The Legitimization of Generation X:
A Case Study in Status Conferral
In the early 1990s, the media that focused so intently on the cultural,
political, and economic power of the so-called Baby Boomer generation (those
born between 1946 and 1964) discovered that the previously unnoticed generation
born after the Baby Boomers was now entering the nation's universities,
professional schools, workplaceDand shopping malls. The preceding generation had
first been labeled as hippies, the rock-and-roll generation, and finally, and
more neutrally, the Baby Boomers. Reporters and writers in the 1990s struggled
to label the new generation as wellDGeneration X, slackers, twentysomethings,
the thirteenth generation.
The end result of these efforts by media to verify, categorize, label and
define this process of recognizing people and groups, is akin to the "status
conferral" described by Lazarsfeld and Merton:
The mass media bestow prestige and enhance the authority of
individuals and groups by legitimizing their status. Recognition by
the press or radio or magazines or newsreels testifies that one has
arrived, that one is important enough to have been singled out from
the large anonymous masses, that one's behavior and opinions are
significant enough to require public notice.1
The media legitimize people, groups and policies by recognizing them and
reporting about them. People can be recognized through editorials,
advertisements, or mention in routine news stories. Underlying the present
research is an assumption that, by extension, legitimacy or status may also be
conferred upon trends, social movements, or generational cohorts.
The rise of media attention to the generation following the baby boom offers an
opportunity to examine status conferral. Moreover, patterns in
Legitimization of Generation X, page 2
media coverage of a generational cohort may also be viewed in terms of adopting
the model of ideology diffusion of Strodthoff, Hawkins and Schoenfeld, who argue
that three phasesDdisambiguation, legitimization and routinizationDoccur as any
topic receives and sustains media attention.2 This study further suggests that
media use of sources, who can range from routinely accessible community leaders
to protected celebrities and invisible street people, can be studied to learn
more about patterns of coverage. These patterns, in turn, will help us better
understand Lazarsfeld and Merton's concept of status conferral.
Understanding the journalist-source relationship, and recognizing the process
occurring within status conferral are two ways to begin studying status
conferral at work.
Gans defined news as "information which is transmitted from sources to
audiences, with journalistsDwho are both employees of bureaucratic commercial
organizations and members of a professionD summarizing, refining, and altering
what becomes available to them from sources in order to make the information
suitable for their audiences." Gans recognized the strong influence of the
sources on the selection of news, especially sources with the power and
determination to provide information. Sources do not decide what the news is,
but they clearly focus the journalist's attention. "Neither do sources alone
determine the values in the news, but their values are implicit in the
information they provide. Journalists do not, by any means, parrot these values,
but being objective and detached, they don't rebut them either."3
Legitimization of Generation X, page 3
Patterns in the types of sources selected for news articles may reflect
different phases in the topic's coverage. Who the sources are may even tell us
something about how the journalists selected them. Understanding these patterns
requires understanding the journalist-source relationship.
Gans saw the journalist-source relationship as a tug of warDeach wanting
control of the message. Sources want to put themselves in the best light, while
journalists "'manage' the sources in order to extract the information they
want." Because sources often seek out the journalist, sources eager to provide
information often win the tug of war. And the sources most eager to get their
views in the news often prevail over the less determined sources. Successful
sources have four traits: the ability to provide information the journalist
needs, proximity to the journalist, power, and incentives.4
This does not mean sources have complete control over journalists. Tuchman
argued that reporters make three generalizations about sources. Most sources
have an "axe to grind." People in an organization who are in a position of
authority can be trusted more than others in the organization, because they
usually have more facts. Organizations want to protect themselves and may have
procedures to do so, such as making "no comments."5 Because of these
assumptions, journalists know they must manage the sources to maintain control
of a story.
Journalists have control of the selection of sources, and as Gandy noted,
journalists choose sources with whom they have good relationships. "Regular
contact between journalists and their sources may lead to some degree of
personal identification, which may result in a hesitancy on the part of those
journalists to reveal information that might harm or otherwise erect a barrier
between them and their friends."
Legitimization of Generation X, page 4
Gandy suggested these relationships may form because of basic economic
considerations. When a source has accurate information and is willing to provide
information without much effort from the journalist, the source is valuable to
the journalist. The sources who have been valuable in the past will be selected
over unknown sources. Those sources who want to get their information to the
public will provide the most valuable information.6
Understanding sources and their relationships with the media are important in
studying status conferral. In addition, because status conferral is a process,
patterns in the development of news must also be understood.
