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Here Are the Biggest World Events You've Lived Through If You're in Your 50s

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If you were born between 1965 and 1974, you’re in the best decade of your life—your 50s! The angst and insecurity of youth are mostly behind you. You’ve experienced relationships, accomplished your formal education, and established a career path. Some of those decisions have turned out great, others not so much. But you’ve lived and learned. And you might even, at this point, have decided to make major life changes that amount to an exciting new start to the second half of your life.

Part of what has shaped you as a Gen-Xer is the series of world events you’ve lived through. Even if you haven’t been a student of geopolitics or even paid attention to the news, things have happened that have impacted your life and helped shape your worldview. So in case you missed it, we’re going to recap what was happening in the world in each decade of your life.

So What?

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Why are we telling you this? Well, for . . . reasons.

Your time is valuable, so we always want to answer the “so what” question. Why present this information to you?

  • Midlife is a time when many of us are taking stock of our choices, trying to understand how we got where we are and what changes we might like to make to end up somewhere else in the future.
  • Reflecting on the remarkable events of our own lifetime can help us cut ourselves some slack if we feel a bit stressed or set back by events outside our control.
  • We can feel reassured that despite this tumultuous past half-century, things have actually turned out pretty well overall. This can help temper our anxieties about the future.
  • Finally, financially, we can realize that the economy has grown and done well, as it usually does over long periods of time. This can give us confidence to continue on our investment plan without making rash decisions out of unfounded fears.

The Gen X World

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Children of the 1970s often learned to entertain themselves independently.

Family Life

Gen X includes about 65 million people born between 1965 and 1980. This was a time when more families had two incomes or were divorced. So-called “latchkey kids” came home to an empty house and entertained themselves with television or other pursuits, and so learned to be self-sufficient.

Society

Gen Xers have seen dramatic changes in the world during their lifetimes, including an explosion of new technology such as computers, smartphones, and the internet. Medical threats have been a huge concern, from HIV/AIDS to drug abuse crises to COVID-19. They’ve been through energy crises, recessions, and economic bubbles.

Politics

The world map has been redrawn in the last 50 years, with a slew of new countries replacing the old Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, the addition of most of the Warsaw Pact countries to NATO, and new countries in Africa and the Pacific. Hopes for world peace were premature, though, as Gen Xers also have lived through 9/11 and the wars that have followed.

We’ve compiled some of the major events of each decade to give you a sense of how the world has changed during the lifespan of people in their 50s.

1965-1969

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The assassination of Martin Luther King was unable to stop the momentum of the Civil Rights movement.
  • 1965 – The Voting Rights Act, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting, was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • 1966 – In China, the Cultural Revolution begins. This was a period of intense effort to erase pre-communist traditions, social classes, and institutions and to eliminate enemies of the state.
  • 1967 – The Six-Day War ended with Israel occupying the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.
  • 1968 – Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.
  • 1969 – The Moon landing takes place with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming the first two humans on the Moon.

1970-1979

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The Vietnam War wound to a close in the 1970s with a victory for communist North Vietnam.
  • 1970 – The Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed students protesting the Vietnam War at Kent State University, killing four and wounding nine.
  • 1971 – The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
  • 1972 – Richard Nixon made trips to China and Moscow, cooling down the Cold War into a period of détente.
  • 1973 – The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision declared abortion to be a legal right in the United States until the decision was overturned in 2022.
  • 1974 – President Richard Nixon resigned as a result of the Watergate scandal.
  • 1975 – North Vietnam completes the conquest of South Vietnam, ending the war.
  • 1976 – The Concorde, the world’s first and only supersonic passenger plane, had its maiden flight.
  • 1977 – Astronomers discovered that the planet Uranus has rings.
  • 1978 – In Jonestown, Guyana, over 900 people died in a cult murder-suicide by drinking a cyanide-laced powdered drink.
  • 1979 – Iranian religious leaders and students spearhead a revolution in Iran that establishes a conservative Shiite Islamic government. American embassy employees are held captive for more than a year.

