Author Topic: As Generation X begins to hit 40, it's finding  (Read 946 times)

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As Generation X begins to hit 40, it's finding
« on: Fri Jul 15, 2005 - 13:08:35 »
As Generation X begins to hit 40, it's finding its place in the world

DALLAS - (KRT) - The slackers are growing up.

Labeled for years as overeducated, underemployed cynics, Generation X this year arrives at a milestone: Its oldest members are turning the Big 4-0.

For many of them, the slacker stereotype popularized by Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke in the 1994 movie "Reality Bites" no longer applies - if it ever did.

As they embark upon middle age, the oldest Xers are coming into their own for the first time, generational experts say. They're getting married, starting families and embracing traditional values that set them apart from the "Me Generation" of baby boomers.

"At 40, you are beginning to see a blossoming of a generation," says Ann Fishman, president of Generational-Targeted Marketing Corp. in New Orleans. "Many of them are just beginning to find their place."

"They've come very much into the mainstream," said Peter Francese, a demographic-trends analyst at New York advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. "Like most young people, they had some trouble finding their way."

There are roughly 50 million Xers in the United States - all born between 1965 and 1976. The "X" moniker entered the public lexicon thanks to Douglas Coupland's 1991 book "Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture" about three twentysomethings in search of meaning.

The most educated generation in U.S. history has long lived under the shadow of the older and more dominant boomers, who number about 76 million. Experts say that Xers have waited longer than previous generations to get married, have children and find satisfying careers.

In the process, they have formed an identity far different from that of their predecessors.

Many are shunning the "success at all costs" mantra of the boomers, refusing to climb the corporate ladder intent on acquiring the trappings of wealth: a big house, fancy cars and designer clothes.

Instead, they're placing a high priority on spending time with family and friends.

"Now is the time to make sure you don't miss the things that are in front of you," says Melanie Messner, a financial trader and mother of three who turned 40 in early June. She's spending more time with her young children, after realizing that her dream of making enough money to retire early isn't as important to her anymore.

A recent study conducted by the Families and Work Institute, a research center in New York, found that Xer fathers spend more than an hour more per day with their children than baby-boomer dads do. And an increasing number of Xer men and women are choosing to stay at the same career levels because they value family time over the rewards of greater job responsibilities.

"It's a generation much less willing to give their life to their job and career," says James Chung, president of Reach Advisors, a market research and consulting firm in Belmont, Mass., that studies Xers. "It's a generation looking to retain a piece of their soul."

Highly independent, the so-called MTV generation was the first to grow up with personal computers.

But this generation had reason to be cynical, experts say. Many were latchkey kids and the children of divorce. They grew up hearing about Watergate, the dangers of unsafe sex, and corporate downsizing. And rapid technological changes and global competition means many of the high-paying jobs that enabled their parents to advance economically have either disappeared or moved offshore.

"The Xers are the first generation that will not live as well as their parents do," Fishman says. "They would be almost idiots if they weren't cynical."

For Julie Clark Michel of Dallas, turning 40 means settling down. The corporate events planner, who will celebrate her fourth decade this October, got married last year. Since then, she's become a home owner for the first time and is planning to start a family.

"Big decisions in my life - I am super cautious," she says, noting that her mother was only 20 when she began having children.

Michel and many older Xers are entering their prime moneymaking years with an eye toward saving.

Most aren't counting on Social Security benefits to be around for them in their retirement. Soaring housing prices means many who are first-time home-buyers are having a hard time avoiding burdensome mortgage payments. And mention the words "job security," and you'll likely elicit a roll of the eyes, followed by a "yeah, right."

"Generation X is not in an economic sweet spot," says Chung, who is also a Xer. "Older Generation Xers are entering their peak income years, but incomes are not growing at the same rate as prior decades."

As she heads into her 40s, Michel no longer plunks down $150 for a new pair of shoes that catches her fancy. These days, she's learning how to have fun bargain hunting. To buy their Dallas home, her husband, Donnie, sold his Harley Davidson motorcycle and his BMW sedan. He now drives a company car.

"It doesn't really matter as much anymore," Michel says about buying things like a new skirt.

