Getting the X factor. Reaching a generation in turmoil.

27 Oct 2017|Added Value

Generation X – men and women born between 1965 and 1980 – is imploding.

Think of Eric. He is approaching 50, and last year lost his job. He was replaced by a millennial, a youngster who can lead the digital transformation his company was demanding. The blow was tough, and yet Eric’s dismissal brings him some relief, because he has other ideas in mind. He wants to realize the dreams he had as a student and try something different. Eric is not an isolated case. There are hundreds like him, who every month are starting to question everything.

It was the writer Douglas Coupland who first described Generation X. He rejected the model of his parents, Baby Boomers, their loyalty to their employers, and their plans frozen in the Cold War. Yet faced with calamities like the end of full employment and the appearance of AIDS, Gen X’s mood was not optimistic.

The children of Generation X children belong to what we call Generation Y or Z, the famous millennials that so whet the appetite of marketers. Generation X looks at their children with envy. They approve of their revolts. They say that they are right, that work is not everything, that it is necessary to live, at all costs, before it is too late.

For it is perhaps already too late. Generation X have entered the second half of their lives and have started to panic. The crisis of turning 40 has been replaced by the crisis of turning 50, thanks to longer life expectancy. So Generation X has rebelled, rejecting fatalism. Yes, there is life after 50, and the recent film “Aurore”, with Agnès Jaoui, is one of many examples illustrating this phenomenon in society, of Generation X questioning everything. Let us declare it: the advent of the X-Tension generation.

Gen X-Tension is no longer afraid to shake up their lives. They no longer want to follow conventions. They, like their children, saw the winds of change embodied by Macron and Melenchon at the time of the elections and hoped for something new.

The signs of their revolt are everywhere. Witness the success of the novel The Dice Man, by Luke Rhinehart. It’s about a bored New York psychologist who decides to plan his afternoon based on a dice roll. Number one means go back to work, two is go to the cinema, and so on. But it lands on a six, which he’s decided means he’ll seek out the love of his youth 400km away, and his life is turned upside down.

At the end of the book, he explains: “In stable, coherent societies, the narrowness of the personality had a value. One could be realized with one ego. This is no longer true today. In a multivalent society, only a multiple personality can do the trick. We each have 100 versions of ‘me’; we can tread the narrow path of our personality, but we can never forget that our deepest desire is to play several different roles.”

We are conditioned from the earliest age to see life as a linear journey, but we are made to be multiple, to live several lives. Rhinehart’s book, written in the 70s, was premonitory. There have never been so many reconstituted families, sites of licentiousness, and opportunities for individual enterprise. Everywhere, people are quitting bullshit jobs, and when psychologists ask adulterers why they have deceived their spouses, they respond unanimously: “I wanted to feel alive again.” It is a fact: 79 percent of French people want to change their lives, and the X-Tension generation leads the dance.

Are the X-Tension a threat? No, they are a force. Why? Because the current march of the world consumes them. They celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall; they did not expect to be surrounded by barricades. They witnessed the adoption of the single currency; they did not expect Europe to be questioned. They saw dictators fall; they did not expect populism to proliferate. They dreamed of a world where cultures would meet more easily; despite the new technologies, the hatred of the « other » grows. In short, they reject the world that is emerging, with less fierceness than in their youth, but with the determination of those who have lived enough to know that their cause is just.

Yet it is other generations that win all the attention: millennials and the « third age ». The former because they embody the future, and the latter because they are so numerous, with 19 percent of the French population now aged over 65.

The X-Tension generation is stuck in between, torn and frustrated. It is not uncommon, moreover, that they carry the responsibilities of the generations either side of them. This 50-year-old testifies: “My son has no work. He’s staying at home. My father is sick, so I spend all my weekends in the hospital. Result? I have no more time for myself. I can’t do this anymore”.

The implosion has already begun. The X-Tension generation has the means to pursue its desires, and it is more and more reactive to compromises. Recall that the X-Tension generation represents a quarter of the French population and one third of its wealth. Brands and media providers are only now beginning to realize this. The X-Tension generation finances the choices of Gens Y and Z, and supports the Baby Boomers. But above all, the X-Tension generation wants to achieve its dreams, even the craziest of them.

A disturbing revelation for some, a boon for others. The emancipation of the X-Tension generation will confirm the acceleration of professional diversification, deliver an explosion of leisure activity associated with individual expression, and will lead to an increase in single-parent households. All business sectors associated with these trends will be the big winners of the next two decades.

This article was written by Olivier Auroy, Joint Managing Director of Kantar Added Value France.

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