Last updated: Whatever, Nevermind: Gen X years, stats, work, spending trends

Whatever, Nevermind: Gen X years, stats, work, spending trends


Listen to article

Download audio as MP3

With all the talk about Gen Z as marketers try to keep up with their likes and dislikes, the generation that their parents generally belong to is often overlooked. Growing up in the shadow of baby boomers and coming of age before the mass of millennials, Generation X is routinely forgotten.

Maybe Gen Xers don’t really care that much about the lack of attention. After all, they were known for youthful alienation and disaffection in the 80s, as reflected in a common refrain of the era: whatever.

But now, sandwiched between raising kids and taking care of parents, Generation X has shed the slacker stereotypes from the past. Well into their middle years with the oldest inching towards retirement, they’re calling the shots at work and flexing their muscles in the digital economy. Man's face looking bored with the word "Blah" repeated behind him. The copy reads: "LESS BLAH, MORE HURRAH. When all sites + technology look the same, customer experience is THE differentiating factor when it comes to growth + retention. Hear what 1,000 CX leaders had to say about how they're planning to stand out from the crowd in an AI-dominated future. REGISTER NOW."

I want my MTV: Gen X definition, years, & stats

Pew Research defines the birth years for Generation X as 1965 to 1980. But some describe the birth years generally as mid 1960s to the start of the 1980s.

There were far fewer babies born in the US during these years – 55 million – compared to the baby boomer generation, when 75 million were born between 1946 and 1964.

Also called the baby bust generation, Gen X was showed up by the millennial generation (1981-1996) that followed, when 62 million were born. This earned them another nickname: the middle child.

As the nuclear family began to fall apart in the 1960s and 1970s, Gen Xers were more likely to have grown up in single-parent household, becoming known as latch-key kids.

Left on their own, they watched the 24-hour music channel MTV (aka the MTV generation), listened to grunge bands like Nirvana, wore flannel shirts, shopped thrift stores, and played video games like Tetris and Donkey Kong.

The Gen X moniker became well known with Douglas Copeland’s 1991 novel, “Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture,” about a trio of twentysomethings living aimlessly in the California desert.

Here we are now, entertain us: Generation X stats

  1. Today, there are about 64.5 million Gen Xers in the US, per US Census Bureau records analyzed by Pew Research.
  2. Gen Xers make up nearly a fifth of the US population.
  3. They’re well their middle years, aged mid 40s to late 50s.
  4. They’re better educated than older generations, and the first generation with more college-educated women than men.
  5. Gen X is more diverse than previous generations, but less than millennials and Gen Z.

From slackers to corporate CEOs and world leaders

As young adults, Gen Xers became known as the slacker generation, characterized by ambivalence towards work and life in general. Movies like “Reality Bites” and “Singles” helped perpetuate their reputation as a cynical, listless lot lacking ambition.

In 1990, TIME magazine described them as balking at work and unable to make decisions with attention spans as “short as one zap of a TV dial.”

🎼We’re halfway there🎼 However, Generation X did – and still does – have the wherewithal to rage against the machine. The below commercial was served up to Gen X countless times a day amid their youth. Today in America, marijuana is legal in 24 states.

But now, as baby boomers retire from the workforce in droves, Gen Xers are leading the way in boardrooms and state rooms. Nearly 270 of them are in charge of Fortune 500 companies, including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. World leaders include French President Emmanuel Macron.

Gen X accounts for 51% of global leaders, according to a DDI study of 25,000 leaders across 54 countries and 26 industry sectors. The average age of new CEOs is about 53 years.

At the same time, Gen Xers are slower to get promoted than either of the generations they’re sandwiched between. The DDI study found that Gen X leaders have only 1.2 promotions in the past five years compared to 1.4 for baby boomers and 1.6 for millennials.

And while Gen Xers are deep into their careers and climbing the ladder, millennials already eclipsed them in sheer numbers in the workforce.

The younger generation is the largest in the American labor force, the Pew Research Center announced five years ago.

The angst is real: In her best-seller Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, author Ada Calhoun took a deep-dive into the burdens and benefits of Gen X women, noting that many execs see the tremendous value of having Generation X employees and leaders – they’re resilient, pragmatic, loyal staff members who often serve as the bridge between the digital natives and analog generations in the workplace:

Dude, for real? Gen Xers lag boomers in money matters

The dot com bust in the late 90s and and economic crisis of 2008 hit Gen Xers hard, but they’ve rebounded. Their total net worth jumped during the pandemic and they now hold 28.6% of the nation’s wealth, according to a Bloomberg report.

