me against the world.

A gang against the world.

A place where we all seek from time to time.


Today I revisit an idea I wrote about in 2010 – “generation Jones.” I decided to revisit the topic of generational summaries, and how they are basically bullshit, again because BBHLondon just shared this fabulous piece: PUNCTURING THE PARADOX: GROUP COHESION AND THE GENERATIONAL MYTH.

I will also note that in the wayback machine I had a delightful email exchange with the creator of the Jones generation where he was extremely patient with my poking holes in his theory.

Regardless. I had never heard of Generation Jones and in my typical curious style immediately started researching what the hell this whole Jones thing was all about.

The Generation Jones website (yes, there is one) suggests that Generation Jones (concept of historian Jonathan Pontell) is the group of people born between 1954 and 1965 (this group of people represents about 25% of the population – I was also born in this period). The “Jones” symbolizes moderation between the “personality extremes of the Boomers’ idealism and the Xers’ cynicism.” Apparently, they uncovered this ‘lost generation’ assuming it was passed over by society as the focus leapt from Boomer to Gen X’ers.

Well. I am a generational guy in that I have read The 4th Turning at least 3 times and think about societal behavioral shifts often. I imagine we could find niche generations within any larger generational turning if we looked hard enough. Heck. If anyone practiced long enough, anyone could dance on the head of a pin if they desired to.

So, narcissistically, I loved the idea of talking about myself as within my own generation (admittedly they use words that appeal more to me then some of the Boomer words or GenX words). And, of course, I like anything centered on me.  But. I thought the whole idea of a Jones Generation, or Generation Jones, was kind of silly.

Then. Lo and behold The Economist came to the rescue of the Generation Jones concept. Buried in the 14 page special report on rebalancing the American economy (4/3-9 2010 issue) they make a specific reference to the children of boomers borne in between 1955-1964.

I admit it made me stop and think a little more about this Jones thing. The point in The Economist is most typical generations spending/saving behavior changes after they move out of the traditional home buying years (savings increase as a % of household income) yet the Baby Boomers during the specified period did not increase savings as a %. In fact, they maintained an incredibly low (10% of disposable income) savings % during this period. So. The consumer boom I grew up in defied fundamental wisdom (The Economist refers to it as “the binge”) and it is this group I was borne into that is running face first into the traditional economic rules that are reasserting themselves.

The consequence of all that is captured in the theory Generation Jones still wants to change the world but they are less ideological and more pragmatic. Pontell explains:

“We are practical idealists, forged in the fires of social upheaval while too young to play a part . . . Our practical idealism was created by witnessing the often unrealistic idealism of the 1960s. And we weren’t engaged in that era’s ideological battles; we were children playing with toys while Boomers argued over issues. Our non-ideological pragmatism allows us to resolve intra-Boomer skirmishes and to bridge that volatile Boomer-GenXer divide. We can lead.”

In addition:

“Chaos reigned, and we kids (with decreasing parental and societal guidance) were too challenged in finding our individual identities to be very concerned with finding our collective one. Jonesers, like others, focused on “me”, not “we” in the Me Decade of the 70s.”

Well. Once again portions resonated.  It was an odd time to be growing up.

Portions of us (this age group) were defined by the three D’s:

  • drinking age
  • draft
  • democracy anniversary

I grew up as the drinking age shifted from 18 to 21.

I grew up as the draft was dissolved (but I knew kids who had a draft number).

I grew up and celebrated the 200th anniversary of United States democracy.

It was an odd time of personal responsibility and unrestricted versus restricted actions.

Sure. There are some other cultural aspects (they point out MTV, the birth & invention of the internet by “Jonesers”, political leadership), but I would argue any niche could find enough of those extraneous data points to justify a niche generation.
Then I looked at a poll these Jones people did.

A nationally representative sample of 500 U.S. adults born in 1961 (the year Obama was born) showed that today’s 47-year-olds clearly feel not like Boomers or Gen Xers, but instead believe they belong to the heretofore lost generation in-between Boomers and Xers (Generation Jones).

