Being Gen X (Part 2)

Where next for Generation X? Surely, we just need to look at our Baby Boomer parents to see what’s in store for us – after all, they’re us in 20 years right? Turns out there are some powerful forces (no, not Putin or Zuckerberg or The Dark Side; think social and technological) at play that may be steering us towards a different future.

Where Next for Generation X?

Gen X is all grown up and at last being taken seriously. We’ve got a mortgage, a car, kids and a decent job. The Boomers are, praise the Gods both large and small, finally moving on to the promised land – retirement – and are abdicating the levers of power. Gen X is inheriting the world (this is the bit where we all laugh maniacally). Mini-me is taking over!

So we just need to slip into the Boomers’ freshly vacated shoes and get to work, right?

Actually, there’s some pretty good reasons why we might not want to get too comfortable in those big-ass, out-fashioned shoes. There are trends afoot that have researchers ringing alarm bells that the Boomer era is ending and that their way of tackling life might become redundant.

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Gen X vs Killer Robots

Gen X, particularly the younger of the cohort, will be at the frontline of the Rise of the Deadly, Killer, Murderous, Bastard-Face Robots. Just kidding. We mean, at the frontline of adapting to the workplace effects of robotics (automation) and artificial intelligence. Automobile manufacturing workers in places like Australia can tell you how tough it is to go through an industry restructure. In recent years, Australia reluctantly gave up supporting its non-competitive auto sector, and by 2017 all major auto companies had shut down operations. Even with substantial government assistance to help auto workers reskill and move into different sectors, one third of retrenched workers remained unemployed a year after losing their jobs 

For Gen X, this is particularly worrying as automation and AI will be transforming workplaces at the end of their careers. Finding the time, energy and motivation to retrain for another role or to change careers altogether will be harder at 60 than it will be for Millennials at 30 or 40. Finding a new job toward the end of our working life will be a big ask. On the bright side, in the US for example, 74 million Baby Boomers (45% of the workforce) are moving into retirement, which is creating demand for Gen Xers. Given the much lower numbers of Gen X, it’s reasonable to assume that demand will be strong.

This would only hold true, of course, as long as you’re not competing for the same jobs as Millennials, which by 2025 will account for three-quarters of working-age people globally.

The best Killer Bastard-Face Robot-free jobs, that are also less contested by those pesky Millennials, are roles like managerial, caring (nursing, child care, etc), non-routine physical work (tree lopping, house plumbing, etc), non-IT creative and collaborative projects, politicians, diplomats and senior civil service. Gen X should tap into its competitive advantage of being in the workforce longer than Millennials. Management, strategic and decision making level roles would logically be prime targets. You might want to steer clear of transport, logistics, administration and manufacturing as the robots are salivating at the thought of automating these sectors.

Gen X in Retirement

I know you don’t want to think about retirement, but it’s too late to think about it at 60. And, to be honest, you’re not getting any younger.

That hair growing out of your ears, the intolerance to loud music, the growing number of shows you enjoy on publicly funded TV, the frightening number of farts that escape without intent or warning, are tell-tale signs you’re getting old.

Here’s another tell-tale sign: you start caring about your financial security. From there, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the sphincter-clenching realisation that your half-hearted retirement savings will mean you can’t stop working until you’re 106 years’ old. Gen X, is easily the least prepared generation for retirement. We’ve been way too busy spoiling our kids and indulging our own materialistic instincts. Don’t tell me your garage isn’t full of kayaks and motorbikes and camping gear and ab burners and outdoor furniture. In the US, less than 40% of Gen X say they will be financially ready for retirement. In my home country, Australia, only around 20% of us will be retiring comfortably. The numbers are similar in the UK and Canada.

To make financial matters worse, Gen Xers are likely to have a life expectancy of around 95 years. That’s an average, so many of us will live past 95! That means the 40-odd years you worked and saved (surely you saved something?) will now need to last you over 30 years in retirement.

Before you jump out the window, here’s the silver lining: while we’ve been busy financially cramming for retirement day, the world of retirement has been changing. The three-stage life of the Baby Boomer is ending.

The sharp lines demarcating the learning years (school, technical college, university), the earning years (work, career, business) and the retirement years (not working at all and living off savings) are blurring and will soon break down completely. Already, we are seeing people changing career several times over their working lives and taking mid-life sabbaticals before re-entering the workforce. You’ve no doubt read about FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) and ongoing discussions about semi-retirement and working retirements. These are all signs of the three-stage life coming to an end, largely due to changing attitudes about life and work, and to huge increases in our longevity – see Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s 100 Year Life for a mind-blowing look into your future. Generation X will be the first to experiment en masse with different concepts of work and retirement.

Check out Meantime’s Gen eXit category for more on retirement and FIRE.