Compared to baby boomers, however, Gen Xers haven’t saved nearly as much, making them less ready for retirement. Research by the National Institute on Retirement Security found that the typical Gen X household only has $40,000 in retirement savings.

“Retirement savings for Generation X is highly concentrated among the highest earners, while Blacks and Hispanics have substantially lower savings and access to retirement plans as compared to whites,” the institute said in announcing the research.

The report notes that Gen X was the first generation to enter the labor market when 401Ks began replacing defined benefit pension plans. The Wall Street Journal notes that, “Americans born between 1965 and 1980 now make up the country’s first downwardly mobile generation. Wages are stagnating, industries are imploding and our generation often loses out to both older and younger workers in the fight for jobs. Meanwhile, we hold more debt than any other generation, we were hit hardest by the housing bust and the cost of nearly everything is going up.”

Another study found that 45% of baby boomers, the last generation to work during widespread workplace pension programs, have saved $250,000 or more.

Gen Xers also carry much more debt than baby boomers, with unpaid mortgages making up a big portion of their liability. One survey found that they also carry the most credit-card debt than any generation, even more than their younger cohorts.

Ada Calhoun explains, “A typical fortysomething woman, unlike her mother or grandmother at the same age, is likely to have high-stress responsibilities coupled with major debt, no job security, and a rising cost of living. The average family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman working full-time, and more than a third of them also have children at home. Gen Xers also carry $36,000 more in personal debt than other generations.”

Totally getting it done: Gen X at work

Given their shaky financial footing (not to mention that they’re likely to be responsible for both children and parents), it’s no surprise that most Gen Xers aren’t planning to step away from the work world anytime soon.

Much attention has been paid to millennial and Gen Z and their work habits while Gen Xers quietly keep at it. All those latch-key kids grew up figuring things out on their own, making independence one of the defining traits of the generation.

This independence influences the way they work, especially compared to the hierarchical habits of the generations that came before them. Gen Zers do fine without a lot of structure and tend to be self-reliant, go-with-the flow types.

They remember a world without Wi-Fi, mobile phones, social media, and home offices. On top of all the economic ups and downs they’ve lived through, adapting to change has been their specialty.

At the risk of heaping on more generalizations, here are a few workplace habits and traits associated with Gen X:

  • They value autonomy; they’ll collaborate with the group, but like working things out on their own.
  • Growing up with the rise of personal computers, Gen Xers are comfortable with technology and relatively tech-savvy.
  • While millennials are known for valuing work-life balance, Gen Xers also want time for themselves beyond their career.

Living in a material world: The Gen X consumer

Marketers and pollsters today are obsessed with Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012. With all the focus on the TikTok generation and how they’re likely to shape up as consumers, little attention is paid to how Gen X is spending its money.

In fact, Gen X spent the most of any generation in the US in 2021, according to a World Economic Forum and Visual Capitalist report. Housing was their biggest expense, as it was for all ages.

With the lights out, it’s more dangerous

On average, Gen X spends the most while drunk shopping. Get the details HERE. Or don’t. We’re ambivalent.

Beyond the basics, though, it’s hard to put together a clear view of Gen X as a consumer. They share a lot of the same habits as other generations, including omnichannel shopping, researching products online before purchase, and discovering products through social media.

But a Worldpay from FIS study zeroed in on the spending habits of Generation X – with some interesting results:

  • 51% of of Gen Xers have purchased an item through social media, according to a Worldpay from FIS study.
  • While they like traditional payment methods such as cash and credit cards, 56% think mobile wallets are easier.
  •  72% of Gen X said loyalty programs are an important factor when choosing where to purchase.
  • More than other generations, they have a preference for shopping local.

Here are a few random findings from other studies:

Coming into their own, to the max

As they get older, Gen Xers continue to be lost in the shuffle, suffering the indignity of being lumped together with baby boomers as clueless and out of touch with the times.

But Gen X has done pretty well in spite of the lack of spotlight. Written off as slackers more interested in having fun than doing anything meaningful, this small but mighty generation has proven it more than holds its own.

Retail doesn’t rest.
A recent survey of digital execs shows where e-commerce is going.
Get the stats + data

Share this article


Search by Topic beginning with