Strodthoff, Hawkins and Schoenfeld studied phases in the coverage of social
causes, specifically, the environmental movement, and developed the model of
ideology diffusion. Though the cohort selected for examination in this study is
not necessarily a social cause, it has been treated as at odds with mainstream
society much as social movements are. By looking at this diffusion model, we can
infer how social issues develop into news stories. Strodthoff, Hawkins and
Schoenfeld argue that, "Media organizations evolve through three basic adaptive
phasesDtermed disambiguation, legitimization, and routinizationDin their
processing of information relevant to a maturing social cause." 7
Disambiguation occurs when a social cause is defined and is first recognized in
the media. The basic ideas of the cause are noticed at this time. When this
cause becomes a social movement and gains philosophical themes, it reaches the
legitimization phase. Legitimization occurs when the media recognize that the
ideas of this movement become valid topics for coverage. The third phase,
routinization, is reached when news content about the movement is in the media
on a regular basis. There could be a change in format to consistently
Legitimization of Generation X, page 5
cover this movement, or there could be an administrative decision to include the
movement as regular news content.8
Gitlin found that when a movement is covered by the media, the movement's image
is influenced by the media's images. "Media certify leaders and officially
noteworthy 'personalities'; indeed, they are able to convert leadership into
celebrity, something quite different." He also noted that the media restrict a
movement's presence by only showing flamboyant leaders or other items that make
"good copy." But they also "amplify the issues which fuel these same
On the other hand, Tuchman noted that if people are absent, condemned or
trivialized by the media, they are "subject to symbolic annihilation."10 People
symbolically become "nothing" through the media's non-treatment of them.
These studies suggest that the media influence the public perception of social
causes by painting an image of the cause for the public. What kind of image does
the media paint about the cohort called Generation X? A snapshot of the media
coverage may not tell the whole story. But by looking at several years of
coverage, we better understand the images that the media presented and the
phases that the images underwent. Those phases, in turn, help us understand the
process of status conferral.
The coverage of the cohort called Generation X is arguably similar to the
coverage of social movements in that the media plays a major role in
establishing or defining all groups for the public. However, coverage of social
movements is different from coverage of a cohort in that the cohort did not seek
the coverage as many social movements do. So, at the beginning of its coverage,
Legitimization of Generation X, page 6
journalists could not rely on official sources representing the cohort. The
cohort was not an organized group with leaders and it did not have a name for
itself. Because of no group identity or leader, journalists had to find their
own sources for information. Some went to marketers, members of the cohort and
researchers. The main question we will study is: How did sources influence the
coverage of Generation X?
Specifically, the following research questions (RQ) were posed.
RQ 1DWhat kinds of sources were used in the coverage of Generation X?
RQ 2DWhat topics were covered in the articles?
RQ 3DWas there a positive or negative portrayal of Generation X?
RQ 4DWere there differences in the coverage between trade and consumer magazines
and newspapers? (e.g. differences in sources used, topics covered, or type of
RQ 5DDid the coverage go through phases of disambiguation, legitimization, and
Content analysis of magazines and newspapers was used to explain the trends in
coverage of Generation X from January 1987 to December 1995. This nine-year time
span covered a few years before the term Generation X was created (1991)11, so
that early articles could be compared to articles at the height (1993) of
Generation X coverage.
The magazine portion of the study included both trade and consumer magazines in
the United States, as compiled in the CD-ROM databases of the Reader's Guide to
Periodical Literature and the Business Periodicals Index.
Legitimization of Generation X, page 7
All magazine articles indexed under the keyword "Generation X" were selected.
Though the term "Generation X" was not used in the earlier years of the study
period, the CD-ROM indices used it as a keyword for searches, even in articles
that were written before the identifier was used. Therefore, this search reached
a broad list of articles.
The newspaper part of the study investigated coverage of the cohort in five
newspapers: The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta
Constitution, and Wall Street Journal. The first four were selected because of
their size and because they represent different regions of the United States.
The Wall Street Journal was selected for its size and its business focus,
parallel to the use of trade magazines in the magazine sample.
