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Below is an excerpt from a new Demography Unplugged research note written by Hedgeye Demography analyst Neil Howe. Click here to learn more and subscribe.

How Gen X Is Redefining The Midlife Crisis - zyouth

Gen Xers are redefining the midlife crisis: Instead of going wild, they’re focusing on getting healthy. Many are motivated by the desire to be around for their children in old age, and they’re finding plenty of outlets in the booming wellness industry to help them. (The Wall Street Journal)

Neil Howe: Gen Xers are being pushed into this new sobriety by a number of forces. One, clearly, is their economic fear of downward mobility--not just of falling beneath the living standard of their parents, but also of being unable to provide for their own security in retirement. (See "Trendspotting 7/23/18, Keyword: Retirement.") The familiar behavioral symptoms of a midlife crisis--working and saving less while spending more (and on crazier things)--is simply not an option.

Another force is their growing awareness of mortality and how careless living habits may cut short their lifespan. As Gen-Xers learn about rising midlife mortality from cardiovascular disease (see "Trendspotting 11/04/19, Keyword: Heart"), a growing number are overhauling their diet and adopting strict exercise regimens. Midlife is not a time to let go. It's a time to tighten up.

There's also a broader generational pattern at work here. How people approach midlife is strongly shaped by how they have come of age and experienced young adulthood. Generations that were required to "play by the rules" and take no chances in their early years are very likely to approach midlife as a chance to break free and "live a little." This was basically the collective life story of the Silent Generation. So when the Silent began reaching their 40s and 50s in the 1970s, their leading lights (like Gail Sheehy, who first coined the term "midlife passage") defined midlife in those terms.

For Sheehy, the challenge of midlife was coping with suffocating claustrophobia, that is, finding yourself lost in a world of secure affluence in which you never had any options for taking risks or making choices.The solution to this challenge was famously (for men) the divorce, the toupee, and the sportscar.

Gen-Xers, coming along at the opposite end of the cycle, are experiencing midlife very differently. Most Gen-Xers have taken a lot more risks and experienced a lot more freakish life experiences than their parents had at the same age. So for Gen Xers, midlife is more like disorienting agoraphobia: You've experienced little security; your affluence is under siege; and you have a haunting sense that you've been able to make a lot of big choices--and that they've mostly been mistakes.

So Gen-Xers are dealing with midlife not so much like Woody Allen's generation (which was still trying to escape the Eisenhower '50s), but more like F. Scott Fitzgerald's generation (the Lost Generation, which was trying live down the Roaring Twenties). Fitzgerald believed his generation faced a "crack up" in midlife. Near the end of his life, cut short at age 43 from a heart attack, Fitzgerald wrote, "Now once more the belt is tight and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth."

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This is an excerpt from Demography Unplugged written by Hedgeye Demography analyst Neil Howe. Click here to learn more and subscribe.