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Gen X and baby boomers are two adjoining generations defined by the years of their birth. Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, while Gen X was born from 1965 to about 15 years later. Baby boomers will be to some extent dependent on the payroll taxes on Gen X for their own retirements.
Gen X, baby Boomers, Gen Y, Millennials, what does it all mean? These are terms often heard but not always understood. They stand for different American generations and they represent cohorts of individuals who share certain common life experiences and situations.
A generation is generally considered to encompass roughly 20 year, but the reasons for defining what constitutes a particular generation cause this to vary.
If two well known generations are compared, it is a little easier to understand what they mean. The baby boomers were named for and defined by the post war baby boom. The birth rate went up and was sustained at a record high from 1946 to 1964. This is not quite 20 years, but it makes sense because of what was happening. A writer named Landon Smith coined the terms “baby boom” and “baby boomer” and they caught on. His name is also used to define the second half of the baby boomer generation as “Generation Jones.”
While the “great generation” was defined by World War II, and the baby boomers were defined by years of prosperity and relative freedom from wars, Gen X, the common name used for “Generation X” was defined by the turmoil of a wavering economy, a falling birthrate, and wars in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. Sometimes maligned as “slackers” and being considered apathetic compared to the activism of the baby boomers, Gen X was sometimes referred to as a generation without an identity.
Even the period of time that divides Gen X from the following Generation Y is open for debate. Its beginning is obvious, starting with the drop in birthrate in 1965 after the boom years. Many writers end Gen X in 1976, but others extend it to as far as 1982.
There are many differences in Gen X and the baby boomers. The first and most obvious is size alone. The birth rate was amazingly high for the 19 years of the baby boom period and produced somewhere between 77 million and 79 million members. The steep drop off in births beginning in 1965 and the somewhat shorter target years some assign to Gen X resulted in only about 51 million people total.
An interconnection between Gen X and the baby boomers is becoming obvious as the boomer begin to enter retirement. Funding for sustaining Social Security and Medicare for boomers will depend in great part on the contributions from the payroll taxes of Gen X. Since Gen X is smaller and somewhat less prosperous, this raises concerns about the viability of these important safety nets for retiring boomers.