Numbers, they matter

Most of the articles I’ve linked to about Generation X have been wrong.  Obviously there must have been something about the article that I felt was worth talking about, but for whatever reason they get one of the most important things wrong: the number.  There are about twice as many of us as the internet would have you believe.  I don’t know how the internet got this wrong, but once enough of the internet is wrong, the rest will almost inevitably follow suit.  This article suggests it’s partly because of immigration, but that still doesn’t explain the number 40 million.  I don’t really care how the internet got its numbers wrong, I just care that they’re wrong and haven’t even been close to right for a very long time.

Now that the government is back open, you can access things like US Census data.  Looking at Table 2 from this data, there’s all sorts of numbers you can use to figure out how big a generation is.  I can’t think of a more reliable data source for numbers of people in a generation than the census data for the country we’re talking about.  The data comes in five year increments, so we could look at 5 5 year blocks starting in 1961 and ending in 1985.  No, I don’t think that our generation spans 25 years, I’m just looking at a wider range of data to see how close we can get to that number 40 million.  There are lots of different start and end points given to our generation, and I’m not going to argue over those, just give a range of possibilities and let you pick the one that suits you best.  For a twenty year generation size, the smallest number you can get is 82,134,554 (1966-1985).  For a fifteen year generation size, the smallest number you can get is 61,032,705 (1966-1980).  To get a number close to 40 million, you’d have to define the generation as a ten year increment, the smallest of which is 1971-1980, which gives you 40,141,741.  And if you do that, you’re not really talking about a generation, you’re talking about that empty space where a generation should be.  And maybe that’s all we are, and articles like this have some merit to them after all. 

But the thing about numbers, is that people make decisions with them.  They shouldn’t, but they do.  They look at things that appear to be small and ignore them because it makes their lives easier.  They look over our shoulders at the bright and hopeful kids behind us that they think will drink their Coca-Cola flavored Koolaid that we’ve been ignoring for the past twenty years.  So the next time I link to a Generation X article that has the number forty million in it somewhere, please feel free to multiply that number by two.  Or at least one and a half.  Probably more like one and three quarters.  But multiply it by something, because it’s wrong.

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