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The grunge generation grows up

They were known for their lack of commitment. Now Generation X is making waves, its own way.

(Page 2 of 2)

Gen X parenting habits are of particular interest to those tracking generational trends.

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Today, 51 percent of children under 18 have parents who qualify as Gen X, according to an analysis by Reach Advisors, a Boston marketing-strategy and research firm. (Reach Advisors also analyzed Census Bureau data to come up with the 60 million figure for the population of Gen X, which can vary depending on which beginning and ending dates are selected.)

Gen X moms and dads tend to be homebodies - they are willing to sacrifice one spouse's income to have a parent at home with the kids, and frequently have to go into debt to own a house. Sometimes they choose arrangements, such as each spouse working a part-time job, that ensure that both parents get time with the children.

"They're willing to do what it takes to have family stability, because they didn't get it when they were young," says Ann Fishman, president of Generational Targeted Marketing Corp. "So this is something new, the importance placed on raising your children."

In 2002, Yankelovich reported that 67 percent of Xer moms said they planned to do a better job of raising their children than the generation before them. And for the first time in decades, fewer women are returning to the workforce in the first year after giving birth, according to Census data. When Reach Advisors conducted a survey of 3,020 parents at the end of 2003 ("Generation X: From Grunge to Grown Up"), they found that the increase in stay-at-home moms can be attributed in part to decisions made by college-educated Gen X women in households with incomes of more than $120,000 a year.

Dads spend more time with the family

Gen X dads are also trying to be more involved. Marty Kotis, president and CEO of Kotis Properties in Greensboro, N.C., says in e-mails and a phone interview that he worked from home for six to eight weeks after his son was born last year, and continues to actively participate in his son's upbringing.

"I think the approach with baby boomers was a lot more hands-off," says the 35-year-old, explaining he knows fathers of that generation who never changed a diaper. "My wife doesn't work right now, but I still feel like we should share the joys and responsibilities of raising our son."

The implications for labor markets - and even housing prices - of fewer working spouses are significant, notes James Chung, an Xer and president of Reach Advisors. An outcome of only one parent working is that couples are not as set on living a convenient distance from the workplace of both parents. "What you're seeing is [that] house prices are rising faster in communities that cater to those [single-income] families," he says.

Mr. Kotis is an example of another Xer trait: He plans for the future, particularly for retirement. Not long after he was elevated to the head of his family's company, he established a 401(k) program for the firm's employees, a majority of whom are Xers, too. "I sort of think of [Social Security] as a joke," he says. "I don't think it's going to be around when I'm old enough to need it."

Studies suggest his attitude is shared by others of his generation. Yankelovich has found that Xers have their eyes on retirement at an earlier age than boomers did, says Clurman. And the recent Reach Advisors survey found that 29 percent of Gen Xers versus 22 percent of boomers were saving for retirement with 401(k) or other defined contribution plans.

"This is a generation that does not necessarily expect to have the same kind of financial security as their parents do," says Mr. Chung. "And that's a big change."