ALL IN ALL IS ALL WE ARE: Gen X Experiences Middle Age
The Slacker Generation has gotten off the couch—or at the very least, now members of this generation own the couch. Squeezed between the much larger cohorts of the Boomers and the Millennials, Gen Xers—also known as the Baby Bust Generation—find themselves saddled with a great deal of responsibility as they enter middle age and the height of their professional careers, especially when it comes to caring for both their aging parents and their own children. The members of Gen X—born between 1965 and 1976—may no longer be able to kick back and watch MTV (not that it's worth it anymore, anyway) as the burdens of financial responsibility and caretaking duties take hold, but their trademark skepticism is still very much intact.
"AMERICA'S NEGLECTED MIDDLE CHILD"
As illustrated in a 2014 report by the Pew Research Center titled "Generation X: America’s Neglected 'Middle Child,'" being stuck in the middle is a theme for the generation statistically, as it serves to bridge the gap between Boomers and Millennials in areas such as racial and ethnic makeup, political and social attitudes, and technology use.
In terms of racial and ethnic makeup, Gen X is 61 percent white, compared to the less diverse (72 percent white) Boomers and more diverse (57 percent white) Millennials. About one-fifth (21 percent) of Gen Xers are religiously unaffiliated, compared to 16 percent of Boomers and 29 percent of Millennials. When it comes to marriage, 36 percent of Gen Xers are hitched, compared to 48 percent of Boomers and 26 percent of Millennials. Regarding education, the report suggests that 54 percent of Gen Xers have some level of advanced education beyond high school, compared to only 46 percent of Early Boomers and 63 percent of Millennials.
The Forgotten Generation also falls between the Millennials and the Boomers on political and social attitudes. Forty-three percent of Gen Xers say they would prefer a larger government with more services, compared to 32 percent of Boomers and 53 percent of Millennials. Twenty-three percent of Gen Xers say unauthorized immigrants should not be allowed to stay in the country legally, compared to 30 percent of Boomers and just 16 percent of Millennials. When it comes to allowing gays and lesbians to marry, 55 percent of Gen Xers are in favor, compared to 48 percent of Boomers and 68 percent of Millennials. And when asked if "a patriotic person" describes them well, 64 percent of Gen Xers said it did, compared to 75 percent of Boomers and 49 percent of Millennials.
This pattern also holds for technology use and adoption, with 24 percent of Gen Xers reporting that they have shared a "selfie" on social media, compared to 9 percent of Boomers and 55 percent of Millennials. Additionally, the median number of Facebook friends among Facebook users in Gen X sits at 200, compared to 98 for Boomers and 250 for Millennials.
However, there are a few key instances where Gen X breaks from this statistical pattern. As suggested by the monikers Baby Bust Generation and Forgotten Generation, Gen X appears to be less distinct than both its predecessor and its successor—and its members are aware of that. According to the Pew study, 49 percent of Gen Xers claim that their generation is unique—compared to 58 percent of Boomers and 61 percent of Millennials.
Given that their generation is currently experiencing middle age, Gen Xers’ pessimism about retirement is also noteworthy. While 40 percent of Boomers and 35 percent of Millennials report that they are not confident about having enough money for retirement, 44 percent of Gen Xers report a lack of confidence in their ability to save enough for retirement.
"The people in midlife have parents who are still living," says Jon Miller, director of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth. "That can be either a big positive or a big negative."
"It's possible that at the same time that you're negotiating and trying to figure out how to fund your kid's college education, you're thinking about how to fund your mom’s nursing home," Miller says. "Probably Generation X is the first generation to truly feel that, more than any other, because in previous generations parents didn't live quite that long, and the price of college was a whole lot less. Now, the price of college can be a lot more, and the longevity of your parents probably is another five to ten years longer than it used to be."