Forget baby boomers and millennials, it's Generation X that's shaping the fate of companies in Europe

Tracey Boles
Friends Television Stills
Gen X are those born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s - like the Friends cast (Source: Getty)

Sandwiched between the headline-grabbing millennials and baby boomers, Generation X is sometimes overlooked. But according to Hugo Scott-Gall of Goldman Sachs Research, understanding what drives the decisions of the group born between 1965 and 1980 is essential, not least because the cohort has hit its peak spending power and accounts for over 25 per cent of US consumption.

Generation X has seen lower income growth than the generation that came before them, at 1.8 per cent per year between the ages of 34 and 43, compared with three per cent per year the US boomers enjoyed when they were that age. What's more, Xers' assets have not grown as much according to the Goldman Sachs analysis. They spend more on things like housing, clothing and education than the baby boomers, but less in other categories like cars. Therefore, the outlook for Generation X matters most for sectors like home improvement, consumer durables, clothing retail and leisure.

Read more: Moaning millennials? They may have a point

The age mid-point of the Xers is now 44 years old, meaning time is running out for them to build up savings pre-retirement. They will not consume in the same way as the boomers after retiring, partly because they cannot. Given that Xers will also have greater responsibility for their own retirements than boomers, they need to increase their savings rate or retire later.

By 2024, the over 50s will be the largest group in the UK workforce. Some sectors have grasped this shifting reality: Insurers are finding ways to keep older employees healthy and at work according to Best Doctors, which offers a second medical opinion service.

Read more: Older UK investors most cautious in Europe

It is not just age which defines this generation, however. It is regarded as pessimistic but resilient, self-starting and pragmatic. This matters not just for consumption, but also for their impact on the world as they move into leadership positions.

Why are they so glum? Xers endured both the dot-com bubble bursting and the crisis of 2008. Pew Research estimates that they lost approximately 45 per cent of their net wealth between 2007 and 2009.

While Generation X may not be in the media spotlight, there are actually more of them in Europe than there are millennials, secretly shaping spending patterns, employment culture and indeed entire industries. Companies ignore them at their peril.