1980-1989

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Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to implement policies of social and economic liberalization but these proved too little to save the Soviet Union.
  • 1980 – Mt. Saint Helens erupted in Washington state, causing widespread ashfall and devastation to wilderness lands. It blasted down an estimated 10 million trees.
  • 1981 – Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President of the United States. Two of his signature policies were to cut taxes and to take a more aggressive approach toward the Soviet Union.
  • 1982 – Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. The United Kingdom carried out a successful military operation to recover them.
  • 1983 – The first incarnation of the Internet was created to help scientists communicate with one another.
  • 1984 – The HIV virus that causes AIDS was first discovered by French and American researchers.
  • 1985 – Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union, beginning a series of reforms that would ultimately cause the country’s political system to collapse.
  • 1986 – The space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing 7 astronauts, after takeoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
  • 1987 – President Reagan sent Congress a $1 trillion budget proposal for the first time in U.S. history.
  • 1988 – Prozac was first introduced in the United States and within 5 years was prescribed for millions of Americans. It was the first of a new class of drugs that effectively treats depression for many people.
  • 1989 – The Chinese government violently cracked down on thousands of protestors in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, ending hopes for political reform in China.

1990-1999

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The opening of the Berlin Wall was an iconic moment at the end of the Cold War.
  • 1990 – Germany reunited following the breaching of the Berlin Wall the previous year.
  • 1991 – The United States and its coalition partners went to war to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, which they had illegally occupied.
  • 1992 – The Cold War officially ended (for the time being) with a meeting between George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin recognized the independence of the former republics of the Soviet Union, and the US and Russia agreed to stop targeting one another with nuclear missiles.
  • 1993 – The European Union was officially launched. Though controversial, it was envisioned as a step toward greater unity for the continent.
  • 1994 – Amazon.com launched as an online bookstore in 1994. Eventually, it grew into a $1.89 trillion company.
  • 1995 – Domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombed a Federal office building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.
  • 1996 – In Scotland, Dolly the sheep becomes the first cloned mammal.
  • 1997 – Princess Diana, her companion, and a driver died from injuries in a car accident in Paris.
  • 1998 – The Google search engine launched. The company is now valued at more than $1.1 trillion.
  • 1999 – NATO launches military strikes on Yugoslavia to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, resulting in Yugoslavia’s withdrawal and independence for Kosovo.

2000-2009

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The building and operation of the International Space Station was a rare moment in history of cooperation between former adversaries.
  • 2000 – The International Space Station began doing its work with the arrival of American and Russian astronauts.
  • 2001- Nearly 3,000 Americans died on 9/11 when terrorists hijacked four passenger planes, crashing two of them into the World Trade Center towers in New York and another into the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Heroic passengers fought the hijackers on the fourth plane, crashing it into a field in Pennsylvania.
  • 2002 – The Euro became the only currency in 12 countries of Europe.
  • 2003 – The United States and coalition partners invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein.
  • 2004 – Facebook premiered and soon grew into the world’s largest social media outlet.
  • 2005 – Hurricane Katrina floods New Orleans, killing 1,833 people and causing $161 billion in damage.
  • 2006 – Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was hanged after being convicted of crimes against humanity.
  • 2007 – The iPhone was introduced by CEO Steve Jobs and went on to become one of the most successful electronic devices ever marketed.
  • 2008 – The most powerful particle accelerator in the world, the Large Hadron Collider, had its first test run.
  • 2009 – Barack Obama became the country’s first African American president.

