Commentary: Aha! Generation Jones

By Stacia Erdos Littleton

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Welcome to my generation!

It took a while but I finally found it. You see, the following definition has been a conundrum for me for years:

“Baby boomers are defined as people born between 1945 and 1965, Generation X between 1961 and 1981.”  (Depending on the source, the years may vary a bit.) Having been born in the 1960s – I’m left squarely in the quagmire of both.

When I think about it, most of my friends are planted firmly in Generation X, as is my brother who is 12 years my junior. And this description of a Gen-Xer, I admit, fits me to T: “Gen Xers are typically described as being resourceful, independent, and keen on maintaining work-life balance. They tend to be more liberal on social issues and more ethnically diverse than boomers.”

I’ve never really thought of myself as a baby boomer. I mean I wasn’t born anywhere near the aftermath of the Second World War. My parents were just toddlers at war’s end.

When I was a child, a day didn’t go by without music, art and dance in the two-family Tudor home where I grew up in Shaker Heights and where I lived with my mother, stepfather and younger siblings.

During the summer, the sounds of The Beatles, Dylan and Neil Young could be heard through the open windows, while in the front yard my mom taught my friends and me how to macramé.

I knew all the words (and still do) to “Jesus Christ Superstar” and I also remember my embarrassment when, while I was in grade school, my parents took me to see a production of “Hair” (with the cast in all its glory). 

Our family car was a VW Beetle while my favorite mode of transportation was my banana-seat bike.

So, it came as an “aha” moment a couple of weeks ago, when I came across the term “Generation Jones” in a post on Facebook. How had I not heard of it? (Even President Obama had apparently described himself as part of Generation Jones.)

The term, coined by Jonathan Pontell in 1999, describes the cohort born between 1954 and 1965. I started to research some of the characteristics of “Gen Jones” and lo and behold, it all began to make sense.

Those in Generation Jones have never lived in a world without television – box checked – “Brady Bunch,” “Mary Tyler Moore.”

Members of Gen Jones are children of the 1960s, left with a deep sense of idealism. We watched a moon landing with our parents and heard how they would never forget where they were the day John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King were killed.

But, as we came of age, so began an erosion of that idealism. Disillusionment and cynicism began to seep in in the form of a worsening economy in the ’70s, the tragedy of the Vietnam War (we lost my uncle), the shooting at Kent State, Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis, the death of John Lennon, and later HIV and the Columbia space shuttle disaster.

And so Gen Jones is a hybrid of sorts: We have the idealism of the ’60s that formed in us as kids but also a cynicism that developed in us as well.

“I think the key difference between Gen X and Gen Jones is that Xers didn’t have the ’60s at all,“ Pontell said in an interview. “And so [collectively speaking] you just don’t see that underlying idealism and optimism in Xers because they were raised as children in the ’70s during a very cynical moment in American history and then in the ’80s during very materialistic moments.”

According to the website, life at home was also different for Gen Jones than the traditional family life many early boomers experienced. More homes had two working parents. The pill became available so birth control was easier. The rate of divorce rose as Gen Jones entered its formative years, causing teens to spend more time working independently and taking care of themselves.

As the economy took a nosedive, fuel prices spiked and job opportunities shrunk, the website notes. Gen Jones had to become more independent and learn to fight for its future, because those in it quickly understood that nothing would be handed to them.

With a tight job market, Joners put their head down and worked hard, dressed for the jobs they wanted, not jobs they had. At the time, the main focus was simply on keeping their jobs. This period of fierce competition for job stability has stayed with Gen Jones, who earned its name because the cohort was constantly yearning – or “Jonesin’ ” – for something more.

One part of the Gen Jones description that doesn’t ring true for me is the linkage to “keeping up with the Joneses.”  While I’ve always had an inner drive to never stop achieving, I think it’s more because of a fear of losing everything than competing to keep up with the neighbors.

My kids are considered Gen Z: too young to remember where they were when the planes hit the Twin Towers and the world changed. But they will remember when their lives came to a screeching halt, throwing them into social isolation and deeper into social media because of a pandemic – for my son, his senior year of high school and first year of college. For my daughter, just as she was beginning her life after graduation.

They’ll also remember the murdered children of Uvalde, a knee on the neck that ignited a movement and the ugliness of politics – a cult of personality, an attempted coup, and the grab back of women’s rights – as once again life begins to imitate art in the form of Gilead.

Watching them go through all of this makes this member of Gen Jones sad, fearful and hopeful. Sad for what they’ve endured, fearful for what they could see still to come and hopeful that Gen Z will perhaps subconsciously produce a kinder more enlightened generation.

My future grandkids:

Generation ?