Today's economy

Three reasons Generation X has it made

By Kevin Press,

Comments (38)

Image of a Generation X professional feeling secure and confident.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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Rocky Racoon on

What you should all realize is that every generation gets screwed: the boomers out of their pensions, the x’ers out of ever getting one and the Y’s who don’t have to worry about any of it because we’ll all be toast by 2050 anyway. RR

Ed on

I categorically disagree with this article. Gen Y who aren’t seeking employment are probably starting their own business. Those who are seeking employment but can’t find employment may very well be convinced that they’re savvy enough to begin their own start up. To quote Lawrence Summers when he was President of Harvard, “Our students (referring to Gen Y students currently enrolled in 2005) don’t find jobs but rather create jobs for themselves.”

The stock market is a beast where you either get it and have made your money or where you don’t get it and have lost an arm or a leg. Those who don’t get it, are those that have lost money are either boomers or X because they’re now scared of the markets. Gen Y wouldn’t have had anything substantial enough saved up to be in the markets to begin with, and if they had, it didn’t come from savings. It probably came from them gaming the market and making something from it, so their not scared, they’re actually very comfortable with it and have made money from it.

Staying on the job. Perhaps Gen X has been instilled with a philosophy where they need to work for someone else for as long as possible to prove something. In real life though, working for someone else only proves two things, you’re loyal and you’re being taken advantaged of. Why stay at a job when there’s nothing left for you when it’s your turn at the pension line. We all know that by the time the boomers are done collecting their pension from the company pension plan that nothing will be left for anyone. Perhaps Gen X has too much vested in the company pension that leaving now would be a loss for them. Gen Y sees that the whole pension system is a ponzi scam and believes that it’s best to invest in themselves and their own business to provide for a pension that they know will go no where but into their own pockets.

Gen X are the army ants that the boomers created to serve them. Gen Y saw right through it and wouldn’t buy into the scam that the boomers created to profit themselves with.

Donna Hooson on

Seriously people, you sound like a bunch of bitter resentful and angry group. Stop blaming every other generation for screwing up. If you think it is so flawed………. Then fix it and stop whining.

    J on

    Another enlightened comment from another hard-done by boomer. I’d guess.

    J on

    So why does Jon on 21 get to call my comments airheaded, but when I reply in kind my comment gets deleted?

      Jon on

      Perhaps my adjective was a descriptor on the comments. Yours J on Feb 22, was name calling. I am usually very accommodating on legitimate alternate points of view. But what boils my blood in this case is slanderous blame on people who happen to of been born in a certain time frame. Blame the politicians who spent beyond the country’s means in more recent times, but don’t blame the 1946 to 1965 model year.

      J on

      Those politicians who spent beyond the country’s means were boomers, who spent to the benefit of boomers. Those who came after you are forced, without their consent and with far less resources available to them than you boomers have, to foot the bill.
      Blameworthy, you bet.

antonio zeus on

this is the exact reason why youth cant find jobs.. because people are not retiring.

good job GEN X

    aconventgirl on

    People are not retiring because we cannot afford to retire. Most of my friends and I are ready but financially unable to retire. Most single retired women that I know, work under the table to put food on the table.

    This comparison between generations is counter-productive. It is separates groups of people, makes absurd generalizations and as Jon repeatedly stated, does not take individual sitiations and lives into consideration.

    It’s time to grow up and stop the blame game.

Sean. B on

On a side note, before you start bashing Generation Y, take a look at who’s raising them.

Jon L. on

I’m a Gen Xer myself, and I have to admit, most of Gen X got a huge boost by getting a start in the job market during the mid-late 90s boom years. Even with the 2000s decline, having job experience kept us afloat. Gen Y is being thrown into a job market where “entry level” jobs require 2, 3, or more years’ experience already.

Kyle on

I don’t think we should be too smug about the Gen Ys. Sure they have it tough now but I don’t think its any tougher than when we were their age. I think they’re pretty smart and pretty savvy and will come out okay. Their entitlement attitude is taking a beating right now but once they get over that they’ll be better for it. We didn’t have the jobs to have the money to buy the house at age 20 to 30. But I think when the Boomers start retiring / dying the housing market is going to plummet back down to reality.

