Middle-age adults called Gen Xers are traditionally seen as insecure, angst-ridden, underachievers, but a new study indicates they've grown into a group of happy adults, who are active in their communities.
They also seem to balance work and family obligations well, the researchers said.
"The 84 million Americans in this generation between the ages of 30 and 50 are the parents of today's school-aged children," said study researcher Jon Miller, a political scientist at the University of Michigan. "And over the next two or three decades, members of Generation X will lead the nation in the White House and Congress. So it's important to understand their values, history, current challenges and future goals."
Miller polled 4,000 adults born between 1961 and 1981 (considered Generation X) yearly from 1987 to 2010 through the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.
As a whole, the members of Generation X led active, balanced and happy lives. Miller explains that these results are very different from those hypothesized by Harvard University professor Robert Putnam in the book "Bowling Alone" (Touchstone Books by Simon & Schuster, 2001). In the book, Putnam argues that Americans are increasingly socially isolated and that their links to people outside their family are declining.
Some of the study's main findings include:
Generation Xers are workers. About 86 percent of these adults work full- or part-time, and 40 percent spend 50 or more hours working and commuting every week. They are more likely to be employed, and work longer hours, than a general sample of U.S. adults surveyed in 2008. Two-thirds of the workers in Generation X are happy with their jobs.
They are also satisfied with their lives. For instance, they were asked in 2009 and 2010, "Thinking about all aspects of your life, how happy are you? If zero means that you are very unhappy and 10 means that you are very happy, please rate your happiness." The average score was 7.5, with only 4 percent indicating a great deal of unhappiness (a score of 3 or lower), and 29 percent indicating they were very happy (a score of 9 or 10). [5 Things That Will Make You Happier]
Much of life as a member of Generation X revolves around family. Two-thirds of the group is married, and 71 percent of them have children living at home. They are very involved with these kids, and have high expectations for them, with 80 percent of Gen-X parents expecting their children to finish a four-year college.
When they aren't raising their kids or working, the survey indicates that 44 percent of Generation X members spend their time participating in at least one community-based organization including parent-teacher organizations, religious organizations and local sports clubs.
Generation X, living up to its description as the first generation of the Internet age spends lots of time online, as well. Ninety-seven percent "regularly" used the Internet, while 75 percent used online banking, and 62 percent said they have a Facebook page. They aren't all digital, though, as 80 percent reported buying and reading a book in the last year.
The study was published by the University and is the first of a four-part, quarterly series detailing the study's examination of the experiences, challenges, attitudes, behaviors and dreams of the American Generation X. The next report in January 2012 will analyze how Generation X responded to influenza outbreak, and future reports will cover food and cooking, climate, space exploration, citizenship and voting.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Jennifer Welsh is a Connecticut-based science writer and editor and a regular contributor to Live Science. She also has several years of bench work in cancer research and anti-viral drug discovery under her belt. She has previously written for Science News, VerywellHealth, The Scientist, Discover Magazine, WIRED Science, and Business Insider.