ThirdAge, a popular website for mid-lifers, commissioned the poll, in conjunction with Obama’s Aug. 4, 2008 birthday.  When respondents were asked which generation they believe they are a part of:  57% chose Generation Jones, while only 22% picked Baby Boomer, and only 21% said Generation X. The underlying concept for the poll was that rather than focusing on expert opinion to determine the question of Obama’s generational identity, a very effective way of answering this question is to ask the actual people born in 1961 to self-identify their generation.


500 U.S. adults born in 1961 were asked:

“Do you consider yourself to be a member of the Baby Boom Generation,
Generation X, or a lost generation in-between (usually called Generation Jones)?”


                                                         22% chose: Baby Boom Generation
57% chose: Generation Jones
21% chose: Generation X

nationally representative sample of 500 U.S. adults born in 1961, conducted July 31- August 1, 2008.

This where I think the idea gets in trouble: the idea begets the idea.

What I mean by that is of course people checked the box on “a lost generation in between”.  I could have predicted that. Given an opportunity for someone to self identify themselves as being “unique” (or distinct) the majority of people are going to run as fast as they can to stand in line for the “hey, I am part of a special group” sign up. Interesting research (I just hope they didn’t spend a whole bunch of money on it).
Now. If you wanted a niche generation and you needed a spokesperson Generation Jones got very very lucky (or fortunate?). Jonathan Pontell is a dynamic charismatic speaker. Compelling genuine and awesome at delivering factoids that sound appealing. For example, he describes this generation as stuck “between Woodstock and Lollapalooza.”  Nice phrasing.


They didn’t buy into or were too young to understand the Baby Boomer tantrums; yet they were a tad too old to join the Gen-Xers in the mosh pits.

“So who are we? We are practical idealists, forged in the fires of social upheaval while too young to play a part. The name “Generation Jones” derives from a number of sources, including our historical anonymity, the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ competition of our populous birth years, and sensibilities coupling the mainstream with ironic cool. But above all, the name borrows from the slang term ‘jonesin” that we as teens popularized to broadly convey any intense craving.”

In addition, the Generation Jones website did an awesome job of collecting specific factoid to showcase that the “Joneser collective personality is clearly separable from that of Boomers and Xers.”

“Admittedly, determining generations is complicated, an inexact science, with inevitable blur on the edges. Nonetheless, broad accurate generalizations emerge with careful analysis. The three generations differ in many ways. One major difference is that Boomers tend to be idealistic, Xers tend to be cynical, and Jonesers tend to be a balance of idealism and cynicism. Attitudinal research bears this out.

For example, UCLA has conducted a particularly extensive national poll of 350,000 college freshman annually since the mid-60s. Students are asked to rank in importance different goals in life. Look at the following contrast between the three generations on the two key goals reflecting idealism and cynicism:”

Look. What I may be tempted to take away from this study is that of all the generations Generation Jones knew what they wanted the least (or was inherently a wishy washy generation), but suffice it to say this factoid doesn’t hurt the argument for a Generation Jones.

But, once again, much of this is either circular logic or simply highlighting factoids to support your hypothesis.

Please note I admit I don’t like the Generation Jones name. I’d like to see a name that better reflects the history or something quintessential or self defining about our time.

Regardless, I like the idea of a generational identity that’s more squarely focused on me or maybe better said “what I perceive as my time.” It’s kind of fun. I like thinking I am part of this group of people:

Russell Crowe. Madonna. Barack. Nikolas Sarkozy. JK Rowling. Elle McPherson. Michael Stipe. Eddie Murphy. George Stephanopoulos. James Taylor. Tracey Ullman. Weird Al Yankovic. Suzanne Vega. Allison Janney. Ronnie Lott. Emma Thompson. Katie Couric. Sharon Stone. Michelle Pfeiffer. Ellen DeGeneres. Andie McDowell.

And to think I am part of this club. Exciting! Uhm. But its not a generation. At best it is exactly what BBHLondon suggests: a group with some cohesive elements. Ponder.

Written by Bruce