Understanding the Generational Divide – Gen Xers

Two weeks ago, I started this four-part series delving into the generational divide and how this impacts legacy

Two weeks ago, I started this four-part series delving into the generational divide and how this impacts legacy / gifts in wills / planned giving marketing and engagement.  The first installment explored the Traditionalist generation and last week, the Baby Boomer generation.

This week I’ll delve into the best, most dynamic generation of all … Generation X (also dubbed the MTV generation)! Oh oops, I may be a little biased 😉😁

While getting an estimation of the number of Gen Xers globally has proven difficult to find, the US reported in 2019 there are 65.2 million Gen Xers so we can surmise there are over 1 billion of us in the world.

Here we go! 

Generation X (1965-1980) 

Generation X has been labeled the “lost” generation. Living in the shadow of the boom, this generation were the first children to be born from women who took the birth control pill, or who were single mothers. The rate of traditional nuclear families decreased and divorce among Gen Xers’ parents skyrocketed, while dual income families resulted in latchkey kids that became responsible for taking care of themselves.

As survivors of the economic wars of the 70’s and 80’s, Gen Xers developed a strong sense of personal protection and cynicism about the future. Gen Xers experienced a profound sense of limited opportunities due to reduced educational opportunities and a weak overall economy.

Unlike previous generations, Gen Xers were unimpressed by political and economic leaders. They learnt to resist labels from the media, teachers or parents who categorized them as lazy, as slackers that lacked the hard work and dedication of their predecessors.

In the absence of nuclear families, Gen Xers learnt to fend for themselves and create non-traditional families by bonding with friends and colleagues. Their work lives and social lives blend together to create a fluid environment where the boundaries between work and play are blurred.

Unlike their Boomer parents, this generation “works to live” versus “lives to work”. Gen Xers seek balance in their lives and are generally unwilling to dedicate a disproportionate amount of time to “a job”. This generation seeks independent, freelance, entrepreneurial opportunities versus traditional corporate roles.

Interestingly, Gen Xers in Russia are referred to as “the last Soviet children” because they are the last children to come of age prior to the downfall of communism and prior to the fall of the Soviet Union. In France, although the generation is not widely defined, they are referred to as “Génération Bof” because of their tendency to use the word ‘bof’ which means ‘whatever’.

In the UK, they’re called “Thatcher’s children” because they grew up during her time as Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 which was a time of social flux and transformation. In Germany, Gen X is not widely used. Instead, they’re referenced as “Generation Golf” in the previous West Germany republic (based on a novel by Florian Illies), and in the east, they’re referred to as the children of “Mauerfall” which means ‘wall coming down’. 

Life Defining Events

Each generational cohort experiences social, economic, and cultural events that shape its mindset and identity. These life-defining events bond people together through a shared coming of age experience. To fully engage with donors of all generations, it’s important to understand the life-defining events that each cohort has experienced to better appreciate the values, characteristics and skills each holds dear.

  • Women’s liberation movement
  • The first personal computers
  • Crack epidemic and AIDS
  • The Challenger disaster
  • Massive downsizing of corporate America leading to a recession
  • Reagan/Mulroney/Thatcher conservatism
  • Fall of Berlin Wall
  • Operation Desert Storm
  • Rodney King beating and riots in LA
  • MTV, birth of punk rock, grunge and hip hop

Impact on Legacies

Digital Approach

Gen Xers are considered a difficult group to reach, mistakenly defined by millennial and baby boomer characteristics. However, they represent 3 out of 10 internet users so this is where you’ll find them.

Despite arriving late to the social media scene, they’re rapidly catching up with the millennial and Gen Z audiences that preceded them to these platforms. Female Gen Xers spend the longest amount on social media, clocking an average of 2 hours 15 minutes a day, a quarter of an hour ahead of males. Facebook might see the highest membership from this audience outside of China, but, since late 2015, Instagram and Snapchat membership has almost doubled. Meanwhile, TikTok, though far more popular among Gen Zs, is also beginning to take off with Gen Xers.

Some sources indicate that over 6 out of 10 Gen Xers agree the internet makes them feel closer to people. However, they have yet to reach the mobile tipping point which means that engagement strategies should include both smartphones and desktops/laptops. Having witnessed the first home computers in the 1970’s/80’s, Gen Xers are more comfortable using computers for certain activities, the majority of which are commerce related.

As you engage with your Gen X donors, make sure your content and marketing is adapted for different platforms. Leverage your social media channels, especially Facebook and Instagram.

Financial Outlook

Gen Xers’ earning power and savings were compromised first by the dotcom bust, and second by the financial crisis of 2008 and the Great Recession. Many Gen X households began building their savings during these periods. The effects of the ensuing bear markets still weigh heavily on their portfolios. Unsurprisingly, many will need the wealth transfer from their Baby Boomer parents.

Gen Xers’ relatively lower levels of wealth (compared to their parents’) will make it difficult for them to maintain their parents’ consumption patterns, rising costs of education, healthcare, and property. And then there’s the sandwich syndrome—the fact that this generation has reached the age when they are supporting and educating children while also providing care for aging parents.

The retirement landscape is different for Gen X than for their parents. In countries with government-sponsored pension plans, Gen Xers aren’t counting on these plans and are instead lying on their own, privately-funded retirement plans.

While their cash flow for regular giving may be diminished, and their investments may not have increased in value as expected (especially now dealing with the impact of the pandemic on investments), there is hope the economy will eventually recover and will positively impact Gen Xers’ investment portfolios. 

Estate Planning

Understanding these challenges and to prevent possible financial hardship, Gen Xers are starting to plan their estates. They are currently planning their first will which presents an opportunity for charities that can engage with their Gen X donors to be included. In addition, because they’re likely taking care of their young children and possibly a parent, they don’t have the same hangups about money and estate planning (living trusts, power of attorney, etc.). Legacy conversations will likely be easier and feel less intrusive or inappropriate.

Continuing to show current and future impact will inspire donors to consider a gift in their will. Seeing as many are helping their parents plan their estate, you don’t need to educate them about the need to have a will. You do, however, need to let them know why your organization can have greater impact in the future with gifts in wills. 

Recognizing that these gifts will be realized in 20-30 years, it’s important to start having these conversations today to make sure your charity is front of mind and then design great engagement opportunities to maintain the relationship for years to come.

So we have covered the 3 main generations that are currently financially impacting your charity. Come back next week when we explore how Millennials differ from Gen Xers.

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