The War to Be the Greatest Put-Upon Generation

There's an Internet generation brawl happening to determine which cohort has it worse-off.

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There's an Internet generational brawl to determine which cohort has it worse-off. The battle started when Noreen Malone from team Millennial wrote an opus for New York, both excusing and explaining her generation's "issues." Her thesis: Millennials have to become adults during a horrible recession, and they're actually making the best of it. This ticked off Gen X-er Mat Honan, who posted a counter rant on his personal Tumblr, which Gizmodo reposted: "Generation X is tired of your sense of entitlement. Generation X also graduated during a recession. It had even shittier jobs." This diatribe inspired another to speak up, Rolling Stone's Doree Shafrir, who argues over at Slate on behalf of her underrepresented group: Generation Catalano, a name for the babies born between Gen X and the Millennials (or, roughly, during the Carter Administration) named for Jared Leto's character on My So-Called Life. While each has excuses for why its generation just can't get its act together, in the classical sense of the term, which generation really has it worse off? You be the judge.


The Excuses: Of course Millennials look like a bunch of dead-beats, there are no jobs to be had, explains Malone. "Being young is supposed to mean you have the luxury of time. But in hard times, a few fallow years can become a lifetime drag on what you earn, sort of the opposite of compound interest," writes Malone. In fact this whole recession will screw Millennials for life, Malone continues. "Because the average person grabs 70 percent of their total pay bumps during their first ten years in the workforce, according to a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, having stagnant or nonexistent ­wages during that period means you hit that springboard at a crawl." Of course other generations  have weathered less-than stellar economic climates, but this ones worse, she argues.

And so we find ourselves living among the scattered ashes and spilled red wine and broken glass from a party we watched in our pajamas, peering down the stairs at the grown-ups. This is not a morning after we are prepared for, to judge by the composite sketch sociologists have drawn of us. 

A bunch of dead-beats. Beyond the whole recession thing, Malone points to the classic Millennial self-esteem trait: "We are self-centered and convinced of our specialness and unaccustomed to being denied." As this sense of self collides with poor job suspects, it denies hard working over-achievers the glory previous generations of type A winners had. But whose fault is that really? "Generation X is tired of your sense of entitlement," argues Honan. And Generation X also had it worse off than its parents, as Honan points out, linking to a Brookings report.


The Excuses: Wait a minute, Generation X also lived through not so great times, argues Honan. "Generation X also graduated during a recession. It had even shittier jobs, and actually had to pay for its own music," he explains. "Generation X is used to being fucked over. It lost its meager savings in the dot-com bust. ... And then came the housing crisis." And now that a second recession is happening, it has kids and obligations. "It's a parent now, and there's always so damn much to do. Generation X wishes it had better health insurance and a deeper savings account. It wonders where its 30s went. It wonders if it still has time to catch up," continues Honan. Take that, Millennials.

A bunch of whiners. Things aren't actually all that bad for Gen X-ers, a recent University of Michigan study found, which The Atlantic's Hans Villarica points to today. "Compared to a national sample of all adults, Gen-Xers are more likely to be employed and are working significantly more hours than the typical U.S. adult," explains Villarica. "Perhaps most importantly, Generation X adults are satisfied with their lives, reporting an average level of 7.5 on a 10-point scale where 10 stands for "very happy." Not much to really complain about, he?

Generation Catalano

The Excuses: Not exactly Millennial, not exactly Gen-X, this in-between cohort that grew up watching My So-Called Life doesn't quite fit in, explains Shafrir. "Generation Catalono is never fully comfortable with its place in the world; we wander away from the periphery and back again," she writes. Catalano still has to deal with all the same problems of both the Millennials and Gen X-ers. Yet, while Gen X-ers identify with marginality, and the recession has forced self-centered Millennials to live on that margin, Catalano doesn't fit into things at all.

Not a bunch of anything. Just because one does not want to identify with this type of group-think, it doesn't necessarily separate a group from its true generation. Shafrir even concedes that a lot of Millennials would rather latch onto a different cause, than want to identify with their own kind. An e-mailer wrote her: "I feel like I'm especially without generation because I'm not quite a Carter baby but not really a Millennial either. … I feel like Noreen, who is only two years younger than me, is of a slightly different generation, which seems crazy! But it feels true,"

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