All newspaper articles indexed in Newspaper Abstracts under the keyword
"Generation X" were selected. This keyword was recognized in 1994 and 1995.
However, the keyword was not recognized by Newspaper Abstracts in previous
years, and thus, newspaper articles appearing prior to 1994 were selected using
the keyword "generation." The abstracts of those articles were read to determine
which articles were related to the cohort. There were 116 articles from Business
Periodicals Index and 120 articles from Reader's Guide.
Articles were coded as trade or consumer magazine articles.
Sources cited were also coded. For this study, a source was defined as any
person who was quoted or paraphrased by a journalist in an article. Documents
and unidentified sources were not used for this study. Four source "age"
categories were used: Generation X, Baby Boomer, person of another generation,
and undeterminable age. Because journalists and demographers do not agree on the
exact birth years of the different generations, members of Generation X and the
Baby Boom generation were defined in terms of the article coded. For
Legitimization of Generation X, page 8
example, if the author described Generation X as being people in their twenties,
then a thirty-year-old person would be considered a Baby Boomer.
Sources were also categorized by occupation or typeDgovernment; business;
non-business researcher (which included academics, media sources, psychologists,
etc.); unspecified (if the source's occupation was not provided in the article);
and other (if a source's occupation was provided, but it did not fit any of the
above categories)Dall of which were exclusive of each other. The study does not
compare the dominance or prominence of sources, in terms of "how much" of each
story they provided. Each source was coded only once, even if named more than
once in an article. Comparisons about dominance of one source type in relation
to another were possible, however, because the number of sources in different
source categories were counted. After tallying the number of sources by type and
by generational cohort, the coder recorded the total number of sources in each
Portrayal of Generation X and Baby Boomers was positive, negative or neutral in
The final variable, "topics covered," was operationalized to allow the coder to
indicate all the different topics covered in the article. Examples of "topics
covered" were: "How to Market to Generation X," "Lifestyles of Generation X"
and "Work Ethic of Generation X," among others.
Reliability ranged from 82.9% for "Portrayal of Generation X" and "Portrayal of
Baby Boomers" to 100% for "Article Title" and "Magazine Title." "Topics" was
92.6% and "Sources" was 97.4%. Overall, intercoder reliability was 95.4% based
on percentage of agreement. The level of significance selected for this study
Legitimization of Generation X, page 9
The articles published in the sampled 88 media during the time period 1987 to
1995, and located using the operational procedure noted above, yielded a total
of 458 articles, 236 from magazines and 222 from newspapers. The magazine
articles were in 83 different magazines; Advertising Age carried 23, more than
any other magazine. By contrast, the five newspapers selected for the study
yielded over 25 articles each, while three of them carried more than 50 articles
during the time period.
The articles are divided into trade or consumer periodicals. There were more
than twice as many consumer (314) as trade (144) publication article. Because
the division of trade and consumer publications is unequal, especially in
newspapers, and because there were no significant differences between trade and
consumer publications, this variable was not used for crosstabulations.
Sources Used in Cohort Coverage
RQ 1: What kinds of sources were used in the coverage of Generation X? The
sources used in the articles of this study are presented in Table 1, controlling
for age of cohort and occupation.
Almost 45% of the total sources were members of Generation X, while the other
age groups collectively constituted more than 55% of the sources. Because of the
relative infrequency of two categories in the initial four-category system (Baby
Boomers, 5.2%, and other generation, 1.4%), the two non-Generation X categories
were combined with Undetermined Age (48.5%) to form an "Other" category.
The sources were also coded for their occupation. The coding procedure allowed
coders initially to categorize sources as Business Source, Government
Legitimization of Generation X, page 12
Source, Researcher, Unspecified Source, or Other. However, because so few
sources were in the Government and Other categories, this five-category system
was collapsed. Table 1b shows the collapsed categories. Because more than one
source could be in each article, there are more sources (1,946) than articles
Business Sources were the most frequently cited, accounting for nearly half
(42.5%) of the sources. Researchers and Government Sources constituted more than
a third (36.8%) of the sources. The Non-Expert Sources constituted a fifth
(20.7%) of the sources.
