Gen X amid the Pandemic

How Their Finances, Shopping Behavior, and Digital Usage Look

About This Report
Gen Xers have taken a hit from the pandemic. But in midcareer and with bigger-than-average households, they remain too important a cohort for marketers to ignore. Thus, it’s essential see how their finances, shopping behavior, and digital usage shape up amid the pandemic.

Executive Summary

Many Gen Xers were in shaky financial shape before the pandemic arrived and have suffered during it. But with above-average incomes and bigger-than-average households—and at a life stage that necessitates lots of spending—Xers remain a cohort marketers cannot afford to ignore.

Pandemic aside, have Xers in the US been in decent financial shape?

Their household incomes—averaging $106,173 pretax in 2019, according to the latest available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)—have been well above the US average. But their share of total household wealth is barely half of that held by baby boomers. Many have yet to recover from the Great Recession.

Have they been hit hard financially by the pandemic?

Very hard. One survey by Bankrate showed more than half of Xers in the US had lost at least some household income as of November. US Census Bureau data from December showed nearly 13 million finding it “very difficult” to pay bills. Many have raided their retirement accounts to cover current expenses.

Has the pandemic reshaped Xers’ spending?

It has reduced what in recent years has been an outsize level of household spending—an average of $76,788 in 2019, versus $63,036 for total households, according to the BLS. About half of Xers in a May survey by Jungle Scout reported cutting outlays during the pandemic. The financial squeeze has increased the urgency of deal seeking. Xers’ shopping has swung more toward digital, including in grocery shopping.

Are Xers heavy users of digital media and devices?

Yes, but not indiscriminate users. Most are sticking with Facebook while being less likely to try newer options. They mostly have smartphones but haven’t been keen on smart speakers and wearables. About eight in 10 Xers in the US will view digital video this year, but they’ll still watch tons of traditional TV, according to our estimates.

WHAT’S IN THIS REPORT? This report assesses US Gen Xers’ finances and how they’ve been affected by the pandemic. It looks at their shopping behavior and how it has shifted in a time of social distancing. And it examines the media usage of a cohort that’s digitally conversant but not digitally native.

KEY STAT: The financial travails of 2020 did not exactly imbue Xers with confidence about how they’ll fare in 2021, with 42% of those in the US expecting to be in “survival mode,” according to October research by Fidelity Investments.

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Table of Contents

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Down but Not Out
  3. The Ups and Downs of Xer Finances
  4. Retirement Beckons and Threatens
  1. Xers as Shoppers
  2. A Digital Cohort (Mostly)
  3. Key Takeaways
  4. Insider Intelligence Interviews
  1. Read Next
  2. Sources
  3. Media Gallery

Charts in This Report

Interviewed for This Report

Tyson Cornell
US Consumer Markets Leader
Interviewed January 15, 2021
Bruce Leichtman
Leichtman Research Group
President and Principal Analyst
Interviewed January 12, 2021
Jim Miller
J.D. Power
Vice President, Banking and Payments Intelligence
Interviewed January 12, 2021
Sarah O’Grady
Senior Director, Brand Marketing
Interviewed January 15, 2021
Kristi Rodriguez
Nationwide Financial
Senior Vice President, Nationwide Retirement Institute
Interviewed January 12, 2021
Lauren Xandra
National Research Group
Vice President, Marketing and Growth
Interviewed January 14, 2021

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Mark Dolliver


Ross Benes
Lucy Koch
Junior Analyst
Peter Newman
Senior Forecasting Analyst
Oscar Orozco
Senior Forecasting Analyst
Jennifer Pearson
VP, Research
Nicole Perrin
Principal Analyst
Peter Vahle
Forecasting Analyst
Debra Aho Williamson
Principal Analyst
Vincent Yip
Forecasting Analyst