The Metropolitan Life Insurance Corporation’s Mature Life Institute just released the findings of its recent study, The MetLife Study of Gen X: The MTV Generation Moves into Mid-Life. The study is based on a nationally representative sample that was demographically weighted to reflect the U.S. population of people born between 1965 and 1977. This group represents the first distinct cohort post-Baby Boom. The MetLife study asked respondents about a number of issues including: work habits and retirement planning; housing; families and health.
The term itself, “Generation X” or “Gen. X” was first popularized by Douglas Coupland in his 1991 novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. The name Generation X came to stand for this cohort’s seeming lack of generational identity, at least in comparison to the very strong identity of their Baby Boom predecessors.
As the MetLife study observes, “The perception of Gen Xers was of unfocused ‘twentysomethings’ lacking drive and taking an extraordinarily long time to grow up. While it may be true of any generation in their twenties, a new life stage called ‘emerging adulthood’ was initially a result of this generation’s inability to be fully self-sufficient until their late 20s.”
With this group now entering middle-age, it’s fitting to take stock of where the “failure to launch” generation has traveled. According to the study, they’ve fared better than their inauspicious start may have suggested they would.
Most Generation Xers are working full-time (65 percent) as are 70 percent of their spouses/partners, indicating Gen Xers largely live in dual-income households. They also tend to be better educated than their parents’ generation. More than half (55 percent) of Gen Xers are not working in the career they had intended when they entered the workforce, yet most (87 percent) are somewhat or very satisfied with their career advancement.
The report suggests that Gen Xers have come to own the realities of adulthood, especially in the area of retirement planning. Gen Xers, like the Baby Boomer generation before them, want to retire at about age 62. Even so, the average age Gen Xers actually believe they will be able to retire is 67. Forty-two percent think they will have to retire later than they had hoped. So much for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Unlike the spacious Manhattan apartment occupied by exemplar Xers, Monica and Rachael on NBC’s Friends sitcom, this cohort tends to be home owners (82 percent). Their homes have an average value of $238,000, but 17 percent are “upside down” — owing more on their mortgage than the value of the home.
In opposition to the freewheeling egoists that one might predict, Gen Xers tend to be fully ensconced in other aspects of the middle America paradigm. The majority of GenXers are married, and of those, only about 20 percent have been married more than once. Three fourths have children, with an average of about 2.5 children. Almost 20 percent have blended families that include a child from a previous relationship.
The majority (63 percent ) still have both parents living. Twenty-nine percent have only one parent, and only 9 percent have no parents living. Almost two in 10 provide regular care for older parents or other relatives, with an average of almost 11 hours of care per week.
While their Boomer parents may not have been able to imagine it, the children who made the living room erupt with early Mtv videos, punk rock, pink Izods and Valley Girl appear to have grown up much more Ward and June Cleaver than anyone would have thought. Nothing says this more clearly than being studied by a life insurance company.