8 Gen X Characteristics That Anyone Born In this Cohort Will Immediately Identify With

Molly Ringwald was your pretend bestie and Troy Dyer was your boyfriend

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Gen Xers don’t have the most glamorous reputation, and they certainly don’t get the same amount of attention as Boomers and Millennials—but they also just don’t care, which is pretty freakin’ cool.  And if you’re between the ages of 44 and 59, you can wear that Gen X badge with pride (or indifference…up to you) because Gen Xers have plenty of appealing traits.

Of course, no two Gen Xers are exactly alike, but chances are that if you can name every member of the brat pack, can remember when the Berlin wall fell and feel nostalgic for the good old days of MTV and VH1 (i.e., if you came into adulthood in the ‘90s), then you’ll identify with at least a couple of these common Gen X characteristics. So put on a mixtape, lace up those combat boots and read on to discover more about this self-reliant and laid-back cohort.

What Is Generation X?

If you were born between the years of 1965 and 1980, congrats: You are the meat in the Boomer-Millennial sandwich. You also belong to an exclusive group, with only about 65 million Gen Xers around, according to recent data from the Census Bureau. (This is compared to 75 million boomers and 83 million millennials). Often described as the ‘Forgotten Generation’ and ‘America’s middle child,’ Gen Xers came of age at a time when both divorce and two-income households were increasingly common facts of family life, two factors that undoubtedly impacted their identity.

What Is Gen X known for?

As previously mentioned, the typical family started to look a little different when Generation X came around—namely, more working mothers and higher divorce rates. This in turn led to more latchkey kids (i.e., children hanging out at home without grown-up supervision after school until a parent came back from work). For these reasons, self-reliance, plus a corresponding ability to stay above the fray, are among Generation X’s most defining traits…but more on that below.

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8 Common Characteristics of Gen X

gen x characteristics diy
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1. They’re Expert DIY-ers

Generation X is also called the “Latchkey Generation,” a moniker that gives a nod to their decidedly hands-off upbringing. The end result? An undeniably hands-on approach to problem solving around the house. Yes, if you belong to Generation X then it probably feels like it was just yesterday that you were learning how to plunge a toilet by trial and error while your mom was at work. That sepia-toned memory actually dates back to the 80s, though, and your can-do attitude has been serving you well ever since. That’s right, friends, the famous self-reliance of Gen Xers translates to some serious skills in the DIY department, or at least a whole lot of confidence. (And that’s half the battle, right?) Bottom line: If something breaks down, you can count on the Gen Xer in your life to bust out the tools and start fixing it faster than you can say, “Let’s just buy a new one.”

gen x characteristics fashion
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2. Their Sartorial Style Is Decidedly Dressed-Down

Gen Xers rebelled against the excessive and flashy 80s by opting for “anti-fashion” staples such as flannel shirts, Doc Martins and oversized sweaters. Even beauty trends were comparatively pared down, with more natural looks replacing the bright blue eyeshadow of yesteryear. And since they came of age before smartphones hit the scene and social media took the world by storm, the concept of an “influencer” telling them what to wear makes about as much sense as the Friends gang affording their massive New York City apartments. (FYI: Despite its cross-generational popularity, Friends is very much a Gen X TV show.) As such, you typically won’t find Gen Xers chasing the next, hot trend in fashion. When deciding what to wear, comfort and individual style tend to be the biggest priorities for this group (think: sensible shoes and ribbed knits). Also, this group was rocking combat boots and slip dresses before it was cool—but they’re so cool, they don’t even brag about it.

gen x characteristics work life balance
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3. They’ve Got the Whole Work-Life Balance Thing Down Pat

There’s a reason why Gen Xers have been dubbed the “work hard, play hard” generation. The Gen X childhood coincides with the emergence of the personal computer—a major development that helped individuals from this generation adapt to future technological advancements. That said, the role of technology during the Gen Xers’ formative years was pretty minimal compared to what it was (and continues to be) for millennials. Most importantly, Generation X entered the workforce at a time when technology had not yet made possible the notion of being ‘on call’ 24/7 (sorry, millennials). This reality combined with the experience of growing up with workaholic parents (boomers actually invented the term) who valued company loyalty over all else shaped the priorities of Gen Xers with regard to work-life balance and gave them a leg up on healthy boundary setting. In other words, if you’re off the clock and your boss just sent you an urgent request, you’d be wise to ask yourself what a Gen Xer would do. (Hint: Just say ‘no.’)

