Survey: Generation X wakes up and smells the money

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Remember when Generation X was a bunch of slackers? So last millennium. A new survey suggests the demographic that smelled like Teen Spirit has finally embraced the American Dream.

According to the survey, sponsored by financial services provider Charles Schwab, 64 percent of Gen Xers (people born between 1965 and 1980) say their top priorities include family, homeownership and financial security. Six out of 10 have a clear vision of where they want to be in the next decade and two-thirds think their future is bright.

The bad news is that four in 10 say they've got too much debt to consider investing or saving, about half feel stress and anxiety about their personal and professional futures and two-thirds worry about their finances on a daily basis. Furthermore, 47 percent think getting good financial advice would be a major hassle -- which could be a problem, because from the looks of things, they might need a little help.

The Kelton Research survey of 2,000 Gen Xers found they worry a lot. In addition to feeling anxiety about their own bank balances, 46 percent are concerned about the finances of parents and siblings. And almost one in five is so discouraged about their financial outlook, they report episodes of money-related depression. And with some reason.

"This generation faces some pretty significant financial challenges, both short- and long-term," said Jonathan Craig, who is leading Schwab's initiative to reach out to younger investors. "They won't be able to rely on defined benefit and pension plans, they're uncertain about Social Security, there's a concern about retirement, but they also face skyrocketing costs for educating their children and for housing."

The study looked at how attitudes about money differed by income, geography and age, but the most telling factor, Craig said, was life stage: Whether people were single or married, and if they had children.

"It turns out a 25-year-old-who is single is a lot like a 39-year-old who is single," Craig said. "The issue becomes very acute and real once you start to have a family. The movement from 'me' to 'we' causes a shift."

Although this is the first generation to come of age during the 401(k) era, it is less familiar with the market than one might think. Moreover, many Gen Xers are quite averse to taking on investment risk -- 54 percent equated investing with gambling.

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