Are you a Middle child? Generation X and Adlerian Birth Order or "Will the Baby Boomers ever Retire?"

Were you born between 1964 and 1980? If so, you are part of a population cohort known as Generation X?

Disclosure #1– I have a Graduate degree in Psychology from the Alfred Adler Institute of Professional Psychology, Chicago Illinois. The counseling paradigm I use is primarily Adlerian in nature, with a dash of Rogerian. Note: only Psychology geeks would get this insider joke.

Disclosure #2 – I am part of the cohort known as Generation X
Disclosure #3 – some of my best friends and favorite colleagues are either Gen Y or Boomers. They find me “easy to relate to and easy to get along with.”

Disclosure #4: Adlerian Psychologists analyze the family system, including an individuals’ Birth order. I will stretch this analogy to include the US population – as a “quasi family” consisting of several cohorts or generations.
The idea for this blog article came about due to the following events:

1.My background, education and experience in Adlerian Psychology.

2. Nine months ago, I attended a Business Forum, hosted by REIAC the prestigious Real Estate Association of American. The Keynote speaker used graphs on the American Population Pyramid, as a predictive model of future home-buying trends. These graphs had a lasting impression on me. Prior to this, I never realized that Gen X was half the size of the Baby Boomers and Gen Y/Millennial!

3. The other day, my Gen X coworker asked a rhetorical question, “When will the Boomers retire?” Note: Gen X’ers are rare in the workplace and vastly outnumbered, by people from the cohort before and cohort ahead of us.

The confluence of these 3 events, led to an “aha” moment, the idea for this week’s Blog and insight about Generation X’s career angst. In this article “family members” will be represented by the generational cohorts of people in the American Population Pyramid; Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y.

The US Census Bureau generally considers the following demographic birth cohorts based on birth rate, which is statistically measurable:

Baby Boomer cohort #1 (born from 1946 to 1954)

o Memorable events: assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, political unrest, walk on the moon, Vietnam War, anti-war protests, social experimentation, sexual freedom, civil rights movement, environmental movement, women's movement, protests and riots, experimentation with various intoxicating recreational substances

o Key characteristics: experimental, individualism, free spirited, social cause oriented

• Generation Jones or Boomer Echo cohort #2 (born from 1955 to 1964)

o Memorable events: Watergate, Nixon resigns, the cold war, the oil embargo, raging inflation, Disco, gasoline shortages

o Key characteristics: less optimistic, pragmatic, general cynicism

• Generation X cohort (born from 1965 to 1980)
o Memorable events: Challenger explosion, Iran-Contra, Reaganomics, AIDS, MTV, the home computer, safe sex, divorce, single parent families, end of cold war-fall of Berlin wall, desert storm

o Key characteristics: quest for emotional security, independent, informality, entrepreneurial

• Millennial Generation cohort also called Generation Y (born from 1981 to 2001)

o Memorable events: rise of the internet, September 11 attacks, cultural diversity, two wars in Iraq, Global financial crisis of 2008–2009

o Key characteristics: quest for physical security and safety, heightened fears, acceptance of change, technically savvy, environmental issues

Adlerian Psychologists operate from a Social Systems Perspective. We believe that an individual cannot be studied in isolation. In order to understand an individual, you must first understand the systems they operate in; their family of origin, their community, their socio-economic class, the time period and the society within which they live. We review an individual’s “family constellation and family values, including analyzing birth order. An individuals’ chronological Birth Order, in their family of origin, influences their world view, their career choices and their career path. As an aside, the most complex Birth order chart I ever created, was for an Irish-Canadian client, who was one of 13 children!

The most common roles in Adlerian Birth Order include: oldest child, middle child, youngest child and only child. Each of these cohorts, will have a distinctive role within the family.

Gen X is the “Middle Child” in the American population pyramid. Generation Y is always nipping at our heels and we can never quite catch up with the Baby Boomers. There are 80 million baby boomers and 78 million millennials, Generation X has just 46 million members. Now this Gen X career angst all makes sense! We are squeezed between two siblings who are much more popular, much larger and much stronger, in their own ways. Yes, Gen X plays well with others, and we are truly team players. However, will we ever achieve what we envision, in our careers?

So, you are thinking, I am half-way through this blog and still don’t know how this relates to the American Population Pyramid. Humor me a bit longer and I will explain.

If you had looked at a graph of the American population pyramid, 10 years ago, it looked like a swollen, rectangle, with the boomers comprising the spare tire around the mid-section. However, as the Boomers age, the “spare-tire” around the middle of the population pyramid, is shifting upwards. Currently, the American Population Pyramid, looks more like an hourglass. Gen Y is at the large group at the bottom of the hour glass and the Baby Boomers are at the large group at the top. Gen X is the tiny cohort, in the thinnest part, in the middle of the hourglass. Now, I exaggerate somewhat for dramatic effect, but not much. Demographically speaking, Gen X is about half the size of the Boomers and Gen Y generations.

What will happen “if” the Boomers ever retire? Think about the career angst, career trajectories and staffing implication of this! Gen Y is not ready to take their place and there are not enough Gen X’ers. Our whole career lives, we have been told, soon the Boomers will retire. This is the mantra, we chant to ourselves, to reassure ourselves after every set-back. We have been told, that in the next 5 years, we will be in big demand, employers will pay any price to hire us! This timeline keeps getting extended. Currently, we do not see Boomers retiring in big numbers, and those that “retire” are coming back as consultants! This reality has not helped Gen X, who have been waiting patiently in the wings, for years. Given the current economic realities, Boomers may never retire!

Another analogy can be made between Gen X’s career angst and expectations of career succession. Note: as a native, British Columbian, I will disclose that I am a monarchist. So, let’s look at the Royal Family of England. For our analogy Gen X will be represented by Prince Charles, the Queen will represent the Baby Boomers and Princess Diana’s sons’ will represent Gen Y or the Millennials. After waiting patiently in the wings for over 50 years, do you think Charles will ever inherit the throne? Will he be the Prince in waiting forever? That is exactly, how Generation X, my generation feels.

So try to understand Gen X and try to be kind to us…

Author:  © 2009 - All Rights Reserved - Sharon Cohen, MA,Dip.Educ, CPRP, Global MBA Career Advisor at Robinson College of Business in Georgia State University. Career Management Consultant in Private Practice.

1 comment:

  1. Weary Traveler wrote:

    So being a Gen Xer sucks!

    What is worse is that the parents of the Gen Xers are the pre-boomer generation that were propelled into high paying jobs. They're the seniors to the boomers who cast judgement on the Xers for not being as well off as them, and they only put in half the effort..

    Sophia wrote:

    I agree with the above, although I think more could be said about the GenY's and the conflict between GenX's and GenY's. GenY's are the popular youngest child who get everything, but there is something funny about their work ethic compared to GenXs.

    GenX's are entrepreneurial, who want to be respected and rewarded for what they know and their skills not how old they are or whether they suck up. Boomers seem to only trust each other, and think the GenXers are too impatient and unwilling to pay dues.

    I'm not sure what GenY's are in relation to that. I have a GenX friend who manages a GenY staffer who is driving her nuts - wanting lots of responsibility but making lots of mistakes. Any thoughts?
    S. Cohen (author) wrote:

    There is always inter-generational tension in the workplace. However, there are double the number of Boomers and Gen Y'ers compared to the small Gen X cohort. We are vastly outnumbered.

    During this recession there has been a marked drop in fertility rates in the USA. Currently, we are experiencing the lowest birth rates in the past 30 years. It will be interesting to watch the tiny "recession" cohort over the next 20 years and see what transpires. Will they struggle like Gen X?