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Could Gen X be the most prepared generation in America right now?


August 4, 2020 By Robert Douglas, SVP, dentsu X US

As a member of Gen X, I have to agree.

From raising my Gen Z kids to keeping tabs on my mom who is from the Silent Generation with two Baby Boomer sisters and my Millennial nieces and nephew during this pandemic, I can’t help but reflect upon my generation without saying, “We got this.”

Generation X—those born between 1965 and 1980— is arguably the most mentally equipped to thrive through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gen Xers also have a lot of influence on other generations, which makes them powerful. This group of about 65.45 million in the United States is this era's "sandwich generation" caring for both their children and senior parents.

Proofs that Gen X is always ready

We are the first significant generation that grew up as latchkey kids, learning self-sufficiency when we were young, returning home after school to empty households as both parents were at work. "If I could sum up Generation X in one word, it would be self-sufficient," "This generation enjoys taking on responsibility while also maintaining their freedom and prioritizing work/life balance."

We endured the bombardment of the crack epidemic, AIDS epidemic, War On Drugs, mass incarceration, heightened racial tensions, the savings and loan crisis, the energy crisis, and later on September 11, Iraq War, Ebola, and Zika.  A Pew Research Center analysis of Federal Reserve data indicates that Gen X was the generation hit hardest during the Great Recession in 2008, as their household net worth fell 38% between 2007 and 2010. This is far more significant than the typical wealth loss for Boomer and Silent households.

"As the generation raised in the age of stranger danger and Just Say No, our inherent risk aversion is finally being recognized as a great strength and asset to the survival of the species," wrote Megan Gerhardt, professor of leadership and management at Miami University. Gerhardt wrote Gen X is well-equipped for the pandemic for three reasons.

  1. Gen Xers had experience riding out the historic crises such as those listed above.
  2. Gen Xers were not raised with the overscheduled life of Millennials, which has left Millennials feeling directionless in a pandemic.
  3. Gen Xers are well incentivized to stay home to care for and serve as role models for their parents and children.

Gen X in COVID-19 pandemic

Their perceptions are shaped by growing up having to take care of themselves early and watching their politicians lie and their parents get laid off. Vanity Fair Journalist Rich Cohen dubbed Gen X as the generation "best suited to preserve American tradition in these dark new days." He believes Gen Xers are steeped in irony, detachment, and a sense of dread.

Gen Xers may be taking COVID-19 more seriously than Boomers or Millennials, so says CNBC health reporter Cory Steig. She reasons that Gen Xers have more experience working through tumultuous times, as they were in the workforce during other pivotal times like 9/11 and the 2008 stock market crash.   And amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, many Gen Xers who are responsible for running households, taking care of children and caring for elderly parents must assume the brunt of the stress.

Being adaptive like a Gen Xer is crucial right now, O'Neill says. "This pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives and with that disruption comes pressure to change and modify our worn-in patterns of behavior," she says. "Being willing to adapt and make accommodations is necessary, with the reminder that current required change is largely temporary."

Gen X as a target audience

As reported by Business Insider, Gen Xers make significantly more money each year than their younger counterparts. Not surprisingly, they spend more, too, averaging 11% more than Baby Boomers and 33% more than Millennials. If Gen X is better prepared for this pandemic, then it can be argued they could be the best target audience and most receptive to new, empathetic, and highly entertaining advertising from marketers. More so for Gen Xers than others, exposure to a brand or advertising is less important than the experience they have with that brand. 

As Jeff Loucks, Executive Director for Technology, Media and Telecommunications at Deloitte, stated in an eMarketer report on Gen X, "They are eager for a better ad experience, and they want a better exchange of attention for content."