And I don’t think we should be smug about our investments either. Its simple economics … when the Boomers start selling their stock to live on the prices of their stocks will go down. If the Gen Ys don’t have the money to invest then those stock prices will keep going down.

J on

I think we are more entrepreneurial and less risk-averse than other generations, but we had to be… because of the lack of opportunity we had. I remember when I was in Grad Studies and the dept. head. asked why I was bothering as it would take 10-15 years before I’d have a chance at a uni job in my chosen field. Didn’t give me motivation to complete my thesis. Same thing in the legal field. People with averages significantly worse than ours but several years older got good jobs. Many of us didn’t.
But thanks to historical accident, I managed to buy a home before the great price inflation, without paying years on a mortgage without any significant increase in my equity. It made for a nice increase in my net worth that allowed me to make other investments.

Sadly, a number of my friends were more unfortunate. A few have even been in and out of mental institutions because they couldn’t cope with the stress of failure, and their inability to live to the class status they had grown up in.

Milk on

there are still plenty of people out there to prove our generation is a failure. I see one in the mirror every morning. When you talk about being mid career and stocks, i feel like an alien is talking about a life on a planet i do not know. of course i followed a link here and now see this is a site about money, health and family. Three things i do not have.

Jon on

Another benefit of being X or Y: A massive housing infrastructure and estate transfer as the post war baby boomers commence departure (from this dear earth). Enjoy.

    GenXTough on

    Nothing like a broken down, barely paid for public infrastructure that costs more to fix than start from scratch.
    ” Boomers globally will take out 350 billion more from economy than they ever put in. ” The Economist 2012.
    Gen X was smart enough to realize it and that they would have to pay for their own, their parents through taxes their parents never paid, and likely their kids as nothing is left. They shouldered it, maybe with a little griping. Boomers just live on in a bliss and wonder why everyone doesn’t thank them for their excesses and lack of self discipline.

      Jon on

      Having emerged into adulthood in the late 1970’s and buckling down to work after PAYING ALL MY OWN WAY THROUGH COLLEGE,(tuition and subsistence) and starting out in a high income tax world (thanx for that Trudeau) with an 18.75% mortgage which has just now been paid off, and saving for my own retirement, (which is being clawed back by the government) with an income which was relatively lower in comparison to today and living a plain lifestyle that took advantage of the free natural world for recreation, while looking after an early-in-life disabled wife, I owe no one anything especially the X’s who generally were coddled through their everyone-wins childhoods.

      Generalizations on generations serve no purpose. We all live our lives as individuals and society is what it is. Are you housed, fed and clothed? Lucky you.

      Dale on

      Hi Jon, I can totally appreciate your story, but I think you are mistaking Gen X with Gen Y. Gen Y are the win/win coddled generation. My elementary years up to my University years were always fully graded with A to F, and they failed you all the time if you did not contribute properly. Same with my baseball, hockey, and all other sports. You must win at all cost, even if it is blowing away the other team 49-7, and having your uncle and cousins on the winning team! No, not much was easy for us. This was also the start of two income family era, and look where that has gone. Also, at the time we entered the work force, the low real estate prices that were afforded the Boomers were gone, and the high prices of making a purchase for the average X’er has left them with high mortgage amounts that will never be paid off in our lifetimes, even with two income families! Also, the stock market has done nothing to help X’er’s over the last 15 years, so the RRSP myth is eroding faster than you can earn it. Oh yes, and I will eventually have to look after ailing family members, but possibly without a government assisted safety shield, the way things are going with the deficits. We’re all in the same boat, but with the boomers aging and working longer, the Gen Y’s are going to be filling their jobs, not the Gen X’ers, who will be passed over as being too old.

