For the last decade, Millennials have been the darling of pop culture, academia, and market research, that is until Gen Z fervor took off in 2019. Baby Boomers, too, get their fair share of coverage (see Figure 1). But you know who never gets their time to shine? Gen X, the aptly named “forgotten generation.” We have a cultural blind spot for the smallest generation, with only 65 million Americans, sandwiched between two larger cohorts.
Now in the prime of their life, ranging in age from 42 to 57, Gen X are in their peak earning and retirement savings years. They also stand to inherit the most from the great wealth transfer: $30 trillion over the next two decades (see Figure 2).1
Student debt continues to burden Gen X. Gen Xers with student debt carry a higher average balance than Millennials and owe almost twice what Gen Zer’s owe.2 This comes at a time when Gen X parents must prioritize saving for their children’s college education. Indeed, among Gen Xers with teenagers, those still paying down student debt have less saved for their kids compared to similar Gen Xers without student loans. If those teens, in turn, take on more debt, it could fuel what Pew Research calls an “intergenerational legacy of debt.”3 Further, Gen Xers with student loan debt are 15% less likely to save in a retirement plan, and when they do, are more likely to take out 401(k) loans, signaling financial hardship and challenges balancing debt with long term savings.4
A majority provide care for both children and parents. Over half of adults in their 40s have both a child they are financially supporting and a parent over 65 (see Figure 3).5 And 55% of them say they don’t have enough money to help their senior parents.6 It’s at least part of the reason why Gen X is the most stressed about money and work compared to other generations.7 And it’s not just normal mid-life rumblings; this period is especially stressful for Gen X. A recent study from Penn State found that midlife was more stressful in 2010 than in 1990, but other age groups didn’t see a similar rise during the same time period. Researchers chalk it up at least partially to the burden of responsibility—for children, parents, and even employees at work.8
Gen Xers with adult children aren’t off the hook. Parents with adult children at home see a 15% decrease in assets and 13% decrease in savings compared to years when their kids aren’t living there.9 Unfortunately, having adult children at home is no anomaly—half of adults aged 18 to 29 live with a parent.10 In fact, one in six Gen Xers are now purchasing multigenerational homes to help accommodate boomerang adult children or those who never left.11 Debt and the high cost of living are important factors for why many young adults are moving home, and it’s creating a new parent-child dynamic. Whereas traditional, economic research studied how parent resources affect child wellbeing, an understudied and underappreciated trend sees economic insecurity spreading from adult children to their parents.
Why It Matters
The financial needs of Gen X aren’t completely unique—many Baby Boomers also carry a high degree of student debt, and more Millennials are becoming sandwiched—yet we rarely see Gen X as the focus of consumer and workplace messaging, especially as it relates to their competing financial priorities. Given their proximity to retirement age, there’s a narrow window to provide Gen X with the direction they need to reach their financial goals. In the near term, Gen X investors could benefit from:
Guidance and advice to increase their confidence. Compared to other generations, Gen X feels the least confident about achieving their long term financial goals.12 They’re also the least likely to think about when they want to retire or know how much money they’ll need.13 In some ways, they’re the first selfdirected retirement generation: only a third of Gen X expects to receive a pension compared to half of Baby Boomers.14 With more of their finances under their own control, Gen Xers need support across their financial lives: paying down debt, planning their transition to retirement, and reaching their retirement savings goals.
Autonomous finance that saves them time. Balancing careers and households, paying for college and caregiving, Gen X doesn’t have time to micromanage finances. Yet, they spend the most time of any generation thinking about and dealing with issues related to personal finances—23% spend 10 or more hours per week.15 Time-slashing financial services, whether it be autonomous investing, bill pay, maximizing savings, fraud prevention for those under their care, or even health monitoring would likely appeal to many, if not all, Gen Xers.
Digitization of services. Though we herald Gen Z and Millennials as digital natives, Gen X was the first generation to grow up with personal computers at home. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Gen X looks more like Millennials than Baby Boomers when it comes to preference for digital services. For example, 56% of Gen Xers say they would switch banks for a better mobile app and 57% prefer to open new accounts online.16 Gen X investors prefer advisors that are tech savvy. For example, texting or video-chatting for advice, or advertising on social media, blogs, and podcasts are now table stakes for shrewd Gen X investors.