Table 1c also shows a significant association between source age and occupation
(chi-square=415.96, 2 df, p < .05). A plurality of the Generation X sources
were Non-Experts (40.5%); however, sources in the "Other" age group were
primarily Business (48.3%) and Researcher/Government sources (47.1%). Only one
in 20 from the "Other" age group was from the "Non-Experts" category that
dominated Generation X sources. Thus, as might be expected, stories about
Generation X tended to be dominated by Non-Generation X sources (1,077 to 869)
from business and the academy.
The age-occupation association differed by periodical type. Table 1d shows that
newspapers used even more Researcher/Government (57.9%) sources from the "Other"
generations than magazines (38.6%); recall the overall percent in 1c was 47.1%.
And while Non-Experts among Generation X sources were dominant overall (40.5%)
and for newspapers (51.4%), a plurality of magazine Generation X sources were
Business Sources (42.5%).
There were also differences between periodical types for the "Other" cohort. A
majority of the Other cohort sources in magazines were Business Sources (57.8%),
a proportion parallel to Other cohort sources when the periodicals were combined
(48.3%). However, Business Sources in newspapers
Legitimization of Generation X, page 13
constituted only a third of the Other cohort (36.2%). The inverse occurred with
Researcher/Government Sources; in magazines, a little more than a third of the
Other cohort were Researcher/Government Sources, but over half of the Other
cohort in newspapers were Researcher/Government Sources (57.9%).
Topics Covered in Stories
RQ 2: What topics were covered in the articles? Table 2a lists the topics
covered in the stories and how many stories covered that topic. Stories usually
covered more than one topic, so more topics than stories are indicated.
The topic "Lifestyles of Non-Celebrity Cohort Members" (24.5%) was the most
frequent topic, with over twice as many occurrences as the second-ranked topic,
"How Companies are Already Marketing the Cohort" (12.1%). The remaining
categories each constituted less than 11 percent of the topics covered. Because
of the infrequency of articles with coverage of these topics, these topics were
collapsed to form the six categories in Table 2b.
There were significant differences when the stories are divided by periodical
type (chi square=67.12, 5 df, p < .05). Table 2c shows the differences.
"Lifestyles of Non-Celebrities" (32.8%) was the most frequent topic used in
newspapers, with nearly a third of the topics. Magazines, on the other hand,
focused on business topics, such as "Marketing" (25.2%) and "Financial
Situation" (23.0%). This is logical in view of the media sampled. Half of the
magazines sampled were trade magazines, while only one-tenth of the newspaper
articles were trade publications.
Legitimization of Generation X, page 18
Portrayal of the Cohort
RQ 3: Was there a positive or negative portrayal of Generation X? Stories on
Generation X were coded for their portrayal of the cohort, and overall, the
portrayal is not negative. Table 2d shows that over four-fifths (81.1%) of the
articles are either positive (49.9%) or neutral (31.2%). Few articles featured a
negative portrayal (18.7%). The articles that deviated from the neutrality norm
tended to be positive.
Table 2e crosstabulates portrayal of the cohort with the topics covered.
Articles with all three portrayals gave heavy emphasis to "Lifestyles,"
constituting nearly a quarter of each type of portrayal. However, articles with
a positive portrayal tended to focus on "Financial Situation" (26.8%), articles
with a negative portrayal covered "Personality Traits" (27.9%), and articles
with a neutral portrayal focused on "Marketing" (29.5%).
As suggested by RQ 4, we can also look at the portrayal of the cohort in the
different periodical types. Table 2f shows no significant difference between
magazines and newspapers in portrayal of the cohort (chi square=2.11, 2 df, p =
.348). In both magazines and newspapers, about half of the articles were
positive, less than a fifth were negative and approximately one-third were
neutral. Any differences between periodical types found earlier in the study did
not influence the portrayal. Instead, the coverage was consistent across
Table 2g examines topics covered in magazine and newspaper articles and
portrayal in those articles, controlled for media. In positive magazine
articles, "Financial Situation" (29.6%) and "Marketing" (24.2%) led the list of
topics covered. However, positive newspaper articles focused on "Lifestyles of
Non-Celebrities" (35.4%) and "Financial Situation" (21.9%). "Lifestyles of
Non-Celebrities" was covered so heavily in newspapers that it constituted
Legitimization of Generation X, page 19
approximately a third of topics covered in all three areas of
portrayalDpositive, negative, and neutral portrayal.