2010-2019

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Pope Francis has become known for his affable personality and more liberal policies than some of his predecessors.
  • 2010 – The Affordable Care Act, for the first time, gave access to health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans.
  • 2011 – Osama Bin Laden, the 9-11 terrorist mastermind, was killed by a U.S. Navy SEAL team in Pakistan. After DNA confirmation of his identity, his remains were buried at sea.
  • 2012 – The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced the likely discovery of the Higgs Boson, one of the fundamental building-block particles of the universe.
  • 2013 – Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina became the 266th pope, taking the name Francis. He is the first pope from the Americas.
  • 2014 – Russia illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in a slow-moving conflict that would culminate in a full-scale invasion in 2022.
  • 2015 – The NASA spacecraft New Horizons sent back the first close-up pictures of Pluto, revealing among other things the planet has an enormous heart shape on one side.
  • 2016 – Donald Trump was elected U.S. President. He was the 5th person in history to be elected President based on a majority of electoral votes while losing the popular vote.
  • 2017 – The #MeToo movement became a media sensation, leading to the resignation or firing of a large number of prominent figures in entertainment, business, and government.
  • 2018 – Canada became the first major industrialized country to legalize recreational cannabis.
  • 2019 – The U.S. launches the United States Space Force, a branch of the military dedicated to space warfare.

2020-2024

Happy family having fun at park
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India is now the world’s most populous country, with a worldwide diaspora making cultural and economic contributions to many countries.
  • 2020 – The COVID-19 coronavirus became a pandemic, causing worldwide economic disruption, lockdowns, and the deaths of over 820,000 people around the world, including 179,000 in the United States.
  • 2021 – COVID-19 vaccines are introduced using mRNA technology after only one year of development.
  • 2022 – Russia launched a full-scale war of conquest against Ukraine. Offensives against the capital, Kyiv, and the southern city of Kherson were defeated, but a war of attrition in the south and east continues to this day.
  • 2023 – With an estimated population of 1.43 billion people, India surpassed China as the world’s most populous country. More than 1/3 of the world’s population now lives in these two countries.
  • 2024 – The Dow Jones index passed 40,000 points for the first time in history.

The Impact of the World on Gen X

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Many Gen Xers are free spirits who refuse to define their life materialistically.

While it’s hard to isolate how any one particular event may have affected the character of a whole generation, some generalizations about Gen X characteristics show the cumulative effect of living in American culture in this epoch.

  • Gen Xers have been described as independent, resourceful, and enterprising.
  • They have also been anxious to maintain a work/life balance, which has at times set them back financially as they have prioritized relationships and quality of life issues over career advancement.
  • Finally, they’ve been seen as a highly cynical generation, repeatedly disappointed by institutions, leaders, and the economy, and the first generation to have a lower standard of living than their parents.

What Gen X Brings to the Workplace

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People in Gen X are often able to communicate well with both older and younger people.

Based on their life experiences and the character traits, skills, and values they’ve developed, what strengths do Gen Xers bring to the workplace?

  • They work well autonomously. They can find ways to do things without having every detail spelled out.
  • They are flexible and able to adjust to constantly changing circumstances.
  • They adapt quickly to new technology and are eager to use it if it enhances their life and work.
  • More so than older generations, they communicate well in digital formats, and more so than younger generations, they communicate well face-to-face.
  • They tend to have strong critical thinking skills. They ask questions and don’t accept what they are told at face value.
  • They enjoy an informal workplace with humor, diversity, and mutual respect across formal hierarchical lines.

The Financial Future of Gen X

Married Middle Aged Couple Planning Budget Together, Reading Papers And Calculating Spends While Sitting On Couch In Living Room, Husband And Wife Checking Documents And Accounting Taxes, Closeup
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Gen X is the first generation to have a lower standard of living than their parents.

Debt

Gen X is the most heavily indebted of all generations, with a median debt level of $103,800. The only area any generation exceeds them in debt is in educational loans, where a larger number of Millennials are still working off those tuition payments.

Savings

What about savings? The typical Gen X household has saved no more than $40,000 for retirement. This will be enough to provide only $100-150 a month in retirement income. But 40% of Gen Xers have saved zero for retirement. Many Gen Xers experienced a sharp drop in net worth following the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and took years to recover from it.

Social Security

The oldest members of the generation are now 59 and many may feel they need to start drawing Social Security early to make ends meet. This will put further pressure on the system and requires that Congress take action to shore up the funding of this essential program.

Retirement Income

However, younger members of the generation still have 20 years until retirement. Resourceful and technologically proficient Gen Xers are adapting to the opportunities of work-from-home internet gigs that may enable them to continue creating income well into their 70s and 80s, health permitting.

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