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‘Sandwiched’ between Gen X and millennials, Xennials seek own identity

‘Sandwiched’ between Gen X and millennials, Xennials seek own identity

Leading up to her high school graduation, Heather Garrett-Baity of St. Louis Park felt like her generation was on the verge of something great.

She was a member of the storied Class of 2000, who were proclaimed the bearers of a bright new technologically savvy future. They were the golden children, buoyed by the optimism and economic stability of the 1990s. Without the jadedness of the older kids in Generation X, who had grown up in a state of rebellion and angst; without the limited attention spans of their helicopter-parented younger millennial siblings.

But the world changed in 2001, with the Sept. 11 attacks, and the high hopes for these young dreamers dissipated.

“It felt like we were singled out and special in some way, but then we were just forgotten,” said Garrett-Baity, now 35 and a doctoral student.

Many of the people who came of age around the turn of the millennium feel similarly set apart: Their unique experiences make them distinct from those who come before and after them, but leave them unmoored. Are they Generation X? Millennials? A little of both, or neither?

“We are definitely the square peg sandwiched between two very round holes,” said Athena Pelton, a 36-year-old artist in northeast Minneapolis.

Generations, which typically span two decades, are marked by world events and massive societal changes. People on the end of a generation, however, often grow up vastly differently from those at the beginning. And there have long been splinter groups within a single generation.

The youngest baby boomers, for example, with little recollection of the assassination of JFK and late ’60s protests, tried to break off into a separate Generation Jones (as in keeping up with the Joneses). It didn’t stick.

But as technology brings ever more rapid shifts in experience and behavior, demographers see a potential for generations that span shorter periods. Xennials could be the first of these mini-generations to take root.

“Because ‘Xennials’ has resonated with people, I think it will continue to get used,” said Dan Woodman, an Australian sociologist who launched the Xennial conversation this summer. “There’s probably a grain of truth that’s worth exploring more.”

The idea of a micro-generation wedged between Gen X and millennials went viral after Woodman, who studies the transition to adulthood, talked about it in a news story in Australia. Xennials, he said, were a distinct group, shaped by circumstances vastly different from those that shaped Gen Xers and millennials. Articles and quizzes about Xennials popped up worldwide.

Born between 1977 and 1983, this emerging cohort spans the end of Generation X and the start of Gen Y, now known as the millennials. And it seems they’ll take any name they can get to distinguish themselves from either of those generations.

They’ve been called the Oregon Trail Generation, after a computer video game; the “Star Wars” Generation, for being born during the years the original trilogy was released; and the Catalano Generation, after a character on the one-season cult television show “My So-Called Life.”

“I used to refer to myself as an ‘elderly millennial,’ ” said Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Now there’s a better name for that. The word Xennial (pronounced ZEN-ee-al) was in fact first coined by a journalist in 2014, but the label didn’t seem to land — till now.

“We’ve waited a long time for our generation to have a name and an identity,” Garrett-Baity said. “Sometimes it’s comforting to be in a box.”

Though generational labels are somewhat artificial distinctions, we’ve relied on them since the early 20th century.

“We have seen in our society a move away from small-town community fabric,” said Sarah Sladek, CEO of XYZ University, a consulting group that helps businesses work with, and market to, younger generations. “That’s why we see this interest in generations. People want a ‘club’ to belong to. It’s about how you fit into a bigger group.”

Meet the Xennials

So, who are the Xennials?

• They grew up in an analog world but were young enough to adapt easily to the digital revolution.

• They were in the workforce when the 2008 market crash hit.

• They were in their formative young adulthood at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

Folks who are now in their mid- to late 30s say they are distinct enough from Gen Xers and millennials to deserve their own category. Demographic data show that they do, in some ways, stand out. But is that enough to make them a new generation?

“Historically, we often see fringe or cusp cohorts at the crossover years of generations embodying parts of both generations due to their environment,” said Brent Magid, president and CEO of Magid, a business strategy firm that does generational research.

But the Xennials label has unusually strong resonance, especially in a nostalgia-fueled world driven by social media, under hashtags such as #TBT (Throwback Thursday) or #FBF (Flashback Friday). Pagers and landlines, pogs and Rollerblades, dial-up internet access and giant mobile phones, the Sony Discman and the TGIF Friday night lineup of ABC-TV shows are some of the cultural touchstones that easily prompt this group to wax nostalgic.

“I still remember the phone numbers for my friends growing up,” said Jeff Christenson, a self-identified Xennial in St. Paul, who used a landline rather than a cellphone as a kid.


Read more from the Star Tribune here.

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