Topics were very different in the magazine stories. Unlike newspapers,
"Lifestyles of Non-Celebrities" was not used as often when crosstabulated with
portrayal of Generation X. In negative magazine stories, "Personality Traits"
(33.7%) led the topics, while in stories with a neutral portrayal, "Marketing"
(37.1%) was the leader.
Changes over Time
RQ 5: Did the coverage go through phases of disambiguation, legitimization, and
routinization? To look at this question, the coverage throughout different time
periods, or phases was studied.
Except for a decline in the second and third years of the study, there was a
steady increase in articles written about this cohort, as shown in Table 3a.
There were 22 articles during 1987, the first year of the study. Then the number
dropped to seven and nine in the following years before rising again. This large
number the first year can be explained by several 1987 American Demographics
articles about the cohort's many job opportunities. These and other periodical
articles suggested that the young generation would find many job opportunities
in the future. Because the economy had been accustomed to a large number of new
workers each year during the Baby Boom generation, when the smaller sized
generation entered the work force there would be many jobs available. In fact,
worker shortages were predicted. These kinds of stories were trendy for a few
months in 1987, because some demographic studies had been performed, then few
articles were written about the generation in the following two years.
Legitimization of Generation X, page 22
The number of articles increased again in 1990, the year of the Time
"Twentysomething: Proceeding with Caution" article that seemed to spark many
other articles on this cohort.13 Then there was a steady increase until 1994,
when the number of articles reached its peak. Clear evidence of a trend appears
throughout the years of the study. However, to conduct two-way analysis with
other variables, it was necessary to collapse the years into statistically sound
The first phase, 1987 through 1990, presented the emerging stories about the
cohort in a time when the cohort had not been given a name and was not a trendy
topic. The next phase, 1991 through 1992, reflected the first large growth of
stories. During this phase, the book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated
Culture was published.14 The third phase, 1993, saw continued growth in the
coverage of the cohort, while the fourth phase, 1994, found the peak in stories.
And the fifth phase, 1995, recognized stability rather than growth in the
coverage. Table 3 shows the collapsed phases.
By analyzing these phases by periodical type, we see slight differences between
the periodical types at the beginning and end of the study, but the middle years
are very similar. A slightly higher percentage of articles from newspapers
(16.7%) than magazines (9.7%) were written during the first phase. And in the
last two phases, magazines continued to have a small growth in the number of
Generation X articles (26.3% to 30.1%), while articles in newspapers declined
(27.9% to 22.5%).
Sources Change through the Phases
Source cohorts changed across the five phases, as shown in Table 4a. In the
first phase, Generation X constituted less than a third (29.3%) of the sources,
Legitimization of Generation X, page 25
rose to about half of them during the remaining years, peaking at 50.6% in 1994.
The fourth phase was the only phase in which the cohort was a majority of the
sources. The distribution of sources in the last two phases, with both
Generation X and Other cohorts being close to the 50% mark, shows stability.
Other changes occurred in Source Occupation across the five phases, as shown in
Table 4b. During the first phase, Researcher/Government sources constituted over
half (50.5%) of the sources, while Business sources were 38.7%. The three
occupation areas contributed similar sources in the second phase, then Business
sources represented the plurality of sources during the final three phases. All
three occupations remained steady across the final three phases as the coverage
reached its peak and stability. Business sources were around the 50% range,
Researcher/Government sources remained in the lower to mid-30% range, and
Non-Experts were around 20%. This consistency shows stability among the stories
that was not found in the earlier phases of coverage.
Portrayals Change through the Phases
The portrayal of Generation X remained steady in three of the five phases, as
shown in Table 4a. In the first, third and fourth phases, about 45% of the
stories had a positive portrayal, over 20% had a negative portrayal and about
30% had a neutral portrayal. In the second phase, however, nearly half of the
articles had a neutral portrayal (42.9%), while negative portrayal decreased to
17.1%. More dramatic changes occurred in the fifth phase, when nearly two-thirds
of the articles had a positive portrayal (63.6%), and fewer than one-tenth had a
negative portrayal (8.3%).
Recall that phase two of our study not only had a large number of neutral
portrayals, but also contained many Non-Expert sources and was experiencing its
Legitimization of Generation X, page 26
first years of growth. In addition, phase five, which had a more positive
portrayal of the cohort, also saw stability in the sources used.
