Crisis Management

After confiding to a friend about my recent restlessness, my existential search for meaning and my journey to Peru, she asked, “Can you have a midlife crisis before you’re 40?” I took it as a compliment. Not yet 35, I was proud to be a crisis prodigy. But it’s not just me—many Gen-X men (now aged 22-35) are having similar experiences.

Paradoxically, as life expectancy increases, midlife crises are happening sooner. The term itself has become a misnomer, since 49 percent of Xers often feel that something is missing in their lives. They are searching for meaning, purpose and—above all—fun.

For advertisers, understanding the nature of this midlife crisis is crucial to effectively communicating with this generation.

Two factors are fueling the Gen-X unrest:

A faster pace of life. Xers are having a crisis sooner because their lives have been lived faster. Apparently, coming of age in the last two decades of the 20th century and living on Internet time is akin to aging in dog years. Xers are having a midlife crisis now because they’ve packed 40 years of living into 30 years of life.

Oddly, lifestyle acceleration fosters a boredom boom. Just as drug users develop a tolerance, needing larger doses to achieve the same effect, Xers have developed a tolerance to the remarkable events of today’s fast-paced world. The resulting inability to feel excitement prompts the search for bigger thrills, even the ultimate thrill—risking one’s life (through adventure travel)—or living vicariously through gladiator entertainment, such as the TV show Survivor.

The economic boom. Growing up amid the economic uncertainties of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Xers’ aspired to making money. But when financial security was finally attained, they learned it wasn’t as satisfying as expected. Consider that roughly three-quarters of Xers prefer interesting experiences and travel to blatant materialism—owning lots of prized possessions—and only one-in-four believes that money is the only meaningful measure of success.

The Xer midlife crisis manifests itself differently than the boomer-male crisis. For example, relative to a few years ago, Xers today feel more compelled to be in the know about modern trends. The boomer-male crisis, in a sense, is about turning 40, buying a Porsche and finding a trophy wife. For Xer men, it’s more about turning 30, being hip and savvy and getting married. While boomers turn 40 and join the Hair Club for Men, Xers start using monoxodil in their 20s—at the first sign of fallout.

For advertisers, the implications are many. As Xers struggle to reconcile their youth with the perception of feeling old, look for growth in products that foster reinvention and rejuvenation, along with messages that offer answers to Xers’ inexorable search for meaning and novelty.