bright for Gen-Xers,
Many born between 1965 and
1976 are fiscally savvy and
cherish family values
A closer look at generationsBy Christine Donnelly
Generation X, maligned as aimless slackers in movies such as "Reality Bites," actually may be the most fiscally responsible of the four generations that shaped America's 20th century, a survey found.
"That was probably the biggest single surprise. Not only are they already saving for retirement, they might be the first generation in American history that is so well-prepared," said Ann Piacentini, head of market research strategy for the money management firm Scudder Kemper Investments.
Piacentini, creator and chief interpreter of the firm's "Generations @ The Millennium" project, said the end of the 20th century provided "one of those rare points in history when there is a collective pause for contemplation."
She tapped into that by surveying the goals, memories and finances of the World War II generation (people born before 1933); the Swing generation (those born between 1933 and 1945); the baby boom generation (born 1946 to 1964) and Generation X (born 1965 to 1976).
Despite their youth, 71 percent of the Gen-Xers polled regularly save money, about the same percentage as the three older generations. And just as many Gen-Xers as baby boomers (who will need the money much sooner) reported saving specifically for retirement, including contributing to 401(K) plans.
"Clearly (Generation X) is not counting on Social Security. They've really taken control of their finances early on," Piacentini said in a telephone interview from New York.
The "World War II generation" includes Americans age 66 and older. It accounts for 12 percent of the U.S. population of 270 million people.
The "Swing generation" includes those between ages 53 and 65 and accounts for 11 percent of the U.S. population.
The "baby boom generation" includes those age 34 to 52 and is the largest generation, accounting for 29 percent of the U.S. population.
"Generation X" includes those between ages 22 and 33 and accounts for 16 percent of the U.S. population.
Also surprising to the researcher was the lack of much of a "generation gap" when it came to questions on social issues such as family values.
"Across the board, there was this yearning for a return to family stability, although for the younger ones it's a romanticized ideal of the 1950s that they never lived through," Piacentini said.
When asked what they were most nostalgic for, each generation cited "family values of the 1950s" either first or second. Sixty-seven percent of the Swing generation and 65 percent of the World War II generation were nostalgic for that, as were 37 percent of the baby boomers and 25 percent of Generation X.
"It seems to symbolize security and comfort," Piacentini said.
Of all factors that could contribute to quality of life in the new millennium, such as personal freedom, peace and prosperity, members of all four generations cited family life and technology as the greatest contributors, ranking them either first or second.
The poll was conducted from December 1998 to February 1999, when 5,000 surveys were mailed to a random sample of each of the four adult generations nationwide. About 3,000 people responded, including several hundred from Hawaii and the rest of the U.S. Pacific region, Piacentini said. Hawaii answers were consistent with the overall results, she said.
The margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level is plus or minus 2 percent, she said.
Here are other findings from the "Generations @ the Millennium" survey:
Outlooks on life vary
Generation X: Described themselves as "techno savvy," "aggressive," "cynical" and "realistic." Forty-three percent said they feel older than they are, and 29 percent thought life was worse for them than for other generations. Seventy-eight percent are "online" the Internet. Seventy-seven percent recycle. Fifty percent worried about having enough money for the future. Sixty-two percent have credit card debt. Ten percent believe they'll get their full Social Security benefits. Eleven percent are proud of their generation's contribution to the world. Fifty-three percent believe the United States is headed for an economic recession.
Baby boomers: Described themselves as "hard-working," "responsible," "successful" and "aggressive." Fifty-three percent feel much younger than they are, and nearly two-thirds reported an optimistic outlook on life. Sixty-seven percent are "online." Eighty-five percent recycle. Fifty-seven percent worry about having enough money for the future. Sixty-two percent have credit card debt. Twenty percent believe they'll get their full Social Security benefits. Thirty-three percent are proud of their generation's contributions to the world. About half believe the United States is headed for a recession.
Swing generation: Described themselves as "responsible," "hard-working," "patriotic" and "polite." Had the most positive attitude of any generation, with 71 percent claiming an optimistic outlook and 61 percent saying they feel much younger. Fifty-three percent are "online." Eighty-nine percent recycle. Forty-five percent worry about having enough money for the future. Forty-eight percent carry credit card debt. Fifty-three percent believe they'll get their full Social Security benefits. Sixty percent are proud of their generation's contributions to the world. Forty-six percent think the United States is headed for a recession.
World War II generation: Described themselves as "hardworking," "patriotic," "polite" and "religious." Sixty-nine percent reported a positive outlook on life. Twenty-seven percent are "online." Ninety-four percent recycle. Thirty-one percent have credit card debt. Sixty-eight percent believe they'll get their full Social Security benefits. Eighty-four percent are proud of their generation's contributions to the world. Forty-six percent think the United States is headed for a recession.