Generation X and Generation Y: What's the Difference?

What are the differences between Generation X and Millennial Generation?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


Answer by Anne K. Halsall, product designer

Strauss & Howe, the social historians known for pioneering generational theory, would say that Gen X (the "13th generation") and Gen Y (the "millennial generation") each have the traits of their corresponding generational archetypes.

Generation X is generally used to refer to people born in the 60s and 70s. According to Strauss & Howe, it is a Nomad generation, an archetype they share with the "Lost Generation" of the 1890s and 1900s. Both generations are characterized by a disaffected attitude and general disdain for everything that came before. Xers' hatred of Boomers can be seen everywhere from politics to music; they transformed rock n'roll from cutesy swinging to angry screaming and brought punk, metal, and grunge into the world.

As individuals, Gen Xers are known for being nihilistic and cynical, and this is certainly understandable considering that they came of age just in time to experience the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, a series of economic crises, and the AIDS epidemic, just to name a few.

Nomads may be hell-raisers as youths, but as they move into middle age they have a growing sense of responsibility to fix the mistakes that the previous generation made in society. Gen X leaders (of which we have a notable example in our own President Obama) are pragmatic, cunning, and hard to fool; they've seen it all and aren't much for bullshit.

Generation Y is used to refer to people born in the 80s and 90s. Their archetype is the Hero generation, an honor they share with the "G.I. Generation" who fought WWII. Compared to Xers they practically led a charmed life; their parents had ready access to birth control, so they were generally wanted, nurtured children. They were more sheltered by society then their predecessors and their family units were more stable. Helicopter parents and soccer moms are a ubiquitous sight for children of this generation.

Gen Y is sometimes known as the Peter Pan Generation because childhood was so good to them that they have a tendency to delay adulthood. But when they do come of age, Heroes earn their name. They are more orthodox in their approach than Nomads and as policy-makers they may be downright conventional, but they are united by a deep-seated idealism and desire to save the world. Looking at something like climate change or global recession, a Millennial won't blame the past but look forward to the solutions of the future.

To sum up a lot of history in a little bit of space, you can think of Xers as the people who will tear/are tearing down the entrenched institutions of the Boomers, while the Millennials will be the ones to rebuild from the rubble and return order to the resulting chaos.

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