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AMERICAN COLLEGE

The Forgotten Generation X

“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” is a classic line any fan of the 1970s hit TV show The Brady Bunch would recognize when Jan, the middle daughter, expressed her frustration over the constant attention given to her older sister, Marcia.

This is a scene all too familiar to Generation X as companies fall over themselves trying to reach the older, “popular” baby boomer sibling or even grab the attention of the younger, “adorable” millennial sibling, leaving the Gen Xer feeling like the forgotten middle child. 

Generation X was born between 1965 and 1980. Gen Xers are the smallest of the three generations. They comprise roughly 65 million people compared with their boomer and millennial counterparts, with approximately 77 million and 83 million people, respectively. It is worth noting that the other generations span about 20 years while Gen X spans only 15 years. 

Gen Xers are known for their resilience. They were born during a time of transition. In their youth, Gen Xers likely grew up in a household where both parents worked outside of the home. Or they grew up with divorced parents, as the national divorce rate peaked in 1980. This led to the creation of the term “latchkey children” where Gen Xers had to take on additional responsibility at home. They also came of age during an expansion in technology — from microwave ovens and remote-control televisions to cell phones and computers.

At the start of Gen X’s working life, an increasing number of jobs were being sent overseas, and more companies began moving from defined benefit to defined contribution plans. Gone were the days of working for one employer your entire career and retiring with a gold watch and a pension. And who can forget the stock market crash of 1987, also known as Black Monday? This made way for a growing sense of cynicism with Generation X feeling as though the rug were being pulled out from under them. But through it all, they persevered.

 

Money to Burn

The first Gen Xers began turning 50 in 2015. According to an American Express OPEN Forum, Gen X has money to burn. Although they only account for 25 percent of all adults, they represent 29 percent of estimated net worth dollars and 31 percent of total income dollars.

In 2016, The American College State Farm Center for Women and Financial Services released “5 Ways to Help Gen X Women Achieve Their Financial Goals.” It states that Generation X women are focused on reducing debt, driven largely by mortgages, while trying to save for their children’s college education and for retirement. The five ways include:

 

[1] Gen X women could benefit from a plan and a product to help them save for their children’s education.

 

[2] Even though retirement is not far off for some Gen Xers, few have calculated what they need to maintain their lifestyles in retirement. Gen X women need reliable tools to set goals and schedules for retirement savings.

 

[3] It is time that Gen X women understand how financial services professionals can help. There is some lack of trust that must be overcome. Yet, Gen X women face competing financial priorities and need advice on how to balance them.

 

[4] Most Gen X women say they are saving for retirement through a workplace retirement savings plan, but they are less likely than boomers to use other products that can help them save and invest for retirement. Gen X women could benefit from advice on how to diversify beyond workplace plans.

 

[5] As Gen X women increasingly take on caregiving responsibilities for elderly parents and relatives, it is a good time to talk to them about their own needs should something unexpected happen to them and how they hope to be cared for in old age.

 

We no longer can overlook the power of this generation. Why should it be an either/or strategy where the attention is focused primarily on retiring boomers because they have more assets? It can be an also/and strategy where we invest the time in developing relationships with Gen Xers prior to retirement. The oldest Gen Xers have just turned 50, leaving them with at least 10 additional years of employment before retirement. This is a critical period for them as they are more likely to be sandwiched between raising children and caring for aging parents. 

Members of Generation X also stand to inherit assets from their parents. Now is a good time to schedule family meetings. This will provide the children of older clients an opportunity to interact with advisors, and could go a long way in establishing trust that likely would increase the chances of a continued relationship. 

Gen Xers have a unique position as a generational bridge to the younger millennials and the even younger Generation Z, as well as the older boomer and silent generations. It is time Generation X gets the attention it deserves.

 

Jocelyn Wright is the chair of the State Farm Center for Women and Financial Services at The American College. Jocelyn may be contacted at [email protected]

Jocelyn Wright is the chair of The State Farm Center for Women and Financial Services at The American College. Jocelyn may be contacted at [email protected] .


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