      Jon on

      I agree with you on the two income family thing. The greatest effect was to create demand and the ability to pay causing the cost of the biggest prices items (housing) to skyrocket almost out of reach. But then, in the days of one income families, there were fewer options to complicate spending choices. The market does what it does with a multitude of factors that ends in balance even if one of the factors gets over-weighted.
      You were lucky to have all those organized team sports to play in. Not much of that in my formative youth. Bare bones hockey that was about it. I suppose it may have been different in the biggest cities. This argument about intergenerational inequity and blame grinds on me because, as I’ve said, we are all individuals with many curve balls having been sent our way. Few of us come to the end fulfilled and uncompromised. We have done what we can given the tools at our disposal. Some were luckier than others but grinding the ax is fruitless… you’ve got to move forward because the end; your end and my end, is closing in fast.

      Dale on

      Yes, I agree! Each generation does enjoy a number of improved technologies, but in the end, we are all the same, and have to get through the same day to day hurdles, and make the best of what comes of our life with the cards that we were dealt.

    Clare on

    Jon I think you dont realise that tuition is now 6 grand a year before living, and textbook cost (your generation can attest to making enough for tuition in a summer…we cannot unless you get very lucky with a high paying job, no longer can you find the lumber and mills jobs that once were). Furthermore, working in a high tax world after graduation well lucky you as this article points out the unemployment rate of recent grads is very high. I know you think my generation was given it all, I work for what I have, and you do know that these are your children and children childrens your talking about if you have a problem with the way they were raised….whos to blame?

      Jon on

      Ah, someone finally took the bait. It is common to reference the children of the baby boomers as being coddled (and of course it is unfair). My whole point has been that we should be judged on our individual merit, not be lumped into generalizations centered on a birth year. Copeland has done us a disservice with this demographic evaluation, famously referenced or not. The upset “normal state of markets” (jobs, demands, infrastructure, and on) as a result a large number of people in a certain age group was an unavoidable consequence of a generation returning to normal after being on hold for over 6 years of world war. We should acknowledge and be thankful for the sacrifices of this generation instead of condemning their children (the baby boom). After all, we could very well be living under a swastika flag with an entire ethnic community wiped out if it were not for these sacrifices. That ethnic community was also blamed for the problems of others. Stop blaming others, and read this related declaration:

      J on

      What a load of horse droppings Jon. The Depression graduates did way more for this country than those who fought the fascists, and if the mainstream had listened to the left and fought the fascists in Spain, Hitler would never have dared to pull the stunt that caused France and Britain, the two old imperialist powers, to declare war on Germany.

      The boomers took way more than their fair share, and had no sense of intergenerational justice, which severely handicapped even the most qualified and intelligent of my generation. For that, they deserve no accolades, just condemnation.

      Jon on

      Hello I of Feb 21. Good thing I’ve just retired and now have the time to answer air head statements. So now you are minimizing the contribution of another generation; the parents of those born 1-20 years after WWII. I guess that fits; blame all others except yourself for your failure. (BTW, I see now that you have referred to your grad studies – oh you were so hard done by). I know I paid my dues and did the best I could in the environment I was in. I’ll say it one more time: We are all individuals, we are not a B, X, XY, or Y. Stop blaming others for your lot in life. Cherish your fortune for living in the Great White North, and get on with your life. It will end soon enough.

    woh on

    Jon, I believe the point of demographic studies – I’m no expert – is to show the large-scale trends of age groups; no single individual can be blamed for the overall trend of the group to which they belong, and no person should accept any blame. However, the trends themselves are real and cannot be ignored. We (everyone) should inform ourselves of these trends and learn, both the good and the bad lessons, so the decisions we make today can make adjustments and improve things for people.

    Myself, I’m a GenXer and agree with this article; it’s finally feeling less stressful to be in this cohort – not because things are good, but because we have less to worry about (relative to the other cohorts) which is a new feeling, at least for me.

