The Kids Are Alright. But Their Parents ...
By Neil Howe
Sunday, December 7, 2008; B01
It is the prerogative of every generation of graybeards to look down the age ladder and accuse today's young of sloth, greed, selfishness -- and stupidity. We hear daily jeremiads from baby boomers who wonder how kids who'd rather listen to Linkin Park and play "Grand Theft Auto III" than solve equations or read books can possibly grow up to become leaders of the world's superpower. The recent publication of "The Dumbest Generation" by Mark Bauerlein of Emory University epitomizes the genre. His subtitle -- "How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future" -- says it all.
Generational putdowns, Bauerlein's included, are typically long on attitude and short on facts. But the underlying question is worth pursuing: If the data are objectively assessed, which age-slice of today's working-age adults really does deserve to be called the dumbest generation?
The answer may surprise you. No, it's not today's college-age kids, nor even today's family-starting 30-somethings. And no, it's not the 60-year-olds who once grooved at Woodstock. Instead, it's Americans in their 40s, especially their late 40s -- those born from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. They straddle the boundary line between last-wave boomers and first-wave Generation Xers. The political consultant Jonathan Pontell labels them "Generation Jones."
Whatever you call them (I'll just call them early Xers), the numbers are clear: Compared with every other birth cohort, they have performed the worst on standardized exams, acquired the fewest educational degrees and been the least attracted to professional careers. In a word, they're the dumbest.