Adults aged 35 to 55 have always found themselves bearing the brunt of family responsibility – caring simultaneously for pre- and school age children as well as ageing parents.
But according to new research from Leo Burnett in the UK, today’s Generation X-ers are ‘Generation Stretched’ – struggling under more pressures from more directions than any previous sandwich generation, ever.
Huge and rapid technological advances over the past ten to 15 years have up-ended consumer expectations, re-written business strategies and structures, and forced long-established economic systems to rapidly evolve. Advances in medicine, meanwhile, have extended expected life spans.
But the by-product of all of this has been a host of new challenges for individuals and families – from how to support school leavers who can’t afford to leave home emotionally as well as financially to how best to support friends and family as they age. And all this at a time of stagnant wage growth, rising inflation and the rise of Artificial Intelligence and Machines Learning with its threat to make a swathe of jobs obsolete.
Leo Burnett set out to understand the impact of this on different factions within UK society for two reasons.
First, because Generation X especially is a group misunderstand and over-looked by marketers preoccupied by Millennials and media fascinated by the inter-generational tension between Baby Boomers and Millennials (today’s Haves and Have-nots).
Second, it wanted to identify the opportunity for brand owners to provide support through an array of new products and services moving forward. The agency argues we need to bust the generational stereotyping that marketing seems to fall foul of when it comes to understanding the nuances of audiences but in particular Gen X.
So the agency surveyed three different groups to gauge the prevailing mood, priorities and causes of optimism and pessimism:
- Millennials, typically defined as those born between the mid-1980s and late-1990s – now aged 21-35
- Generation X-ers, typically born between the mid-1960s and early-1980s – now aged 35-55
- Baby Boomers, typically born between the mid-1940s and early-1960s – now aged 55 to 70
Generation X are roughly half the size of the generations either side – smaller and quieter we often forget the enormous influence they have had on the world we live in . This research argues that, more than being the sandwiched between twohuge generations, they are the generation responsible for both.
The results reveal that 33 to 55 year-olds – women especially – are responsible for an ageing ailing population that is living longer with greater care needs, and a younger generation of school leavers and twentysomethings who are living at home longer as they can’t afford to support themselves.
To make matters worse, this generation has been worst hit by erosion of wealth thanks to living through more than one recession.
As a result of all this, this is a generation of double carers who are gloomier and more anxious about their finances, health and future job prospects and more pessimistic about the future – earning themselves the name: Generation Stretched.
When asked if they are happy, Generation X/this group/Generation Stretched (Question: can/should we now refer to them as Generation Stretched?) is least likely to be happy – 82 per cent said they are very or fairly happy compared with 87 per cent of Baby Boomers (the happiest group).
Generation X-ers struggle to be optimistic. When asked if they expect to be much or a bit happier in the future, 58 per cent of Generation X-ers expect to be so compared with 76 per cent of Millennials. Generation X-ers are also the gloomiest. When asked if they’d been born 20 years later would they be more or less optimistic, only 20 per cent of Generation X-ers are more optimistic.
When it comes to anxiety and depression, 15 per cent of Generation X-ers claim to suffer both daily compared with 27 per cent of Millennials and just five per cent of Baby Boomers.
Other key findings include:
- 63 per cent of Gen X-ers expect to be less comfortable financially compared with 36 per cent of Millennials and 62 per cent of Baby Boomers
- 56 per cent of Generation X-ers expect to be less healthy compared with 23 per cent of Millennials and 73 per cent of Baby Boomers
- 26 per cent of Generation X-ers expect to be less secure in their career compared with 18 per cent of Millennials and four per cent of Baby Boomers
- 57 per cent of Generation X-ers expect the country to be in a worse stated than it is today compared with 46 per cent of Millennials and 53 per cent of Baby Boomers
- 48 per cent of Generation X-ers are confident they will have a comfortable retirement compared with 51 per cent of Millennials and 64 per cent of Baby Boomers
- When asked which generation has been the luckiest, only 27 per cent of Generation X-ers think they have been the luckiest compared with 59 per cent of Baby Boomers who think they have been so.
Finances are a significant worry for younger groups, the research also shows:
- 30 per cent of Millennials and 14 per cent of Generation X-ers say finances have been a consideration in their decision to move in with a partner.
- 28 per cent of Millennials and 10 per cent of Generation X-ers have lived with their parents for a period since the age of 21 – compared with just two per cent of Baby Boomers.
Sarah Baumann at Leo Burnett said: “Generation X has become the first sandwich generation for whom retirement will start beyond 65 and who in their late sixties and early seventies may well be having to support ageing parents in their 90s and unemployed or underemployed offspring.
“This brings with it a set of unique challenges. For example, at a time when social care is collapsing under the weight of sheer numbers Generation X is the generation looking after everybody. Yet the challenge they face is to stay fit and healthy at a time when they themselves are ageing and their responsibilities strip them of time for self-care.
“This is the generation that chose to have kids later and failed to save enough for their own retirement, the generation in the front line in the battle against dementia and the generation that may end up needing to find ways of accommodating three generations in one living space because they are unable to live independently.
“Unprecedented shifts mean that we are a society with no clear blueprint as to how to manage the changes brought about by huge and rapid technological advancement and previously unexperienced longevity of the human lifespan.
“But this also provides new opportunities to create new solutions to a new generation of problems. The call to arms is for braver marketing approaches for the generation who did more to build the cult of brands than any other generation before them, and were responsible for more than they are possibly credited with across all manner of things.
The six areas the agency identifies as richest with the greatest opportunities for brand owners are: finance, mental health, the pressures of cross generation co-habitation, understanding of tech and digital habits, emotional intelligence and new ways to work and earn.