Photo credit: Sboukatch, “San Diego,” Flickr Creative Commons
By Jason Zweig | 7:30 am ET June 27, 2012
Lately I’ve been besieged by press releases telling me about the purportedly distinctive investing views of baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, the “millennials” and Generation Z.
I realized that while I have a rough idea of what a baby boomer is, I didn’t have a clue about Gen X, Gen Y, millennials and Gen Z. When were these people born? Why do they sound like hemorrhoid medicines? What makes them different – or, rather, what makes them supposedly the same as everybody else their age?
Does anybody know? Do you?
It’s easier for financial companies to sell their products if they can convince you that you are part of some group whose members all think and act alike. But I was entirely unsurprised, after poking around for a while online, to find no consensus on the exact “when” of each Gen.
Generation X includes people born between 1962 and 1977, suggests T. Rowe Price. Sorry, says the Employee Benefits Research Institute, make that 1965 through 1974. No, figures Met Life, it’s 1965 to 1976. The Urban Institute reckons it was 1966 through 1975. MFS Investment Management implies that Generation X was born between 1966 and 1980.
With no financial products to flog, Wikipedia can afford to be honestly fuzzy; it says people in Generation X were “born from the early 1960s through the early 1980s, usually no later than 1981 or 1982.” (That would include both my wife and people young enough to be my children if I had sown more wild oats when I was in college. That doesn’t sound like one “generation” to me.)
Generation Y is no clearer. MetLife dates these folks with vintages of 1977 through 1990. T. Rowe Price implies birthdates for Generation Y between 1978 and 1991. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority suggests starting in 1979 and ending in 1993. By Kiplinger’s math, Generation Y was born from 1981 through 1999.
U.S. Trust doesn’t say exactly when Generation Y began, but it apparently excludes people born after 1994. Meanwhile, an investment advisory firm with the orthographically freakish name of oXYGen Financial specializes in clients aged 25 to 50, implying that those in Generation Y were born before 1987.
As to millennials – typically misspelled “millenials” by the flacks who spew out financial press releases – they turn out to be the same as Generation Y. (Whoever they are.) And Generation Z starts one year after Generation Y ended, although that could have been any time between 1988 and 2000, give or take a decade or two.
Have you ever in your life met anyone who said, “I’m a Generation Y’er” or “Hi, I’m a GenX’er”? Let’s be honest: If you did, you would promptly form an “L” with your thumb and forefinger and press it to the loser’s forehead.
If financial marketers can’t even agree on when these so-called generations were born, why you should you give any credence to their survey data?
Finally, the notion that everyone in the same age bracket invests alike is ridiculous. How you invest is a function not merely of how old you are, but of all your life experiences – what your parents taught you about money, your emotional and psychological state, your reserves of patience and independence, your search for information and advice, and so on.
You aren’t a baby boomer or a Generation X’er or a Gen Y’er. You are you – an individual, distinctive and unique, with a background and beliefs that no one else exactly shares. You aren’t a cohort. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are supposed to be.
Source: WSJ.com, Total Return blog