A couple of decades ago, the stereotype of Generation X members was that they were alienated, apathetic slackers, more interested in making a cleverly ironic statement than in actually achieving something. Today, though, there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. As a 2014 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found, Gen-Xers typically make more money than their parents did at a similar age, even after adjusting for inflation and other factors, and much of that gain has come from simply working more. Beyond that, a generation once seen as lightweight and insignificant has produced its share of people who’ve changed the world in various ways. Here are just a few.
Jeff Bezos (born 1964):
As founder of Amazon.com, the company that pioneered e-commerce, Bezos helped to dramatically reshape retailing, and create a world in which people can purchase everything from food to automobiles with a few clicks on their computer or smart phone. He’s used his wealth to purchase the Washington Post newspaper and to start a private space launch company, Blue Origin.
Michael Jordan (born in 1963):
MJ, widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time, won six NBA titles and was the league’s most valuable player five times. But it wasn’t just that Jordan was a winner—it was how he won, with astonishingly balletic, high-flying moves that so captured the imagination and made him an instantly recognizable figure all over the planet. But beyond that, from his shaved head to his baggy shorts and signature brand of sneakers, the billionaire athleted became an influential fashion icon.
Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Both born in 1973):
For a student project at Stanford University, Brin and Page teamed up to create a search engine with a novel feature—it listed pages in order of popularity. Their bright idea became Google, which not only transformed the way that people used information, but evolved into a sprawling global technology business that’s pushing innovation in areas ranging from driverless cars to human longevity.
J.K. Rowling (born in 1965):
When the British author dreamed a student wizard named Harry Potter, she launched what has become one of the world’s most popular fictional franchises. Hundreds of millions of copies of her fantasy novels are in print, and the movies based upon them grossed a staggering $7.7 billion worldwide. But she’s had an even bigger cultural influence, by luring millions of young readers to put aside their electronic gadgets and develop a love of reading books with complex plots and challenging ideas.
Barack Obama (born 1961):
When he was elected in 2008, the first African-American U.S. president exemplified the nation’s increasingly multiracial and multicultural identity. Obama also became a transformational figure in other ways, leading a controversial overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system. He also helped change the nature of American politics, by winning a difficult reelection campaign in 2012 with the skillful use of smartphone apps, social media and other sophisticated technological tools for predicting voters’ behavior and getting them to the polls.
Mia Hamm (born 1972):
As a 17-year veteran of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, she helped the U.S. win Women’s World Cup titles in 1991 and 1999, and Olympic gold in 1996 and 2004. For a time, she held the record for the most goals scored by a soccer player of either gender in international competition. She also became a trailblazer in the sports world—a female superstar in a professional team sport who commanded multimillion-dollar endorsement deals. Nike actually named its biggest corporate building after her.
Angelina Jolie (born 1975):
Since winning an Oscar for her role in the 1999 movie “Girl, Interrupted,” Jolie has become one of the most enduringly successful movie stars in Hollywood. The 2014 Disney film Maleficent, in which she starred, earned nearly $760 million worldwide. She also has made a name for herself as a director of weighty dramas such as “In the Land of Blood and Honey” and “Unbroken,” and earned plaudits for her humanitarian work in drawing attention to the plight of refugees.
Andre Romelle Young, AKA Dr. Dre (born 1965):
A product of the violent, hardscrabble urban landscape of Compton, California, Dre first rose to prominence in the late 1980s as a member of the group N.W.A., which pioneered the hard-edged, confrontational gangsta rap genre that radically transformed popular music. He went on to become a successful solo artist with his 1993 CD “The Chronic,” which fused rap with 1970s-style funk, went triple platinum and earned him a Grammy. Dre had an even more pervasive influence as a discoverer and producer of superstar rappers such as Snoop Dogg, Eminem and 50 Cent. In addition, Dre co-founded an audio company, Beats Electronics, whose brand of headphones became a status item and helped him amass a fortune estimated at $800 million.
Sheryl Sandberg (born 1970):
As one of the top executives at Facebook, she helped the social networking company expand into a global medium and a major public company, and become a billionaire in the process. But Sandberg, a rare female success in Silicon Valley, arguably achieved even more as the author of the 2013 bestseller “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” She’s articulated the transformational notion that it’s not only possible to juggle raising a family and work success, but that doing so puts them in a position of power to change society for the better.
Revisit the tech innovations and digital culture that impacted almost every aspect of Gen X-ers’ lives. Don’t miss Generation X: The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth this Sunday at 10/9c on the National Geographic Channel.