Midlife Crisis for the Ironic Generation

People belonging to the Ironic Generation – also known as Generation X:ers – were born between 1965 and 1984. They have, as their name implies, long used irony as a way of protecting themselves from a mean and all too serious world. Nowadays, their ironic and easy attitude is under threat, mainly from the phenomenon commonly referred to as the midlife crisis; the realization that one’s own body is all too fragile, that you have aging parents who needs support and children who can make it on their own, and maybe a career that has reach stalemate. The everyday life that ruthlessly rushes on, without any respect for the limited amount of time one has left and that fact that you rather be doing something completely different. What implications does this have for the future of Generation X?

The Happiness Research’s Famous U-Curve

The u-curve of happiness is a graph showing the relationship between age and life satisfaction. It states that if you account for background variables such as income and level of education, then life satisfaction follows a u-formed trend. In other words, your life satisfaction decreases the older you get, to reach the bottom at approximately 44 years. After that, life turns back around, and you get happier for every single year. It is this reality – specifically this bottom – that Generation X is facing right now. Despite that, they are desperately holding on to their youth by going to concerts with their kids and constantly updating their Facebook status. So, what are they thinking about their current situation?

Today, people from the Ironic Generation is around 35 and 50 years old. It’s a wide age range between the oldest and youngest in the generation, where the youngest probably won’t feel the midlife crisis breathing down their neck for the coming few years. This age group considers their own age as the worst, both when it comes to work life, their spare time and their friends. Regarding their family, however, they are in their prime years. 61 percent of women between 30 and 39 years think that family is the most important source of happiness, compared to 48 percent of the men in the same age group. Although, the family won’t be around forever.

The Sudden Emptiness

The Age of Divorce

Except for people in their 20s, the older folks in Generation X are the most dissatisfied people when it comes to their relationships – which is a clear indication of a potential midlife crisis. 17 percent of the males and 13 percent of the females state that they are displeased with their current relationship, and more than 20 percent are also unhappy with their married life. In Sweden, approximately 25 000 marriages end in divorce each year, and the risk of divorce is as most severe the first 10 years of marriage. The median age of divorce is 42 years for women, and 45 years for men. Generation X is currently in the high-risk zone of divorces.

Despite the fact that the sheer number of weddings has increased during the last decade or so, people from Generation X are actually not getting married to the same extent as older generations. Even though they are less likely to get married, they are also more likely to get a divorce compared to other generations at the same age.

The Empty-Nest Syndrome

It’s not only your partner that might leave you; your kids are in the middle of moving away as well. This shift can result in a newfound freedom and a stronger household economy, but it can also cause a sense of loss and mourning – the so-called empty-nest syndrome. This syndrome occurs when one’s self-image is so strongly associated with one’s role as a parent, that it – after the children move out – triggers anxiety. These feelings of emptiness can be enhanced if they coincide with a separation from a partner. Suddenly, you’ve gone from living with your family to living all by yourself.

The Spoiling Generation – Even Towards Their Parents

Maybe the fact that they need to shift their focus to their aging parents can be a blessing in disguise. Instead of worrying about the kids, Generation X is now more concerned with their parents’ health. The number of hospital beds has been halved in 30 years, and the home care services are experiencing large problems throughout the country, resulting in an increased pressure on relatives. Five percent of women and two percent of men are in general on sick leave for more than two weeks due to nursing of a relative.

When Kairos Future investigated the attitude of future relatives to senior citizens, it became clear that they at large believe that they will keep their parents’ company and help them with everyday chores to a greater extent than their parents expect. More than 50 percent of the future relatives say that they will visit their parents at least once a week. It seems like Generation X might be able to fill some of the vacuum resulting from their children’s move by helping their parents – but the emptiness from separations will still constitute an opportunity for companies to provide innovating products.

All these possibilities

There’s a clash between Generation X’s youth and adult world. When they were kids, they had only two TV channels, and mobile phones were something barely present in sci-fi books. Nowadays we’re swamped with choices and possibilities wherever we go, and Generation X have no idea how to handle it – they want it all. In all probability, this is a reason for why many in this generation say they still have plans for the future that they have not fulfilled. Indeed, there are so much they want to achieve. Mostly, it’s about plans for one’s work life that are still unaccomplished.   

And all these jobs

Kairos Future investigated if there was any choice that one would do differently, given the chance. More than 30 percent of Generation X agreed that they would study a different education, and over 20 percent said they would have chosen another career. Seven out of ten people between 40 and 55 years say that they’d like to switch jobs – which is more than in any previous study. One third wants to change profession completely, usually to something more creative and meaningful. Despite so many wanting to change jobs, only 13 percent are actively looking for new opportunities. What’s keeping the others from doing the same? The biggest reason why people are not looking for another job is that they actually don’t know what they want to work with. In other words, these are people between 40 and 55 years – who have been working for a considerable amount of time – but still have no clue what they’d like to do when they grow up. They are clearly in need of guidance.

Oh brother, keep me safe from harm

Increased Security Concerns

Almost all Swedes think Sweden is a good country to live in. However, a majority believes that the situation will be worse in five years. What worries Generation X? We can see that their main worries don’t have an egoistic nature, but are more concerned with people they care about or society in general. Kairos Future has for the last 20 years studied which societal problems Generation X consider are most vital. Generally, they tend to prioritize problems of a more collectivistic kind, such as climate change. During the last couple of years however, there has been a shift in preferences, leading Generation X to focus more on security concerns (i.e. terrorism and crimes). They are feeling an increased insecurity, and we can for example detect an increased support for a strong Swedish defense force.

Harder Times Are Coming

In the latest population forecast by Statistics Sweden, they estimate that Sweden’s population will increase to 10.7 million people by 2030. In order to keep the economy in check, more people will need to be included in the work force, and everyone needs to work after the current retirement age. What will happen when Generation X finally gets to retire? Well, during the last couple of years, senior citizens have on average lost 20 000 kronor due to the new pension system, and researchers believe it will only get worse.

Kairos Future has asked Swedes about whether or not they believe they’ll get enough allowance from the public security system in the future. People from Generation X is, without a doubt, the most skeptical towards the extent of the security system – more than 70 percent say they are not sure they’ll have enough security at an old age.

More than one of three women are worrying about their retirement, compared to one of five men. The main cause of concern is that one does not know whether or not one’s retirement fund will be enough to cover one’s expenses. 33 percent among people aged 40 to 60 are worried, or very worried, about the size of their retirement funds. If you’re born in the 1940s, you have a 30 percent risk of experiencing financial hardships when you get older. The risk is twice as high if you’re born in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s not looking that good for Generation X.

Four needs companies and society have to meet

Examining at the all the factors mentioned above, we can identify four different needs that Generation X will have within the near future. These can be summarized by SAFE; security, advice, financial safety and emptiness. Products and services that appeal to these needs will be more attractive for this generation.

By Lovisa Vildö