Where have all the Gen-X Women Gone?

I was recently asked by a colleague why I thought organizations like the Red Hat Society and Masons/Eastern Star were struggling to grow and attract younger (40-50 something participants).  Rather than being the spokesperson for my entire generation, I thought I’d do a little research.  Here’s what I found….

Generation X – born between 1965 and 1981 are starting to turn 50.  Yet, surprisingly, they don’t really care.  As life expectancy gets longer, our functional age also gets extended.  While we don’t worry about whether 40 is the new 20, the idea of turning 50 doesn’t stress us out.  We are looking at age 65 the way our Baby Boomer mothers looked at 50.  Sure, we experience the changes in our bodies that come with midlife, but we were taught to see it as an often irritating, but natural progression.  We aren’t particularly thrilled with the saggy bits, the gray hair or the wrinkles, but we have heard the message of our foremothers – embrace it or fight it – it’s YOUR choice.  And we are, if anything, the generation of choice.

Women in Generation X are the most educated, technologically savvy generation yet, and have been pivotal in raising both millennial and iGen children.  Most Generation X women accept that there will be both career, childrearing and parent care as a part of the natural progression of their lives.  In fact, most Generation X will spend more years doing parent care than they did raising their own children.  According to Pet, 48% of X’ers say they expect to provide primary care for their aging parents, and 35% say that their boomer parents depend on them for emotional support.

They stay in the workforce longer, because they recognize the need to contribute to retirement, simply because most of them have existed in a two-earner household to simply survive.

While the memory of growing up in a household without technology is still fresh, it was Gen X that “built the bridge” from analog to digital.”  They use social media with ease.  81% of Gen X is on Facebook, and 5.9 million have Snapchat accounts.  They don’t use it the same way that the millennials and Igen do – to build digital personas.  They use it to stay in touch with friends, family and the world.  They create “digital communities” specific to their interests.

Generation X women are not joiners.  This is a generation that is fiercely independent, and more happy than any other generation to work alone.  An independent lot, these women have learned self-defense, so aren’t frightened of walking to a parking lot alone.  They are comfortable in a restaurant with a table for one.  They  are “masters of self-deprecation,” actually, and shy away from the spotlight.  Yet, these same X’ers have become a huge force in industry.  Their superpower, though, is not taking over the corner suite, but working behind the scenes.  X’ers are among the most highly educated – 35% having a college degree vs. 19% of millennial.  Pew describes X’ers as “savvy entrepreneurial loners.”

Why don’t X’er women join organizations?  Well, one of the reasons is purely practical.  They may be supporting parents or children.  These women recognize that they will have to remain in the workforce until they have financial stability to do so.  So, work is one reason why we don’t see X’er women flocking to the Eastern Star, or other Masonic organizations.

Another reason that X’er women don’t join formal organizations is a unwillingness to commit to anything that will demand more than they are willing to give.  We saw our mothers get involved in PTA, only to have it take over their lives. 

More frequently, X’er women will find social groups based on shared interests.  These shared interests may develop into an organized group, but most likely they are one-off experiences.  For example, there is a Groupon for a “Paint and Wine”  night for $50 (2-for-1).  One woman will invite another women, and a group of 8 or 10 will gather, paint, drink, socialize, and go home having their creative and social needs met.  No long term commitment.  No stress.

Gen X does not follow the patterns of Silent or Boomer generations.  They are loners.  They are not joiners.  They form small social circles, and report being satisfied with a limited number of friends.  They do not fear the world, and do not feel intimidated about going out alone.  They form special interest groups, (RV Women, Hiking Women), rather than join existing general purpose groups (Red Hat Society, Masonic, Soroptimist)

Generation X women are redesigning the landscape of organizations.  They join groups that meet their specific needs and interests.  Organizations that exist purely as a social group without a specific goal or purpose may find themselves floundering for X’er membership.  These women don’t need to join a group to make friends, they take their friends and make their own groups.  They will gravitate to shared interests – political, creative or recreational.  If any organization that is based purely on social interaction hopes to attract these women, they must create a laser focus that will attract and engage them, require little of them for membership and participation, and provide concrete take-aways.

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