gen x characteristics technology
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4. They’re Tech-Savvy, but Not Tech-Dependent

Just like Gen Xers in the workforce have a different relationship to technology than millennials, the same is true when it comes to their personal lives. Because this group know life before and after the tech boom, they have an excellent understanding of both digital and analog worlds... and are equally comfortable with both. Case in point: While many millennials don’t hesitate to write the next great American novel in a text message, Gen Xers prefer to pick up the phone and give you a ring. Don’t be fooled, though—the highly adaptable Gen Xer doesn’t have any problem keeping up with current technology; they’re just not slaves to it and understand the value of ‘unplugging’ from time to time. As such, a Gen Xer is more likely to object to excessive phone use in social settings. In other words, when socializing with a Gen Xer, you may want to consider leaving your iPhone at home before you head out for that restaurant reservation.

gen x characteristics independent
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5. They’re Fiercely Independent

We’re touched on this already, but if there’s one defining characteristic of this generation it would be their self-reliance. Helicopter parenting, lawnmower parenting, snowplow parenting…none of these over-involved forms of child-rearing apply to the Gen X generation, many of whom were left to microwave their own dinners and glued to Saved by the Bell for hours after school. As such, there’s no task too great for the critical thinking skills of these highly independent individuals, whether it’s repairing a leaky dishwasher or learning code. This also means you typically won’t find them asking for help until they’ve tried their very best to tackle any given challenge solo. So yeah, Gen X is pretty great at getting stuff done. But let’s not make a big deal out of it, OK?

gen-x-characteristics: A woman works at a table and has a stack of books next to her. She pours over one while taking notes. There's a steaming cup of coffee next to her as well as a large plant.
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6. They Like to Learn New Skills

Due to their independent upbringing and that signature self-reliance, Gen Xers tend to be hungry for knowledge and eager to learn new skills. In fact, a Gen Xer is more likely than most to be a Jack of all trades. (Broken toilet? No need to call a plumber, just let a Gen Xer hit the books.) They’re willing to acquire new technological skills and learn a diverse range of other skills as well, which makes them an excellent asset in the workplace.

gen-x-characteristics: An illustration of a woman sitting in a bean bag chair wearing a sweater and jeans under a blanket with a laptop on their lap. They sit in a living room surrounded by plants.
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7. They Prefer a Casual Workplace

It should come as no surprise that the self-reliant latchkey generation loathes the idea of a stifling workplace and a micromanaging boss. That said, they do have a practical attitude towards work and enjoy task-based projects that make them feel independently productive. In other words, give a Gen Xer a job to do and then back off. (Don’t worry, they will get it done.)

gen-x-characteristics: An illustration that looks over a woman's head as she writes on a ballot that says 'independant.' She is working at a blue table that also has a plant on it.

8. They Have a Cynical Streak

According to Brittanica, Gen Xers are more likely to have a cynical opinion of humanity—namely due to the economic and geopolitical tumult that served as a backdrop for their youth. Given everything we know about the traits of Gen Xers, their characterization as disenchanted slackers is not exactly a fair one. Still, the economic recession of the 70s, 80s and 90s and the relatively hands-off upbringing these latchkey kids experienced as a result might have contributed to the lack of trust in society and independent political leanings that’s been observed among the Gen X population. (Fun fact: 44 percent of Gen Xers identify as political ‘independents,’ which is a significantly higher percentage than previous generations.)

How Is Gen X Different From Millennials?

Gen X had less involved parents, hence the latchkey generation nickname, and are thus thought to be more self-reliant than millennials. That’s not the only difference, though. Gen Xers also have a different attitude towards technology than millennials—namely in that they view it to be an acquired skill as opposed to something essential. Don’t be fooled, Gen Xers are still perfectly tech savvy and are not intimidated by having to learn new technological skills. Also, as previously discussed, Gen Xers place a higher premium on work-life balance and prefer task-based projects, whereas millennials are more likely to seek work that they find aligns with their belief systems. (Of course, these are all sweeping generalizations and there’s plenty of overlap between the two cohorts as well, so take the differences with a grain of salt.)

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Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...