UpFront | Published in November 2011

Upfront - November 2011

Articles that appeared in the UpFront section of the magazine.

By PLANSPONSOR staff | October 2011
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Illustration by Jonathan Bartlett

The Overlooked Generation?
Study says Gen X overlooked in workforce  

A recent study by the Center for Work-Life Policy finds that, despite being the smallest generation (46 million), Generation X might be "the most critical generation of all" for employers.

Gen Xers are of an age (33 to 46 years old) that should put them at the prime of their lives and careers, stepping into leadership roles and starting families. However, a recent study, titled "The X Factor: Tapping into the Strengths of the 33- to 46-Year-Old Generation," reveals that, due to challenges and circumstances out of their control, Gen Xers are taking a different life path.

The study found a large number of Gen Xers are choosing not to have children. Their extreme work schedules (nearly a third of high-earning Gen Xers work 60-plus hours a week), strong career ambition, the current economic challenges, as well as changing mores, and life choices are all factors that contribute to their high level of childlessness compared with other generations.

Gen X, born between 1965 and 1978, might be called the "wrong place, wrong time" generation, says the Center for Work-Life Policy. They were hit by an economic triple whammy: college-related debt, multiple boom and bust cycles (including the 1987 stock market crash, occurring just as Gen X entered the workforce), and the housing slump. As a result, Gen X is the first generation not to match their parents’ living standards.

While these economic woes have affected most generations, they have hit Gen X the hardest in their work lives, the study found. Due to their own financial concerns, Boomers are not retiring and are choosing instead to work an average of nine years longer than anticipated. This delays Gen X’s career progression, resulting in their feeling stalled in their careers and dissatisfied with their rate of advancement.

The study contends that, most importantly, Xers are masters at mastering change—a skill set critical in every company today. They have been laid off, restructured, outsourced, reorganized, and relocated more than any other generation in modern times—yet they are hugely hard-working and ambitious, eager to amplify their talents by learning new skills and garnering new experiences. However, employers must take warning: These strengths risk being nullified by diminished loyalty, declining engagement—and increasing apathy.

Key findings from the survey include:

A large proportion of Xers are delaying or even opting out of parenting: 43% of Xer women and 32% of Xer men do not have children.

Among non-parents, 60% of women and 36% of men feel their personal commitments are perceived as less important than those of colleagues with children.

Despite having been nicknamed the "slacker generation," Generation X enrolled in higher education in record numbers. More than a third of Gen Xers hold bachelor’s degrees, and 11% have graduate degrees.

Gen X is not only highly ambitious, but also their ambition is nearly gender-neutral: 75% of women and 72% of men consider themselves ambitious.

Thwarted by Boomers who cannot afford to retire and threatened by the prospect of leap-frogging Millennials, 41% of Xers are unsatisfied with their current rate of advancement, and 49% feel stalled in their careers.

Debt determines many Xer career choices, with 43% of Xers saying that their ability to pay off their student loans is an important factor in their career choices and 74% saying the same about credit card debt.

The vast majority (91%) of Xer women and 68% of Xer men are part of a dual-earning couple. More than a third (36%) of Gen X women outearn their spouses.

Women and minorities made up 64% of graduates during the Gen X college years. Many Xer minorities are the first in their families to graduate from college: 49% for African-Americans and 54% for Hispanics, compared with 33% of Caucasians.

Tara Cantore