The issue, for 15 years now, hasn't been whether Gen Xers are, were, or ever will be slackers. Suffice it to say, that term self-served a generation of people who were disappointed by their inability to enthuse their children in a Jimi Hendrix-solo version of the American Dream. The issue is, what's the game plan for this generation of adults to get out from between the rock and the hard place (Baby Boomers and Generation Y) in history, business, society and culture?
What Generation X is, foremost in importance perhaps, is the best-educated generation in U.S. history, and the first signs of their game plan for the future may be evident in their present choices of how to earn a livelihood. They may not be working at 9-to-5 corporate desk jobs like their parents, but they have an opportunity to be the first generation to enter the most powerful period of their careers with technological tools that have never existed before at their disposal. The hallmark Xer freethinking, along with their laziness, could be just what is needed to transform technology that's available, but not utilized, to make offices and desks handheld pocket-sized devices.
Over the next 10 years, most of Gen X will cross over into its 40s, historically individuals' money-making years. The 45-to-54 age demographic, on average over the past 30 years, earned 60 percent more than any other age group. While that figure is eye-opening, the 35-to-44 cohort, which is quickly filling with Gen Xers, ranks a close second, taking home only an average of 10 percent less than 45- to 54-year-olds.
American Demographics asked Encino, Calif.-based E-Poll to survey 1,032 online respondents to benchmark Gen X's current employment status, compared with other generations. The sample skewed slightly male and higher-income than the general population, but respondents' age and race closely matches census estimates.
The assumptions going in were these: Gen Xers need to make new rules in personal financial planning, and as a collective whole, dealing with the double-whammy of supporting an aging society and their own children's skyrocketing education costs. Any opportunity to avoid excessive tax burden would be natural among this cohort. What we found was that Gen X respondents classified themselves as Self-employed Professionals 25 percent more frequently than did their older counterparts in the survey, and 10 percent of Gen X respondents said their title was Owner-Partner. Rather than swearing fealty to a large corporation, 38 percent of Gen X respondents said they worked for privately held companies or for a private individual, while only 18 percent said they were employed by a publicly held company.
Another expectation was with Generation X's high level of education. The Current Population Survey estimates that 30 percent of the Gen X population have college degrees; they should be performing high skill level jobs. The results showed that 9 percent of Gen X respondents said that their job function was medical, 5 percent more than people older or younger, and 2 percent more of Gen Xers listed their job title as Doctor.
Also on the topic of education, as detailed in The Young Adult Market: Generation X Grows Up, a report from Packaged Facts, Gen X women are better educated than Gen X men by almost 3 percent. This level of education among women in the age group has allowed them to get into the workforce and contribute to the household income in much greater numbers than preceding generations. In response to the question, Are you the sole wage earner? only 32 percent of the Gen X age group said they were, compared with 39 percent of older respondents. This higher level of single-income households in older respondents may not be due solely to the fact that women in the younger cohort are better educated, but it is most likely a major contributor to the change in composition of families and household incomes. Additional incomes are part of the game plan as the next decade progresses.
Rather than say that members of Generation X are slackers, we should think of them as people who have been put in a difficult situation. They have been asked to support, directly or indirectly, two population groups who together are 40 percent larger than their group is. Xers atypical attitudes and employment choices may enable them to meet the atypical challenges that will come at the height of their careers.
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