It takes only one generation for everything to change. A lifetime is enough for a whole new world to emerge from the depths of human civilization. It is this change that separates us from the past and ourselves. It defines us, may it be a generalization or a stereotype. Such is the case for our parents. Most of them lie in the Generation X, being born between the 1960s to 1980s. They have been through the end of the Cold War, the final moments of the Marcos era, and the birth of the Internet. A lot may say their future had a lot of hope, while our future seems darker as the years go by.
But the question still remains: Are we so different from the past? After all, the Baby Boomer generation was also called the “Me Generation” once back in the 1970s, much like what we are called today. We argue that the past was a simpler, and less complicated world, but is that really the case? As compared to what they went through, has the situation changed? With the drastic transformation in societal, technological, and economic norms, is our development as a generation so unparalleled to our parents that we live in completely different worlds?
College by the 1970s
By the time of the 1970s, most of Generation X were approaching their post teen years. This was also the time of Martial Law in Philippines. This was a time of dawn to dusk curfews and when student demonstration was viciously mowed down. College life went on either way, albeit without student governments and student journalism.
Education was also different during the Gen X’s prime years. By the 1970s, the University, for example, only had four colleges, mainly Engineering, Arts and Sciences, Education, and Industrial Technology (which was later integrated to Engineering). A semester would cost P1,200, which is the equivalent of over P40,000 today. The University has since expanded to different fields, having established eight colleges and a vast array of degrees offered and fields of study.
Social activities were vastly different as well, having mall culture only develop in the early 1990s. In terms of hanging out and gimmicks, the Gen X life was much less complicated—without as many malls and clubs as we have today. As explained by Cassandra*, an alumnus of DLSU batch ‘81, they would simply go see movies at the Makati Cinema Square, or go shopping at some of the older, smaller SM malls.
Shopping and general consumerism wasn’t as big as today’s, either. Without cellphones and other high-end gadgets, the only things seen as luxury items back in the day were branded clothes and bags.
On an economic perspective
By the time our parents were born, the Philippines was known to be the crown jewel of Asia, being one of the greatest Asian economies of that time. Over the span of two decades, however, the economy lagged behind countries like Japan, Korea, Malaysia, who we once looked down upon. While our generation had the Global Financial Crisis to worry about, Gen X had far more to deal with than just one financial crisis in their lifetime.
Take for instance the economic crisis the Marcos era left behind. By 1965, the peso was valued at P3.87 to a dollar. By 1975, the peso slid further down to P7.23 to the dollar. And by 1986, the peso slid further down to P20.40 to the dollar. This was in part of the past administration’s many misgivings, such as crony capitalism, excessive debt-driven growth, corruption and so on, as well as external factors such as the 1973 Oil Crisis.
Just a decade after democracy was returned to the country, another crisis loomed. The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis saw the peso devalue further. People saw the peso sink from P26 in 1997 to P46 in 1998, and slid further to P51 in 2001 amidst an impeachment trial that shook the country. Though the peso devaluation did not define the Philippine economy altogether, it did signify a drastic economic crisis that was tipping to a point of no return.
The purchasing power of the peso, as an effect of this devaluation, became significantly small over the next decade due to increased inflation rates. With the matching political turmoil, investments shrank, and the economy soon followed. By 1982, a city-wide survey revealed that 76% of families in Metro Manila earned P1750 a month, way below P2500, which was the poverty line set by the National Wage Council. Several surveys in 1986 also supported this, showing that the median income of households was P2100. This was in some part the fault of the lack of distinct wage rationalization. It was not until 1989 that the government passed the Wage Rationalization Act was, wherein the minimum daily wage was established.
As a result, the exodus of Philippine skilled workers and professionals began. From 1975 to 1986, 1.2 million and 1.5 million Filipinos left the country to find greener pastures. This gave birth to the current culture of OFWs, leaving the homeland to support their families or to find a new, more stable country to call home. This was also the beginning of the Philippines’ “Brain Drain,” where the country’s best and brightest left the Philippines to find better more lucrative careers abroad.
As such, Philippine employment was vastly different during our parents’ generation. Cassandra had this to say: “It was easier for us to find jobs after graduating since the population back then wasn’t that big. There were less people, thus less competition. We just needed to have good grades to get a decent, well-paying job. The Cum Laudes and above would be hired on the spot by large companies right after graduation. Today, I notice that employers want to see more active involvement in extracurriculars on a resume besides good grades, and it takes much longer for young adults to find jobs.”
Back then, a P10,000 salary was considered quite high, and one could afford to pay rent by himself if he earned that much in his job.
Are we really that different?
The decades between 1970s through the 1990s was fraught with uncertainties. The Philippine economy was only beginning to stabilize. Political instability was still an issue, Mindanao was still chaotic, and one crisis after another came and went. In contrast, similar events are unfolding in our lifetime. We have uncertainty with our government, and corruption is still a prevailing disease. Brain drain is still an issue and working abroad is still the Filipino Dream. The economy is improving, but we feel uncertain how long it will keep going. The situation of the past and the present seems similar, but the circumstances are different altogether, and our parents, the Gen X of the Philippines, lived through the uncertainties of their generation, and survived, and got us to where we are today.
In this age, we are given far more than what Gen Xers had in the past: freedom. With social media and the open space of the web, our voices are more free and louder than any before us. The advent of the internet and advancing technology paved the way for easier access to information. News and current events are within our fingertips, unhindered and unrestricted. The development of our educational system has given us more avenues for learning, providing us more opportunities to pursue our callings.
Though we live in a time of different perils and uncertainties, our parents felt the same way about their futures as well. They persevered, survived, and brought us to this point in time. It was neither simple nor easy, but they pushed forward, one crisis after another. As they go undaunted through the obstacles of life, so should we when faced with the doubts and worries of our unprecedented future.