'Soccer Mom Is Dead'

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If there is one asset that is most important to Gen X parents, it's time. While Gen X dads are spending less time with their kids than Gen X moms, both are spending more time with their children than Boomer parents. In short, Gen X parents are putting family, not career and not financial wealth, first - a generation shift that analysts say is baffling marketers.

Time, and how people spend it, continues to be a pressing issue. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its first Time-Use Survey earlier this month to gauge how Americans spend their days. The survey revealed men spend one hour longer each day at work than their wives. But among parents employed or not, for those with children under 6, women spend more than twice as much time (2.7 hours a day) as men providing primary care, which the BLS defines as activities centered around the child, including reading, playing and attending children's events. The survey, which examines time use across demographic and labor force groups, is based on data collected from interviews with 21,000 people in 2003.

But how much do Gen X parents differ from Baby Boomers when it comes to child-rearing and family concerns? According to James Chung, president of Boston-based Reach Advisors, a market research and consulting firm, the differences are significant.

"We've been noticing a really weird shift happening at companies that used to be really good at serving families," Chung warns. In some cases, he says, the rate of consumer growth at some client companies has been slowing and others were experiencing negative growth. "They didn't know if it was due to the economy or 9/11. In part, it was due to a dramatically different customer base that was looking and behaving in a dramatically different manner than companies knew of five years ago."

To better understand this consumer shift, Reach conducted a study on Generation X parenting, which it recently released, called "From Grunge to Grown Up." The report includes the results from 3,020 Gen X and Baby Boom parents nation-wide.

According to the report, parents are shifting their schedules to spend more time with their children than Boomers are or did. And, as a result, the rate of female workforce participation is lower today. According to the Census, 10.6 million children under 15 in two-parent homes were being raised by stay-at-home moms, a 13 percent increase from the previous decade.

"Even Gen X dads are spending more time with their children than prior generations. You would think that dads are happy about that," Chung says. But interestingly, they're not. "They're less satisfied than Baby Boomer dads because they're not spending more time with their kids."

According to the Reach report, 48 percent of Gen X fathers spend three to six hours per day on child rearing, versus 39 percent of Boomer dads, and 47 percent of Gen Xers wish they could spend more time with their children, compared to 36 percent of Boomers.

But strengthening family ties doesn't come without a price. In fact, Gen Xers' debt levels are 78 percent higher than their Boomer parents' debt at the same life stage, almost all of which is due to the high cost of housing. "Xers didn't buy in before the run up in real estate and [as of two years ago] their housing debt was 62 percent higher than Boomers at the same life stage," Chung says. "It's more expensive to be an Xer at this point in life."

Still, debt doesn't scare Xers back into the workforce, especially those Xers whom, when children, were branded as Latchkey Kids for often being left home unsupervised. Instead, they'd rather pare down their expenses. And as a result, unlike their Boomer parents, Gen Xers are not big buyers of luxury items such as BMWs. "They're a little less concerned with trying to have it all, which was the Boomer mantra," Chung explains. "Gen Xers are more willing to make tradeoffs to spend more time with the family. They are still buying, but buying differently. They're spending thoughtfully. It's no longer about living large. It's more about getting the best they can afford and what is right for their kids."

This makes a marketer's job even more challenging. "This shift is totally baffling a lot of marketers out there," Chung states.

Understandably, it's a difficult market to reach. For starters, it's a smaller generation than their parents' generation. And Xers spend less time with traditional media such as print and television and rely on the Internet more than Boomers for information, Chung suggests. What's more, they refuse to fit into roles that were once defined by their parents. "The whole concept of the Soccer Mom is dead," Chung says. Simply put, Gen X moms are rejecting the idea of an overworked mom who is trying to squeeze everything into the day to make sure their kids get "the optimal education and enrichment environment to get them into Harvard." Instead, he says, "there's much more of an attitude of 'let's let kids be kids.'"

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