How 'Reality Bites' Accurately Predicted the Future of Generation X

by Lauren Paige Kennedy
Originally Published: 
 Ethan Hawke in a burgundy shirt drinking a coke and Wynona Rider in a sleeveless top sitting at a t...

Turns out Troy Dyer, the scruffy but handsome slacker played by Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites, who broke and then won Lelaina Pierce‘s heart (as emoted by Winona Ryder, in what must be considered her career-defining role), wasn’t totally off regarding his cynical assessment of what awaited Gen X as adults. According to a recent report by, we remain the shunned stepchild of age groups, still squeezed out by the Baby Boomers and usurped by the upstart Millennials. But there’s plenty to crow about, too: we’re pretty responsible with money, we’re pretty great managers, and for the most part, we’re pretty happy.

On Money

Gen X is still miserably strapped for cash, yes, and it’s not because we’ve been hanging out at the coffeehouse for too long. According to Bloomberg: “Gen Xers are still paying off student loans while raising families on wages that have barely budged in recent years. They have more debt than other age groups and are more pessimistic about ever being able to afford to retire; just 6 percent of Gen Xers saved 15 to 19 percent of their incomes in 401(k) plans in the past 12 months, the amount recommended by many financial planners, compared with 8 percent of Millennials and 10 percent of Baby Boomers.”

We have no idea if Troy and Lelaina eventually wed. (We sort of doubt it.) However if they did, odds are they’d still be together. No doubt paying for the cost of kids is a challenge, but some 70 percent of Gen X couples who wed in the 1990s are still together, lapping their Boomer parents, who spurred on a record divorce rate in the 1970s and ’80s. As for the Millennials? Many of them have opted out of legal matrimony altogether. Only 26 percent have officially jumped the broom.

On Anxiety

Troy’s answering machine message went: “At the beep, please leave your name, number, and a brief justification for the ontological necessity of modern man’s existential dilemma, and we’ll get back to you.” Talk about existential angst. Futurist Faith Popcorn, who studies generational differences, says in the Bloomberg report: “Generation Xers are the forgotten middle child generation. They’re worried about both the present and future. They understand more than Millennials that they could be replaced by robots and a lot of them don’t think they’ll ever be able to afford kids or qualify for mortgages.”

But it’s not all bleak: a study published by EY, formerly Ernst & Young, shows that Gen Xers are considered to be more effective managers than those from other generations. We’re also adaptable problem-solvers, we’re big on collaboration, and we’re the best revenue-generators for our companies. So chew on that, Ms. Popcorn.

On Faith

Between student loans and paying for childcare, preschools, mortgages and the health care of our aging parents, our age group is definitely praying for some relief. This, despite many of us being raised after the “1960s effect,” a reference to how those who came of age during that turbulent decade often disengaged from traditional religion all together and then chose to raise their own offspring (Gen X) without much dogma, either. So we can assume Troy’s nihilism would probably have vanished as he aged.

It was Gen X singer Jewel who sang, “Who will save your soul?” And according to this study, Gen X is actually far more observant than the Boomers who reared them. For those of us who were brought up in the church, we’re far less likely than other generations to ever leave it. And we’re raising our kids with those same trusted values, too. How’s that for finding meaning, Mr. Dyer?

On Happiness

Popcorn adds: “Six in 10 Boomers and Millennials think their generations are special but only one-third of Gen Xers do. You wouldn’t want to be a Gen Xer.” [My emphasis, not Popcorn’s.]

According to this study, most of the 84 million Americans age 30 to 50 (with Gen X comprising the bulk of them) are “active, balanced and happy.” In fact, Two-thirds of Generation X are satisfied with their job; 24 percent of these workers rated their job at 9 or 10 on the satisfaction scale. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 meaning very happy, the median happiness score was 8, with 29 percent of Gen Xers saying they were very happy scoring a 9 or 10.”

So even with all our contradictions, it turns out Gen Xers are pretty happy. We might best be defined by the Troy’s line from Reality Bites, “you can’t navigate me.” Or, as Lelaina quipped, “Welcome to the world of the emotionally mature.”

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