Topics Change through the Phases
Topics changed across the coverage of this cohort, as shown in Table 4d. In the
first phase, "Financial Situation" was the most frequently used topic (28.3%),
as stories focused on the great job opportunities that demographers expected for
In the second through fourth phases, "Lifestyles of Non-Celebrities" became the
most covered topic at about a quarter of the topics. "Financial Situation" was
also used often in the second and fourth phases. However, the third phase saw a
decrease in the use of "Financial Situation," while "Marketing" (21.8%) and
"Personality Traits" (19.5%) were more often mentioned topics.
The fourth-ranked topic in the fourth phase was "Fashion & Celebrities." Though
it only constituted 17.1% of the topics in phase four, this phase is where the
topic was most often used. Much of the increase is due to articles on new movies
and musical groups that targeted the cohort.
Though "Lifestyles of Non-celebrities" was the leading topic in three of the
phases, "Marketing" was the topic used most often in the fifth phase (26.3%).
Karen Ritchie's book, Marketing to Generation X was published during this phase
and brought an increased coverage of marketing.15 In addition to the change
toward more discussion of marketing, there was much stability in topics covered
from the fourth to the fifth phases, because the other topics did not go through
Legitimization of Generation X, page 27
This study set out to describe the coverage of a generational cohort and relate
it to status conferral and ideology diffusion. Though it is beyond the scope of
this study to determine public attitudes toward the cohort, the research paints
a picture of the cohort as its coverage changed over time. That coverage, in
turn, may influence their attitudes.
Data on sources, portrayal and topics throughout these phases of coverage may
be interpreted in terms of the process or model of ideology diffusion proposed
by Strodthoff, Hawkins and Schoenfeld. That process involves three phases,
disambiguation, legitimization and routinization. Early coverage of Generation X
saw a few stories, then the cohort gained coverage and a definition in the
disambiguation phase. Legitimization occurred as the cohort became an
increasingly frequent topic in the media and routinization began as the coverage
stabilized. In other words, like much of learning, a label is placed on
something, then people find out all about it. Soon that label, and all the
meaning associated with it, is a routine part of our lexicon and usage.
The view of Generation X presented in media coverage changed across the time
period studied. At the beginning of its coverage, it was identified by its
relationship to the Baby Boomers or by contrasting it with that older cohort.
Demographers and other researchers were the news sources quoted, and served to
define Generation X. In the second phase, members of the cohort were used more
often as sources, providing an alternative, perhaps more valid, insight into the
cohort's "culture." This move away from demographers' terms was like a move away
from black and white photos to full-color, even moving, pictures. In short, it
was a move from mere definition to establishment of an unambiguous identity.
Most important, it was identification based in some part on the words of
Legitimization of Generation X, page 28
Generation Xers themselves. By the third phase, the range of sources and topics,
as well as the passage of time, saw the cohort as a "legitimate" phenomenon,
rather than media-created pseudo-phenomenon. The cohort was worthy of serious
consideration. Finally, through continued and protracted coverage, the sources,
topics and portrayal rendered Generation X "routine." "Generation X" had gone
from being a demographer's or media's buzz word tagged to a cohort, to a label
that subsumed a constellation of attitudes and traits, to become the layman's
symbol for a generation.
Of course this view of the emergence of Generation X following the process of
"ideology diffusion" is only tentatively proposed. Indeed, we might question
whether the media actually identified an existing "subculture," or created it by
naming it. A different view of the cohort's definition and identity might be
possible. Rather than a subculture, Generation X might be a "market," and its
identification as a phenomenon reflective of market savvy.
Ironically, the issue of Generation X as "subculture" or "social movement"
versus "marketing creation" typifies the contrast of Generation X to its
predecessor. Baby Boomers were linked to a wide array of events and movements
that helped identify and legitimize them as a force: Civil Rights, the Vietnam
War peace movement, and the "drug culture." With Generation X, however, there
were no social movements to lead it through the phases. Perhaps, instead of
being identified with a social movement, Generation X's identity rests both in
what it is notDBaby BoomersDand what it can buy.
Decisions about the media studied in this research no doubt affected the
results. Both magazines and newspapers were selected for comparison purposes.