Many of the oldest Xers, such as Rusty Holmes, are finding contentment either in unconventional job arrangements or by becoming their own boss.

For the last four years, Holmes, who will turn 40 in February, has worked as a contract employee for Benefit Corp., selling medical, dental and other types of insurance to small and medium-sized businesses. He works on commission, doesn't report to a boss and sets his own work hours.

His job situation wasn't always so stable. He served one-year stints at three different insurance companies before finding what he calls the "right spot" for his career.

As he nears 40, Holmes' lifestyle of partying and hanging out at bars has given way to a renewed focus on his Christian faith. And for the first time, he's ready to make commitments in his personal life. He's planning to marry his girlfriend, buy a home and start a family.

"Business-wise and relationship-wise, with my faith everything is coming together," he says.

David Farris of Dallas, who will turn 40 in August, also sought more job flexibility. In February, he left his job at LSG Sky Chefs to launch his own catering-consulting firm for the hospitality industry.

Though he's working harder than before, he can now go to the gym in the middle of the morning if he wants.

"I wanted to do more than I was able to do at a traditional job, and I wanted a better quality of life," said Farris, who for his birthday plans to spend a week at the Culinary Institute of America. He also recently bought a new Volkswagen Jetta sedan.

"The only plan for myself is at all costs to be happy," he said.

That kind of attitude is also echoed by David Norwood. After many years as a single parent, the longtime travel agent, who turns 40 next year, is comfortably settled in his second marriage, raising a 16-year-old daughter and contemplating having another child.

His Xer wife, Molly, recently left a steady paycheck to launch her own business, selling cowboy boots on eBay.

"Money isn't the most important thing," Norwood says. "Happiness is."

The former altar boy hasn't given up going to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden concerts. But he's returned to his Catholic faith and gotten rid of his long hair and earrings.

Like many Xers, the Norwoods spend money on the things they value. They keep up a country-club membership because Norwood likes to play golf and tennis. And they indulge in sushi every Friday night.

But they aren't into showing off with the latest status symbol. Aside from a golf shirt, Norwood can't recall the last time he bought new clothes. He drives a used Mercedes C-Class station wagon he found at a good price. His wife regularly scours the Dillard's clearance store for bargains and drives a 1998 Honda Accord.

"I will never pay retail price," she says.

For many older Xers like the Norwoods, the slacker stereotype never rang true. They can't comprehend holding down minimum-wage jobs to scrape by while trying to figure out whether life has more to offer.

But some younger Xers caught in a seesaw economy can relate to the generalization.

Jim Guittard of Dallas, who will be 32 in October, lives with his grandparents, shelves books part-time at a branch of the Dallas Public Library and hopes to head to Eastern Europe or Central Asia for the Peace Corps this fall.

Armed with a degree in American history from Colorado's Western State College, Guittard started out working as an automobile-insurance-claims adjuster but grew tired of the constant bickering over money.

To pursue his passion for playing the guitar, he moved to Hollywood, Calif., where he found gigs playing in clubs. But the money wasn't enough to provide a steady living. To survive, he worked a series of low-paying jobs at a talent agency, a rental-car office and an apartment-locator firm.

The experiences left him disillusioned about working in corporate America, and he moved back to Dallas a little more than two years ago.

"I don't want to settle," he says of his decision to seek happiness rather than money. "Do what your heart says."

That kind of yearning is largely behind the oldest Xers. At the very least, the limitations of age are beginning to sink in.

Adam Sheiner, a successful telecommunications executive, earns a six-figure salary, already has paid off the mortgage on his Dallas home and drives not one but two luxury automobiles.

The 39-year-old still enjoys partying, going to bars with his single friends and waking up at noon on weekends.

Even so, Sheiner knows that the days for these kinds of activities may be winding down.

"The body can't handle it like it used to," he admits.



Here's a snapshot of the most common way experts have defined the generations:

G.I.; 1901-1924; 63 million

Silent; 1925-1945; 50 million

Baby boomers; 1946-1964; 76 million

Generation X; 1965-1976; 50 million

Generation Y; 1977-1994; 60 million

Generation Z; 1995- ; Not yet clearly defined

SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research