Signals to Watch
Gen X is expected to thrive in the next era of digital work. Just as they consume digital financial services, Gen X also adapted well to the new era of remote work. Compared to Millennials, Gen X reports a stronger comfort with communicating ideas, expressing opinions, having hard conversations, and building trust in the workplace. They’re also more likely to leave or turn down a job due to bad technology.17 As work becomes more digital, look for Gen X to flourish, not wilt away.
Gen X could lead the way in alts. According to fintech Stilt, Gen X investors spend more than younger generations on crypto purchases.18 They’re also the fastest growing segment in ESG investing, as they have more to invest than younger generations.19
But their health could overshadow other concerns. A recent study from the Ohio State University found that, compared to previous generations, members of Gen X showed poorer health. This included increases in chronic inflammation and risk of heart disease, higher levels of alcohol use and smoking, and greater depression and anxiety.20 Millennials, too, showed similar signs of decreasing health as compared to Baby Boomers and older generations. The research suggests an expansion of morbidity and mortality rates as these generations age, potentially straining their finances and family obligations.
Gen-X is a generation with unique challenges and needs. Their economic challenges, paired with their willingness to experiment with newer technology poses new opportunities for how financial service institutions can serve them.
1 The Cerulli Report: U.S. High-Net-Worth and Ultra-High-Net-Worth Markets 2021 Evolving Wealth Demographics
2 Hanson, M. (2022, October 26). Student Loan Debt Statistics : Average + Total Debt. EducationData. & https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20211013005232/en
3 The Complex Story of American Debt Liabilities in family balance sheets External reviewers. (2015).
4 Is Student Loan Debt a Barrier to Saving for Retirement? | T. Rowe Price. (n.d.). Www.troweprice.com. Retrieved January 20, 2023&CNBC, Some older Americans arefacing a double debt dilemma with student and 401(k) loans.
5 Horowitz, J. M. (n.d.).More than half of Americans in their 40s are “sandwiched” between an aging parent and their own children. Pew Research Center.
6 Adult Children Survey on Retirement. (n.d.). American Advisors Group.
7 LinkedIn, Stress at Work Report: Who is Feeling It the Most and How to Combat It& Black, M.L.Americans’ Stress Levels —and Financial Anxiety —on the Rise. (n.d.). ValuePenguin
8 Middle age may be much more stressful now than in the 1990s | Penn State University. (n.d.). Www.psu.edu..
9 Based on an interview with Michelle Maroto and her paper: Maroto, M. (2017). When the Kids Live at Home: Coresidence, Parental Assets, and Economic Insecurity. Journal of Marriage and Family. Another study found that of parents with kids who moved back home, 35% said it affected their ability to save for long term goals and 26% said it affected their ability to meet short-term goals or pay off debts. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/25/how-to-prioritize-your-financial-goals-with-adult-kids-living-at-home.html
10 Fadeyi, D., & Horowitz, J. M. (n.d.). Americans more likely to say it’s a bad thing than a good thing that more young adults live with their parents. Pew Research Center.
11 2022 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report National Association of REALTORS® Research Group. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2023,
12 Financial literacy and well-being in a five generation America | Institute. (n.d.). Www.tiaa.org. Retrieved January 20, 2023
13 Fidelity, 2022 State of Retirement Planning study.
14 Generation X: Ready for Retirement? (2022).Society of Actuaries Research
15 Financial literacy and well-being in a five generation America | Institute. (n.d.). Www.tiaa.org. Retrieved January 20, 2023
16 Banking Attitudes, Generation-by-Generation. (n.d.). Bank Administration Institute
17 The 2021 State of Work: How COVID-19 Changed Digital Work. Adobe Workfront(2021)
18 94% of Crypto Buyers are Gen Z/Millennial, but Gen X Spends More. Retrieved from Stilt Blog
19 Wall Street Journal, What Generation Is Leading the Way in ESG Investing? You’ll Be Surprised.
20 Grabmeier, J.(Mar 2021) Health declining in Gen X and Gen Y, national study shows. (n.d.). Health Declining in Gen X and Gen Y, National Study Shows.Ohio State News