Gen Xers falling behind on life milestones, finds survey

A look at different measures of economic maturity show challenges for the so-called 'sandwich generation'

Gen Xers falling behind on life milestones, finds survey

A wealth of evidence has shown that millennials are generally facing greater financial challenges than previous generations. But a new report has confirmed that they haven’t got the monopoly on setbacks to economic maturity.

“Generation X families, while improving their financial status from prior years, are behind financially relative to older generations,” the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) said.

According to the report, Gen-X households — otherwise known as the “sandwich generation” from having financially support both older and younger generations, at the expense of their own retirement readiness — are less likely to own a home than previous generations at the same age. A little over 65% of families headed by a Gen Xer reported owning their home in 2016, in contrast to just over 75% and nearly 72% of respondent households in 2004 and 1992.

That result was in line with findings on retirement plans. Just 67% of Gen-X-led families reported having any type of retirement plans in 2016, lower than the 72% and 73% reported for households in 2004 and 1992, respectively.

Debt-to-asset ratios have also apparently swelled, with Gen-X-led families in 2016 reporting ratios of 34% on average compared with averages of 30% in 2004 and 22% in 1992. But comparing the percentages of households holding debt, Gen-X families were slightly better off than families of the same ages in 2004 (86.8% vs. 88.5%, respectively).

Meanwhile, households’ median family net worth declined from US$152,000 in 1992 to US$108,000 in 2004, and even further to US$103,130 in 2016.

While the lowest-income Gen Xers drove the overall weaker financial indicators for Gen X-led families, EBRI data showed the highest debt-to-asset levels (over 40%) among those families in the second-lowest quartile during both the 2004 and 2016 periods. The data also showed worse situations persisting after 2004 among families headed by members of minority groups and individuals without bachelor’s degrees.

The data pointed to only one aspect in which Gen X-led households appeared to have it better than their counterparts in previous generations: individual retirement plans. Just over 60% of Gen-X-led families reportedly owned an individual retirement plan in 2016, compared to just under 59% in 2004 and 51.5% in 1992.

Gen Xers’ median balances in such plans (US$60,000) also far exceeded those reported by households at similar ages in 2004 (US$43,170) and 1992 (US$27,486).


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