Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Generational Dynamics Web Log for 10-Dec-2008
Neil Howe calls Early Gen-Xers the "dumbest generation"

Web Log - December, 2008

Neil Howe calls Early Gen-Xers the "dumbest generation"

I disagree - Boomers are the dumbest generation.

Neil Howe and his partner, the late William A. Strauss, were the founding fathers of generational theory. It's their work, documented in their books Generations and The Fourth Turning, on which Generational Dynamics is based.

With Strauss gone, it's always a treat to read something new from Howe, and his Sunday Washington Post article provides a fresh perspective on "early Generation-Xers," popularly known for many years as Generation Jones, based on a 2000 book with that title by author Jonathan Pontell.

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The people that we're talking about were born between the late 1950s to the mid 1960s. Although Howe (and I) refer to them as "early Gen-Xers," they actually include the last few birth years of the Boomer generation.

He gives the following reasons for calling them the "dumbest generation":

"Whatever you call them (I'll just call them early Xers), the numbers are clear: Compared with every other birth cohort, they have performed the worst on standardized exams, acquired the fewest educational degrees and been the least attracted to professional careers. In a word, they're the dumbest."

Howe goes on to explain how they got that way:

"So what explains the smartness deficit (and the related income gap) that has tracked these early Xers throughout their lives? Some say it's demographic pressure. Early Xers were born into large families at the tail end of the baby boom, with a relatively large share of higher-order siblings (just as first-wave boomers have a relatively large share of first-borns). As they grew up, they got crowded out in the competition for parental attention, good teachers and good colleges. Later on, by the 1980s, they arrived too late to enter the most lucrative professions and the cushiest corporations, by now glutted with boomer yuppies. Their only alternative was to pioneer the pragmatic, free-agent, low-credential lifestyle for which Generation X has since become famous.

Yet sheer numbers aren't the whole story. The early Xers' location in history also plays a large role. Quite simply, they were children at a uniquely unfavorable moment -- a time when the divorce rate accelerated, when the media image of children turned demonic and when the "latch-key" lesson for kids stressed self-reliance rather than trust in others. By the time they entered middle and high school, classrooms were opened, standards were lowered, and supervision had disappeared. Compared with earlier- or later-born students at the same age, these kids were assigned less homework, watched more TV and took more drugs."

He concludes by pointing out how much we all need early Gen-Xers:

"Does America need to worry that this group is taking over as our national leaders? Probably not. Early Xers have certain strengths that many more learned people lack: They're practical and resilient, they handle risk well, and they know how to improvise when even the experts don't know the answer. As the global economy craters, they won't keep leafing through a textbook. They may be a little rough around the edges, but their style usually gets the job done."

Now, long-time readers of this web site are very well aware that I have never called Gen-Xers stupid or dumb. I reserve those names mostly for Boomers.

No, I say that Gen-Xers (and I mostly mean Early Gen-Xers) are nihilistic, destructive, and self-destructive. Take a look at any of the articles in the "Related Articles" box above for more information.

I've been criticized for making these kinds of generalizations about Gen-Xers, although I've posted plenty of evidence to support it.

I don't feel that I need to apologize for criticizing Gen-Xers, or making these kinds of generalizations. For several years, I rarely criticized anyone but Boomers on this web site -- for the dot-com bubble, and for being unable to lead or govern, creating governmental paralysis.

I only started criticizing Gen-Xers when I saw what disasters they were causing.

Despicable ad implying that General Petraeus is a traitor. <font face=Arial size=-2>(Source:</font>
Despicable ad implying that General Petraeus is a traitor. (Source:

First were the leftist nutjobs in and These people, along with the NY Times, NBC news, and other such organizations, were committed to the defeat and humiliation of America in Iraq. If these people had been listened to, we would have an utter disaster on our hands. These people, who are overwhelmingly Gen-Xers, are still much more dangerous to the country and to the Barack Obama presidency than anyone on the right is. President-elect Obama has wisely been avoiding these leftist nutjobs in his cabinet appointments.

Then there's the worldwide financial crisis that we're experiencing. Although Boomers were greedy and stupid, the massive fraud that created the crisis was engineered by Gen-Xers, specifically the Gen-Xers who assumed middle and high level management positions in the 2000-2005 time frame -- i.e., the Early Gen-Xers.

None of this indicates the Gen-Xers are stupid. My personal impression of many Gen-Xers is that they're brilliant. The impending collapse of the entire world financial system was engineered by these people, and they couldn't have done that if they were stupid.

If they're "stupid," it's in a different sense -- and this is something I've seen in many Gen-Xers. Gen-Xers are so full of hatred for Boomers and Silents and Boomer and Silent values, that they become destructive and self-destructive.

For example, Howe points out the early Gen-Xers do poorly in standardized exams. Well, that wouldn't be because they're intellectually stupid. It's because they're so self-destructive that they're contemptuous of standardized tests, and either don't take them or don't prepare for them.

No, it's Boomers who are really stupid. Boomers spent their entire lives arguing with their parents -- starting with the massive demonstrations and riots in the 1960s and 1970s. Boomers don't know how to DO anything except argue. When a Boomer sees someone who has actually DONE something, the visceral Boomer reaction is criticize the accomplishment. (The visceral Gen-X reaction is to destroy the accomplishment.)

In particular, Boomers have no idea how to manage or lead. Their parents and grandparents took care of everything for them, and all they did was criticize. Their parents told them what to do, and they whined and argued, but in the end they did it.

Now that their parents are gone, Boomers are the senior managers in organizations across the country, and they STILL have no idea how to manage or lead. They're waiting for someone else to tell them what to do.

And that's where the Gen-Xers, especially the Early Gen-Xers, come in. A Gen-Xer may be subordinate to a Boomer, but the Boomer will look to the Xer to tell him what to do. Thus, Xers are fullfilling the role for Boomers that Silents used to fill.

And that brings us to the lethal combination that I keep talking about. You have nihilistic, contemptuous, greedy Gen-Xers working for stupid, compliant, greedy Boomers. The Xers reject all accomplishments that came before, and the Boomers go along with them.

Finally, let's generalize this to other times and other countries. Generation-X is the current American generation of the "Nomad" generational archetype. America's previous Nomad generation was the Lost Generation, born in the 1890s and 1900s decades.

(For information about generational eras and archetypes, see "Basics of Generational Dynamics.")

As I wrote a couple of days ago in "'Liberation Hero' Robert Mugabe now destroys Zimbabwe with cholera," some of the world's bloodiest and most violent dictators are Nomads -- in fact Early Nomads. These include Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Leon Trotsky, Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Pol Pot, and Shamil Basayev (the guy who masterminded 2004's Beslan school massacre, killing hundreds of children), and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

On the other hand, some of these world's great heroes, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, were also Early Nomads. Barack Obama is a Early Nomad, but we'll have to wait and see whether he becomes one of the world's heroes.

The destructiveness and self-destructiveness of Early Gen-Xers is what makes them the "dumbest generation," as Neil Howe says. However, they're "practical and resilient," as Howe says, and can be brilliant when they're properly motivated. And we're going to need all the brilliance we can get from them, as the country endures the greatest financial crisis in history, and the greatest world war in history.

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, as well as more frequent updates on this subject, see the Who's to blame -- Generation-Xers or Boomers? thread of the Generational Dynamics forum.) (10-Dec-2008) Permanent Link
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