Oct 18, 2022
Remember Generation X? Somehow, they got branded in mostly unfavorable ways ranging from latchkey kids to the slacker generation. Marketer interest in Gen X can best be described as a collective shrug of disinterest, owing in part to an arbitrary set of rules that originally hemmed them into an 8-year age cohort, while Millennials (spanning 20 years) captured all the headlines.
More recently, the generations have been slightly redefined (a reminder that these are somewhat arbitrary boundaries), and Gen X now represents those age 42 and 57 as of 2022, nearly doubling its age range1.
While Gen X continues to rule the roost as “least likely generation to be the focus of a powerpoint deck,” a quick scan of income and spending data should cause everyone to re-evaluate. As marketers not-so-subtly pivot attention from Millennials to Gen Z, Gen X has quietly matured into their prime spending years and are now the single largest driver of the US consumer economy.
Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that over the past few years, Gen X has consistently led the pack both in terms of income and spending.
Gen X’s average post-tax income in 2021 was an impressive $102,500 – well above that of any other generational group. While Millennials do occupy the next highest spot, they trailed at a distant $84,500 and all other generations came in well below the national average of $78,8002.
This gap is largely driven by high earnings from wages and salaries, as Gen Xer’s are in the midst of their peak earning years. More tenured in their career progression, they are enjoying an earned income premium.
High income translates into high spending as well; Gen X’s spending tops that of other generational groups by a large margin. On average, they spend about $14k more annually than their two closest neighbors, Millennials and Boomers, who spend around $69k and $62k respectively compared to Gen X’s $83k.
Looking more closely at major spending categories – Staples, Affordable Luxuries, and Big Ticket purchases – Gen X also takes the lead across all categories, particularly with Big Ticket purchases. Compared to their headline-grabbing neighbors, the difference in consumption is clear: Gen Xers are driving the consumer economy, and are set to do so for years to come.
Note: Staples include Food at Home and Housekeeping Supplies; Affordable Luxuries include Eating out, Alcohol, and Entertainment; Big Ticket Purchases include Major appliances, Vehicles, and Housing.
Their spending not only reflects their deeper pockets, but also their larger family sizes. Gen Xers are often parents of older (and more expensive) children, and may be caring for their aging parents as well. The former slackers are shouldering quite the spending load, as they work to satisfy a range of needs in their demanding households.
Luckily, Gen X has some well-defined qualities that set them apart from other generations claiming more of the recent spotlight. Knowing that, here are two key strategies for winning them over.
1 - Invest in loyalty initiatives to create and capture value
While younger generations flock to the latest trends like bees to honey, Gen X is not as easily motivated by what’s hot or new. When surveyed, Gen Xers care less about what’s in with peers or influencers and are half as likely to prioritize a brand being seen as “cool” relative to Gen Z or Millennials3.
On the flipside, they do put a lot of stock in loyalty programs and deals, both of which provide a sense of value that goes beyond absolute price. Since they drive the purchasing decisions for their multi-generational households, Gen Xers appreciate mental shortcuts that help them streamline and simplify decision-making. Top-notch loyalty programs, subscription offerings (e.g., Prime, Walmart +) and visible digital or point-of-sale discounts are all ways to cut through the clutter and provide added value to win their wallets4.
2 - Tailor marketing to their lifestyle
As a digitally conversant, but not digitally native generation, Gen X has nonetheless adapted quickly. But they do bring some healthy skepticism in a few areas. Compared to Millennials and Gen Z, they are less likely to see social media as a good way to stay informed, generally dislike sharing personal information, and are more averse to being served up online ads. What’s a marketer to do?
Well, there’s good news too. They use the internet constantly for work and play, and shop with an omnichannel mindset. You just have to meet them where they are. Relative to later generations, Gen Xers prefer to read and do research prior to purchasing, and flock to review platforms like Yelp and Amazon. They trust testimonials and objective sources more than glossy marketing, and they use these inputs to make smarter decisions.
To win over Gen X, companies can set aside short-term trend-hopping and clearly communicate a well-defined, enduring brand or product value proposition. They also expect seamless shopping experiences both in-store and online, backed by information and customer reviews. Apple’s conscientious approach to integrating product design, user experience and retail execution has scored well with Gen X. The tech giant has created a highly effective loyalty ecosystem which has paid big dividends as Gen X embraces everything from iPhones to Apple Stores to market-leading adoption of new services like Apple Pay.
Often overlooked, Gen X has quietly developed into a powerful consumer spending engine, which should earn them a spot on every marketer’s radar. They bring market-leading buying power, a love of offline and online shopping experiences, and loyalty to brands and programs that make their lives easier. All of these are highly targetable traits for marketers to fall in love with. And they might even read your print ads.
1Pew Research, January 2019
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Surveys 2018, 2019, 2020
3The Cambridge Group primary consumer research, June 2019
4The Cambridge Group primary consumer research, May 2021
Chris Fosdick, Managing Partner: [email protected]
Lindsey Leikhim, Associate Partner: [email protected]
Rachel Zhou, Business Analyst: [email protected]