About 7% of S&P 500 CEOs were younger than age 50 at the end of 2018, down from 16% at the end of 2009. Despite pushes for younger and more diverse CEOs, Gen Xers are relatively underrepresented among corporate executives, whose median age is 58. (The Wall Street Journal)
If you think that Gen-Xers must be ruling the corporate suite by now, well, you're wrong. Slightly more than half of all S&P500 CEOs are Boomers or Silent born in the 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s. And over the last decade, the average and median age of both CEOs and directors has risen about two years. The average CEO tenure, at the end of 2018, was 11 years--the highest tenure since 2002. Only 30 CEOs (6%) are under 50. And only 2 CEOs, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Conor Flynn (Kimco Realty) are under 40.
More remarkably, the average age of a new CEO when hired has risen by 5 years over the last five years (2012 to 2017). Which means that the share of all new CEO hires born since 1961, just under half, has basically stood still during the current economic expansion.
Is this just one more example of everyone forgetting Gen Xers exist? (See "Trendspotting: 4/1/19.")
Simple demography has something to do with it. Boomers are a very large generation. And a rising share of Boomers at the affluent and educated end of the spectrum are healthier and living longer than previous generations of 60- and 70-somethings. Ray Kurzweil (age 71) expects he and his SV peers will live forever. I know that sucks, Xers, but just remember: After all those Boomers have downloaded their wetware into software, you guys will be able to just pull the plug.
Boomer workaholism, a generational trait, also has something to do with it. Boomers are working longer and retiring later. And that goes double for Boomer professionals with college degrees. One more thing: Boomer males born in the late 1940s and early 1950s were more likely to get high SAT scores, earn four-year college degrees, and enter a profession than Xer males born in the early 1960s. (I once wrote a Washington Post op-ed about this.) So maybe fewer Xers are even in the running for CEO.
Top leadership in business roughly tracks what we see in the military. While Xers dominate all upper officer ranks from Major and Colonel through Major General, Boomers still outnumber Xers in the very top posts. Most of today's four-stars (there are 42 of them) continue to be born before 1960. As for politics, here Gen X has been far slower than any earlier generation to become governor, enter Congress, or run for the presidency. (See "Gen X's Short-Lived Presidential Spotlight.") Maybe that's a bit more understandable. Most first-wave Gen-Xers came of age voting for Reagan and really haven't seen much purpose in government.
Eventually, of course, Gen X will accede to all these top spots, even if its tenure there may be shorter than usual. When is that likely to happen? In business and in politics, generational turnover speeds up during and just after a crisis. In business, the average CEO age fell sharply in 2008 and 2009--when many of the remaining Silent CEOs were pushed out the door. So wait until the next recession. Ditto for politics. Wait until the next realigning election. Who knows? It may be coming right up.