Columns Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

GenX Mormons: The forgotten generation

A screenshot from this weekend’s GenX oversight in the news cycle. Don’t mind us, we’re just middle-aged cynics.

This weekend, some righteous hell broke out over the Internet, as CBS News posted the Buzzfeed news story “Are Millennials the ‘Burnout Generation’?”

The backlash wasn’t because of what was there, but because of what wasn’t. There was the stodgy Silent Generation (b. 1928–1945, according to Pew), the huge Baby Boomer generation (b. 1946–1964), and the cohort everybody’s got their knickers in a twist about: the Millennials (b. 1981–1996).

Even the Millennials’ kid siblings, Generation Z or the “post-Millennials” (b. 1997–present), got a nice little shout out.

But Generation X had been systematically erased. Basically, according to this news story, everyone in America ages 38 to 53 are los desaparecidos.

It’s not the first time, either. According to generational researchers William Strauss and Neil Howe, we GenXers have been neglected for most of our lives.

If Boomers were the golden age children in America, the adored symbols of our hard-won victory in World War II, GenXers were “latchkey kids growing up hard,” the nomadic and cynical Han Solos of the generational paradigm. Strauss and Howe say we were underprotected as children compared to the Boomers before us and the coddled Millennials after us.

If you want to see this underprotection in action, you don’t have to read their research; just watch the Netflix hit Stranger Things. The authors of that show entirely nailed my childhood, minus the murderous faceless monster of course. Like those characters, my friends and I biked all over town blissfully unsupervised; as long as we were home in time for dinner nobody asked where we had been for the last 10 hours on a summer day. We were free-range kids before there was a name for it.

The Next Mormons (Oxford University Press, March 2019)

Now this GenXer is all grown up, and I’ve spent many hours researching generational difference as it pertains to religion in America, particularly for Mormons. And this is the part where I apologize to all Mormons my age: GenXers are the unacknowledged bastard middle children of my new book The Next Mormons. It’s primarily a book about Millennials.

I’m really sorry. I do feel bad when I think about GenX Mormons, idling forgotten in our minivans while we wait for our GenZ high schoolers to finish whatever programmed activity they’re doing now. (Some of us while away the time listening to old recordings of Saturday’s Warrior.)

So if I can’t do a book about us, let me at least offer a blog post. And here’s the basic thing: Everyone talks about how Millennials are changing religion in America, but GenXers did it first. We were just too small a generation for folks to take much notice. So typical.

In the Next Mormons Survey (see here for more info and methodology), GenXers are consistently more like their Millennial younger siblings than like their elders, the Baby Boomers and Silent Generation. They’re almost always the quintessential middle kids.

Consider this finding on how Mormons of different generations feel about conformity and obedience:

 

Mormons who are troubled by “the Church’s emphasis on conformity and obedience,” by generation

  Boomer/Silent GenX Millennial
“Very troubling” 12% 19% 26%
“A little troubling” 19% 32% 30%
“Not at all troubling” 69% 49% 44%

 

As you can see, only three in ten older Mormons are fussed about this particular emphasis in the Church; 69% have no issue with it at all. GenXers and Millennials, however, are pretty conflicted. The major generational drop on this issue doesn’t begin with the Millennials, but with GenXers, just over half of whom are bothered by the focus on conformity and obedience.

Then, too, GenXers and not Millennials started the problems with Mormon retention. With Silents and Boomers, Mormons kept about three-quarters of the people who grew up in the Church, according to General Social Survey data stretching back to 1973. With GenXers, retention goes down to more like six in ten, and with Millennials it drops still further, as I explain in the book.

That’s not to say that GenXers who remain in the Church aren’t devout. Most are very religious, especially when compared to non-Mormon Americans. GenX Mormons, though, are a little less dogmatic about their beliefs than Boomer/Silent Mormons (though they are more sure than Millennials). Here’s what GenX Mormons say about Christ’s resurrection:

 

Belief and doubt that “Jesus Christ was literally resurrected from the dead,” by generation

  Boomer/Silent GenX Millennial
I am confident and know this is true. 83% 70% 57%
I believe and have faith that this is probably true. 14% 18% 22%
I believe this might be true, but I have my doubts. 1% 8% 14%
I believe this is probably NOT true. 1% 4% 4%
I am confident and know this is NOT true. 1% 1% 4%

 

Seven in ten GenX Mormons are “confident and know” that Christ’s resurrection was a literal, actual event; another 18% believe it’s true. This means that a whopping nine out of ten GenX Mormons believe in the resurrection.

So, GenX Mormons in the United States embody some contradictions. We’re deeply religious, but higher numbers of us are leaving the Church than older Mormons have done. We’re not quite as Republican as older Mormons, but the GOP still holds a two-to-one majority in our generation (59% GOP vs. 29% Democratic). We tithe, but some of us are doing so from net income, not gross.

In short, we’re a generation in the middle. Which is how it’s always been for GenXers, a small cohort sandwiched between the huge Baby Boom and the boomlet Millennials.

But don’t you forget about us. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t. . . .

 

 

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

14 Comments

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  • What should be addressed is the foundations of said business cult fronting as a religion. Addressing these foundations in summary form: There was no Moroni, therefore Mormonism is a false religion as are all religions.

  • The problem with the survey and its results has to do with the chasm between card-carrying “Molly Mormon” and non-participating “Jack Mormons” or “cultural Mormons.” Among us Jack Mormons the numbers go against “Mormon conformity and obedience” by a lot.

  • Nice but some of us Jack Mormons are less offended by the fictional origins of organized religion than by how religion gets weaponized.

  • I’m GenX. I’m a bit less trusting of dogma but I just chalked it up to serving a mission in Utah.

  • Gen X and Millennials are privy to information that was withheld from the Boomers. The internet has been their winnowing wind.

  • I don’t see the problem with the study. A subset of a population doesn’t reflect the population as a whole? That’s pretty typical for any population study, and it would in fact be quite a surprise if it weren’t true.

  • Mormonism is false because there was no Moroni because Mormonism is false because there was no Moroni because Mormonism is false…

  • I’m a GenXer, and I’m glad we are a forgotten generation. We can just do our thing and nobody’s going to look at us under a microscope. Unlike the millennials

  • Jana Supports the BAN of BLACK MEN in the QUORUM of 12 !!!!!!! NOT COOL Jana !!!!!!,,,,,,,,,,,,,FACT,………THIS LDS CULT will not allow a BLACK MAN in the QUORUM of 12 because they are BLACK !!!!!!!!!!!!,,,, If I am Lying may Jesus Strike me Dead !!!

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