The generation investors should watch is the often ignored Gen-X, says a Goldman Sachs report. In the US, those people between the ages of 36 and 51 are responsible for 25% of consumption, for example. This demographic group matters greatly for the success of developed market economies. But compared to the much hyped “Boomers,” now starting to enter retirement, there are key differences economic thinkers need to recognize relative to wealth, values and retirement.
Generation X at earnings peak, leadership coming into its own
Generation X, as it is known, are in a zone where earnings peak and they begin to move into positions of authority in society.
This group generally prioritizes spending on family life – children, housing etc. – and face significantly higher prices of education, healthcare and property. The group, categorized by a 2011 Journal of Behavioral Studies in Business article as “pessimistic, skeptical and disillusioned,” spends less on autos than they could and are also considered “resilient, self-starting and bottom-line focused.” Gen-Xers are spend more than Boomers on eating out, which they view as an experience, mortgages and other housing costs, personal services, education and apparel.
The generation has “a scathing (anti-Boomer) skepticism toward grand ideals” and prefer “individualism, free agency, and deregulation.” The pragmatism that defines the generation could be very important – particularly as the world may be heading for crisis, the report noted.
Individualism marks Gen X in “awakening period”
The attitudes of resilience and pragmatism combine with a lack of idealism. “Thus what they spend, how they spend it and their likely inability to fully seize the consumption baton from the Boomers are all very important,” the report, titled “Why you need to know more about Gen-X,” concluded.
“Gen-Xers were the children of that awakening period, which is instrumental in understanding their behavior,” historian, economist and demographer Neil Howe said in an interview with Goldman’s Hugo Scott-Gail and Sumana Manohar, the report authors. “They are generally left on their own by adults who are busy trashing old norms and exploring new values. Xers started coming of age themselves as adults after the Awakening ended in the early Reagan years.”
The Gen-X group is a difficult demographic to sell to because they are half “analog” and half digital. Unlike their Millennial counterparts, Gen-Xers still watch TV and can be reached through traditional advertising channels.
In some regards the Gen-X generation was a dis-guarded generation both emotionally and demographically.
“Consider the childhood environment when Gen-X first arrived in the early ‘60s. It was a time when divorce rates accelerated, fertility rates plummeted and schools no longer seemed to work,” Howe said, speaking about the first generation to truly grow up in front of a television set. “The old joke is that Xers are the first generation people took pills not to have children. There was a society-wide hostility to children during this period, they were an annoyance…”
But a dichotomy exists. “Being afterthoughts when they themselves were kids, they are diligently trying to compensate, some might say overcompensate, in raising their own kids,” Howe said.
Generation in debt, bad timing
For the Gen-X generation, investment timing has not been kind. Unlike the more financially advanced baby boomers, time is now running out to build up retirement savings. Unlike Boomers, Gen-X has not benefited from quantitative easing asset inflation to the same extent Boomers have benefited.
The average Gen-Xer purchased their house in 2003, buying in the face dramatic price appreciation just before the market crashed in 2008. This group witnessed the evaporation of nearly 45% of their net wealth between 2007 and 2009, Pew Research has pointed out.
“Along the way, Gen-X has become the most spread-out generation in terms of income and wealth distribution,” Howe said. “The combination of eroding youth safety nets, a disappearing middle class, high immigration, a tough childhood, and free agency has shaped the Gen-X mindset.”
When they purchased homes, they did so generally using more debt, thus making this a more debt-burdened group of people. Gen-X relatively positive attitudes towards debt are very different from that of Millennials, 63% of whom don’t have a credit card.