You may have heard there is a 1990s pop culture revival in full swing. Having dutifully unpacked my Nirvana CDs, I now understand why the denim skirt The Lovely Lisa brought home a few weeks back came with holes in it. I’ve always found it amusing that these spontaneous outbursts of mass nostalgia run on a strict two-decade cycle. We celebrated the ‘50s in the ‘70s (with Henry Winkler’s help), the ‘60s in the ‘80s and so on.
All of this is to say that now is a good time to check back in with Generation X (a cohort I’m proud to call my own). The oldest among our little group are 50 now. The youngest are in their early 30s. Having spent the better part of our adulthood complaining about the disadvantages that come naturally when one is born at the end of a baby boom, things are starting to look up.
This is somewhat counterintuitive, given the state of things. Despite Canada’s mild-mannered economic recovery, Generation X enjoys three clear advantages:
1. We’re not Gen Y.
The unemployment rate among Canadians aged 15 to 24 hit an appalling 14.8% in June. That contrasts sharply with the national rate of 7.2%. You’ve really got to feel for those kids. Gen Xers are mid-career for the most part, and we’re enjoying the little bit of security that comes with that. We are equally grateful not to be in the shoes of our older colleagues. The only thing worse than being unemployed and 20 right now is being out of work and 60.
2. We’re not afraid of stocks.
Equities play a key role in an investment plan. They add risk to your portfolio, which of course provides the potential for higher returns. Younger investors are typically advised to commit a higher percentage of their investment dollars to stocks, in part because they have the advantage of a long time horizon during which they can recover from short-term drops in equity prices. As we get closer to retirement, we reduce our exposure to stocks and concentrate on less-volatile investments. Gen X investors have enjoyed a pretty good run. If you started investing on Feb. 1, 1999, you would have noted that Canada’s main stock index closed at 6,765.44. Yesterday, the S&P/TSX Composite closed up more than 200 points at 11,863.5. Those who started investing more recently have an entirely different perspective. The same index is down sharply from its all-time high of 15,073.1, set in June of 2008. Gen Y’s fear of stocks is understandable, but unwise. (We have a related advantage over Baby Boomers on this point. Gen Xers have a decade or more before retirement, which should be ample time to recover from the current downturn. Boomers don’t have that luxury.)
3. Unretirement comes as no surprise.
In previous years, there was a sharp contrast between the views of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers on the question of retirement. While many Boomers looked forward to an early exit from the workplace and a luxurious, permanent vacation, our plans were more modest. Like a lot of my friends, I never considered early retirement a goal. Two reasons: 1) I didn’t enjoy the economic advantages that many Boomers took for granted, which forced me to be realistic about money and 2) I was lucky enough (largely because of my parents’ support) to be able to study and then work in a field I love. Unretirement – the idea that Canadians will work past the traditional retirement age for economic reasons and because they choose to – is very much aligned with the Gen X perspective.
I don’t mean to suggest that middle-aged Canadians have it easy. But I do think that relative to the tough time Baby Boomers and Generation Y are having, Gen X enjoys real advantages. My generation’s place in the world has come a long way since the days of Kurt Cobain and torn jeans. That’s something I’m grateful for.
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