The moniker was helped to popularity by Barack Obama in the late aughts to denote a young breed of new leaders, those who often felt overshadowed and overlooked in the wake of the larger boomer generation.
While there isn’t a formal age range for this phantom generation, it encompasses the youngest of the boomers (people born from 1946 to 1964) and the oldest members of Generation X (born from 1965 to 1979). President Obama (born 1961) is a prime example of the Jones bunch.
But how has this group fared since the term first found favor? Considerable spoke with Pontell himself to find out more about how Generation Jones is faring as it approaches retirement.
So why have you dedicated a good amount of your time to researching Gen Jones? What was missing from the narrative of this generation?
Some years ago, it occurred to me that I was part of a lost generation between the boomers and Generation X. I was actually living abroad at the time, and it was sort of obvious that I’m not a boomer — and once I started hearing various details about what X’ers stereotypically were supposed to be about it, I realized that’s not me, either.
Then I came back to The States and spent a lot of time researching who this generation is, came up with a name for it, and put it out there. I think it’s important because — while labels certainly have limitations and are often misused — they also have some value in helping us make sense of ourselves.
As part of your research, I understand you hired pollsters to study generational attitudes within this group. What were the results?
Over 80% of people in this age group, roughly born between the 1950s and 1960s, just overwhelmingly felt that they’d been mislabeled. When they hear [about an alternative], there’s this sort of “Aha!” moment. They say, “Oh wait, yeah, I never really did think I was a boomer. I didn’t think I was an X’er.” And it matters in terms of politics and culture and business.
Fundamentally, what are some characteristics of Jonesers that make you different from boomers and Gen X?
Part of it has to do with our upbringing, particularly in the ’60s and ’70s; of course every generation is defined in part by its formative years.
In terms of collective, ongoing generational personalities formed at a young age, boomers and Jonesers are very different. Boomers tend to be relatively idealistic throughout their life cycle. They were raised at a time in the ’50s as children and then as teens in the ’60s, which sort of formed a very idealistic, optimistic personality trait.
Jonesers are children of the 1960s. It formed in us an enormous amount of idealism — but at the same time, we came of age during the worsening economy of the ’70s. The accompanying disillusionment and cynicism and alienation — that was very much a part of our natural culture at the end of the ’70s.
And so Jonesers are a hybrid of sorts: We have the idealism of the ’60s that formed in us as kids, but that very deep national cynicism informed us as well.
I think the key difference between Gen X and Gen Jones is that X’ers didn’t have the ’60s at all.
And so (collectively speaking) you just don’t see that underlying idealism and optimism in X’ers, because they were raised as children in the ’70s during a very cynical moment in American history and then in the ’80s during very materialistic moments.
And how are Jonesers facing retirement? How is it different than the way Boomers have faced retirement?
The oldest end of Gen Jones — born between 1954 and 1965 — largely is retiring now. Jonesers, I think, are beginning a real revolution in aging and retirement.
Think of what was happening in the ’60s: It was sort of a new, improved American Dream.
The American Dream of our parents was largely about money — many of them had suffered through two world wars and The Great Depression, and for them, financial security was a very big part of their dream.
As children of the 1960s, Generation Jones started out more romantic and idealistic and focused on non-monetary issues.
Their American Dream was not just about making money, but satisfaction and self-realization.
But when Jonesers entered the workforce in the ’80s, it was a very tough time. The early ’80s suffered a terrible recession — one of the worst job markets in many decades — and so Jonesers in general put their dreams on hold to survive financially.
So now you see Jonesers, who have done well in general financially, looking at ending work and considering what do they do at this point in their lives … especially with increased lifespans.
What we see among Jonesers is this really intense desire to live out their lives in a way they really weren’t able to in earlier years — to reconnect with those original childhood dreams.
Where exactly does the term “Generation Jones” come from?
I actually took naming it very seriously. Over a couple of years period, I did informal and formal polling, and “Generation Jones” was by far the most popular. In part, it comes from the idea of a large anonymous generation. It could be Generation Smith or Generation Doe or Generation Jones. There’s a certain sort of feeling to that word that Jones may have: It’s sort of an irreverent, ironic idea of cool.
Another connotation has to do with the slang word “jones,” meaning a craving or yearning. The word actually dates from the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, but it was really an obscure word until the 1970s. Joneser teens across the country started using that word and made it quite well known.
I think that concept just really resonates for people in this age group: They were given such huge expectations that were largely left unfulfilled. It left this generation jonesing. It left a certain unrequited craving that has informed their consumer behavior and their business behavior and political behavior for all these years.
Finally, what are some of the biggest misconceptions people might have about Jonesers?
People sometimes think of Generation Jones as a small sort of neuro flit of a generation, and actually Generation Jones is the biggest generation in all of American history. More babies were born during the second half of the demographic baby boom than in any other time in American history — and that’s primarily in the years of Gen Jones.
I certainly invite Generation Jonesers to look at the stuff that’s been written about them. There are still plenty of Jonesers that aren’t aware of this generation, but so often when they hear about it and they check it out a little bit, it’s automatic resonance with this age group.