of my Dad working and never around. My mom stayed at home with me, while my brother went to school. When my Dad was home I heard screaming, intensified anger on both sides, and being woken in the middle of the night to my Mom packing bags. There was even one morning I woke up to the living room destroyed along with ranch dressing drying to the walls of the kitchen.
When it comes to divorce my family is saturated in it. My parents both grew up in divorced households. Both of my parents were raised by their mothers and had part time Dads. My grandparents were born on the Silent/Baby Boomer cusp, and they loved their divorce. Most of my grandparents were divorced multiple times. This cycle didn’t end until they started to age. Now my parents get to suffer the burden of their final expenses. No houses to inherit or funds to pay for their debts. All the money was spent on divorces and child support payments.
The Divorce Burden
Prior to the popularity of divorce, couples remained together, and accumulated wealth over the course of their lifetimes. Many were quite successful in paying off their mortgages, building savings, aquiring health insurance, life insurance, and making plans for retirement. When divorce came into the picture, that structure was demolished. Nobody owned houses outright by the end of their career. Both parties were left poorer, single moms started applying in mass for welfare and fathers had to pay the expenses two separate households. Instead of building savings, a debt fueled lifestyle because the norm.
Now as many Boomers are at the age of retirement they have nothing. After multiple divorces and starting multiple families, they have no wealth security. They cannot collect pensions and benefits from their spouses, they cannot pay off their homes, and they are not able to pay off the debts they accumulated in their lifetimes.
This saddles the younger generations to pay for their parents and grandparents carefree attitude. A generation who never thought they would get old. Now as they age they have no plan B. Their children are not better off either. With no wealth accumulation, most of Generation X and Millennials have a student loan bubble and multiple credit card debits. I heavily doubt Generation X or Millennials will be lining up to pay for their parents retirements.