    I will make my generalizations (not that they’re worth anything): The Boomers are self-centred – no blame as it is completely understandable when your societal environment always reflects your thoughts/thinking, i.e., just because of the numbers, the dominant voice at any given time is that of the group to which you belong (again, in broad-strokes). The GenXer is more jaded and self-contained group (again, only natural when we grow-up in an environment with which we cannot identify), and the GenYer believes they should have at least what their parents have had (only natural when it has been so good and seemingly so easy for their parents (not that it was for their parents)).

Dale on

I commend the writer on portraying a positive spin on the lost genration – Gen X. I am 47 years old, and I have cherished my covetted gen X label. However, it has actually come at a small cost. While some points above are valid, others are not. I am proud to be a gen X’er. However, the reality is that Gen x’ers will have to be very careful not to lose these upcoming boomer jobs to the young energetic Gen Y’s. The reason is that most Y’s feel entitled, and feel that society owes them something, and that they do not have to pay their dues – they want it all now! And that confidence, combined with an inherent use of technology from birth, does give them an advantage that X’ers need to be aware of. X’ers – Do not become complacant at all! Also, I’m not sure what ball park you are playing in when it comes to stocks. I am also constantly told that the stock markets have gone up, and are a great place to make your money grow. However, I have been investing in stocks since 1999, and I would have had more money in my accounts today had I just left it all under my matress at home. Don’t be fooled by the investment pundits. My RRSP’s from 2002 are still worth the same today as in 2002. However, my real estate purchased in 2002 is worth 2 1/2 times what I paid, and my initial investment has gone up 10 times! That brings me to the last point – unretirement. I think that gen x’ers realized long ago that there was no easy ride, and that traditional retirement will not apply to this group, due to the high cost of living, and the tough ride over a working lifetime to pay down debt, and have any substantial funds in a savings account. Just a few thought…

    sstribbell on

    Well said…I agree with you wholeheartedly!!!

      Andre on

      Also agree 100% with the comment.

    jcbmrgn on

    “The reason is that most Y’s feel entitled, and feel that society owes them something, and that they do not have to pay their dues – they want it all now!”

    This is the most annoying criticism of my generation. Sure, Gen Y is entitled just like Gen X were all slackers and the Boomers were all long-haired dropouts. Sure, I feel entitled to a decent job after university, to earn enough money to pay rent and to one day be able to give my kids the same life that was given to me. Is that so wrong?

    I’m 23 and moved from a big city to a very small town where I have no family or friends, simply because there were no jobs for young people in my field back home. So don’t tell me about not wanting to pay my dues. I think much of Gen Y has had to make sacrifices many Gen X’ers can’t relate to.

      Jon on

      jcbmrgn, Thanks for illustrating the folly of generalizing year classes of people as one thing or the other. We have lots in common as I too have moved around for the jobs and gained and lost as a result. We live in a great country where our freedom and cooperation allows these choices, for better or for worse. A “brighter life” indeed!

GenX$$ on

When the boomers retire from senior management, they will pass the torch to Gen Y?… think not.. us Gen X folks will be there to fill those shoes and finally get paid well doing our jobs.

    bittermuch on

    Or in some cases, get paid for doing their jobs that we have already been doing for them for several years already.😛

      tiguy on

      I so agree with bittermuch… we’ve been doing their jobs for several years already and not paid accordingly. We are the Generation that gets the most burn out and depression… we are stuck in the middle…

outdoormagazines on

I remember people would say that Generation X was the failure generation. I guess that’s not true anymore!

Sheryl on

OMG!! I’m middle aged? Damn….
Thanks for the post, I needed something to remind me that being a Gen X is still a good thing. We are a small demographic compared to what we are sandwiched by (Boomers and Y’s), so many times it seems like we got lost in the shuffle, but we were born at a good time, and we need to remember that.

Friday Links on

[…] This week Brighter Life shared some very encouraging news with their post on the Three Reasons Generation X Has It Made. […]

    Ben on

    Ya great for us. the older generation can’t afford to retire or find a decent job. my little brother is getting laid off because of budget cuts and I can capitalize on all this by cheating someone i’ll never meet by profiting off his labours by investing in the stock market but at least I can work two part-time horrible jobs till I die. What has gen x become?

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