Confessions of a Gen-Xer

Confessions of a Gen-Xer

According to A.C. Nielsen, Generation X is an age cohort made up of people born between the years of 1965 and 1976– pretty closely matching the U.S. Census 35-44 age category, which makes up roughly 20% of the adults aged 18+ in our country.

I actually fall into this demographic group myself (barely – but I make it!), and since I’ve led Shelton’s proprietary consumer studies and our custom client work over the last 10 years, I’ve often had to report an embarrassing finding:  Gen X is pretty attitudinally lukewarm when it comes to energy conservation and most things environmental, particularly in comparison to those (show-off) Baby Boomers between the ages of 55-64.

So, know that I’m about to break several of the basic market research rules I abide by daily and offer some color commentary based on my own life experiences and observance of friends.   Think of it as a combination soul-cleansing confessional and half-hearted defense of my generation.  While the content of this post might not hold up to rigorous research standards, if you are a Gen Xer, it will likely sound very familiar.

Let’s begin with some facts….

  • In our 2009 Energy Pulse® study, Gen Xers reported the second lowest likelihood to purchase/adopt energy conserving product purchases and habits
  • And while they do better than the youngest and oldest respondents, they fell well behind Boomers in average number of current conservation habits and energy efficient past purchases
  • They felt least positively about the term “conservation” than all other age groups
  • And the average importance placed on energy conservation in the way it affects purchase choices and daily habits was significantly lower for Gen Xers
  • In our recently published 2010 Eco Pulse® study, Gen Xers showed a little more promise, but still fell below Boomers in average number of green activities
  • Gen X was the group most likely to choose the term “unaffected” when asked how media attention regarding our impact on the environment made them feel
  • We (I’ll just own it) were also the group most likely to say we were NOT willing to give up any of our electronic devices, even if told they were harming the environment
  • Finally, we were the group most likely to take a completely neutral stance (neither agree nor disagree) with the statement “Global warming or climate change is occurring and is primarily caused by human activity.”

So why are we less conservation-minded and environmentally concerned?  It certainly isn’t because we are unaware of the issues.  We are TV junkies.  It is our drug of choice.  We learned our ABC’s watching Sesame Street and we raced home from school in our teenage years to immerse ourselves in a continuous flow of syndicated re-runs:  Gilligan’s Island, The Adams Family, The Brady Bunch…  While our TV viewing may have become more sophisticated, it hasn’t lessened much.  I watch a lot of TV, though rarely during regularly scheduled timeslots – more often via Hulu on my lunch hour or after my child is in bed via DVR.

In fact, that’s most likely a piece of the puzzle – we Gen-Xers love our electronic gadgetry and convenience appliances.  When my dishwasher was leaking, I refused to stop using it until it could be fixed, instead shoving towels under it to catch the spill.  I would rather have a ruined hardwood floor than wash dishes by hand. (I assuaged my guilt with the thought that the dishwasher used less water than hand-washing.)

But it’s mostly about the extra time I think it takes to lead a more sustainable life. We Gen-Xers are “Busy, Busy, Busy!” (Did you hear Frosty’s evil magician nemesis in your head?)   We are at, or nearing, our peak-earning years and many of us hold managerial-level, over-time-laden jobs.  The majority of GenX women work outside of the home and most GenX families have kids.  By the time we work late, pick up the kids, get them fed, oversee school projects (which often involve Staples’ runs at 8:50 p.m.), wash clothes and watch a little TV, who’s got time to garden, compost or make their own cleaning supplies?  And I’ll never choose the option of getting up early to buy fresh produce at the one-day-a week farmer’s market over the rare opportunity to sleep-in on a Saturday morning.

Since I mentioned food, I’ll admit that the slow food movement hasn’t made its way to the Head household.  I go to the grocery store with the best intentions, buying fresh fruits and vegetables which, more often than not, rot in my refrigerator crisper.  I was better about this when my child was younger.  I made sure she had fruits and vegetables at every meal, and I cooked more often.

But now we eat a lot of fast food on the road.  This is primarily because of my family’s crazy extra-curricular schedule.  My child had participated in five different organized sports by the time she was ten.  And we’re currently shuttling to and from weekly piano lessons, band and show choir rehearsals.  (Thank God the spring play is over!)  And we only have one child.  Most of my friends have two vehicles on the road shuttling kids in different directions most nights and have to be logistical geniuses!  We pour our lives into our children – right or wrong.   But, in the process, we burn through a lot of gas and eat a lot of unhealthy food.

Another hypothesis stems from the way Gen X was raised.  We grew up pre-Columbine, 9-11, and Amber Alerts.  During the summer my family saw me at breakfast, lunch and had to yell to make me come in for dinner as it got dark.  While I stayed with my grandparents after school, many of my friends were “latchkey” kids.  That kind of freedom leads to a certain amount of independence and self-sufficiency.  GenXers are generally not “joiners” and we, as a cohort, are less likely to jump on bandwagons.  Thus the “join the movement” messaging that many green marketers use is particularly ineffective for us.

Lately I have focused on some small improvements.  I’ve been an obsessive recycler for quite a while, since I don’t even have to separate glass from plastic and my green bin is picked-up, curbside, each week.  I’ve stopped buying water in disposable bottles and I sometimes remember to take my own shopping bags into the store.  I’m also getting better at turning off the water while I brush my teeth.  I know these are baby steps, but I have a goal….when I grow up, I’m going to be a Green Boomer Woman!

About the Author

Lee Ann Head

Lee Ann is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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