Legitimization of Generation X, page 29
However, the public receives information from other media too. So to see a
complete image of the Generation X coverage, other media, including television,
books, computers and all forms of advertising, should have been included.
Perhaps too few media were selected. But on the other hand, perhaps one medium
would have been sufficient. It is interesting to see the difference between
Generation X coverage in newspapers and magazines, but there are so many
differences between the two media that the study may not have been fair in its
comparisons. Magazines are audience driven and are aimed at specific audiences.
Newspapers, however, have more general audiences. A decision had to made as to
the media studied, and the media selected provided variety without becoming
What will happen to this so-called Generation X? The Baby Boomers earlier were
called hippies and yuppies, but later gained a more neutral titleDBaby
BoomersDand have become firmly entrenched in the middle class they sought to
escape, shock and reform during their youth. Will the same happen to Generation
X? When the younger cohort reaches middle age, will it be called Generation X,
the Diverse Generation, Post-Boomers, or the Lost Generation? Is there some as
yet unknown event that will come to characterize them as indelibly as their
elders? It is nice to think that a more neutral title will be selected.
On the other hand, the cohort may lose its identity. Just because the cohort
evolved into a routine news phenomenon does not mean it will have the enduring
definition of label applied to its elder cohort. The Baby Boomers are an
Legitimization of Generation X, page 30
amazing demographic phenomenon because of size of cohort. Generation X, however,
is a smaller generation and may not have that same influence.
Though the term Generation X may disappear, the people in Generation X, or
course, will not. The cohort may not be a "social movement," and it may not be
defined in terms of a social event or period, but regardless of the labels given
by demographers, marketers and journalists, it will fall to historians to
provide the definitive identity to Generation X.
Legitimization of Generation X, page 31
1 Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Robert K. Merton, "Mass Communication, Popular Taste
and Organized Social Action," in Mass Communications, Wilbur Schramm, ed.
(Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1960): 498.
2 Glenn G. Strodthoff, Robert P. Hawkins, and A. Clay Schoenfeld, "Media
Roles in a Social Movement: A Model of Ideology Diffusion," Journal of
Communication 35 (Spring 1985): 134-36.
3 Herbert J. Gans, Deciding What's News (NY: Pantheon Books, 1979), 78-80,
4 Gans, Deciding What's News, 117-118.
5 Gaye Tuchman, Making News: A Study in the Construction of Reality (NY: The
Free Press, 1978), 93.
6 Oscar H. Gandy, Jr., Beyond Agenda Setting (Norwood, N.J., 1982), 11.
7 Strodthoff, Hawkins, and Schoenfeld, "Media Roles in a Social Movement: A
Model of Ideology Diffusion," 134-36.
8 Strodthoff, Hawkins, and Schoenfeld, "Media Roles in a Social Movement: A
Model of Ideology Diffusion," 134-36.
9 Todd Gitlin, The Whole World is Watching (Berkeley, CA: University of
California Press, 1980), 3-4.
10 Gaye Tuchman, "Introduction: The Symbolic Annihilation of Women by the
Mass Media" in Hearth and Home: Images of Women in the Mass Media, Gaye Tuchman,
Arlene Kaplan Daniels and James Ben t, ed., (NY: Oxford University Press, 1978),
Legitimization of Generation X, page 32
11 The term Generation X first began as the title of a book by Douglas
Coupland. The book, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, was a
fiction book about three young people. Douglas Coupland, Generation X: Tales for
an Accelerated Culture, (NY: St. Martin's Press, 1991).
12 Guido H. Stempel III and Bruce H. Westley, eds., Research Methods in Mass
Communication, 2nd ed, (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1989), 132-133.
13 David M. Gross and Sophfronia Scott, "Twentysomething: Proceeding With
Caution," Time, 16 July 1990, 56.
14 Coupland, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.
15 Karen Ritchie, Marketing to Generation X, (NY: Lexington Books, 1995).
The Legitimization of Generation X:
A Case Study in Status Conferral
This content analysis describes the coverage of a generational cohort and
relates it to Lazarsfeld and Merton's status conferral and Strodthoff, Hawkins,
and Schoenfeld's model of ideology diffusion. It studies the sources used (by
age and occupation), portrayal and topics covered in magazine and newspaper
articles about Generation X from 1987-1995. The coverage went through phases of
disambiguation, legitimization and routinization.