In the face of the rapidly spreading coronavirus, we’re all being asked to practice social distancing. But is one generation of Americans handling it a lot better than the others?
This notion was a top trend on Twitter over the weekend. And for once, the social-media spotlight shone on the often overlooked Gen Xers, the group sandwiched between the larger and more talked-about boomer and millennial generations.
It could be that both these older and younger generations are struggling a lot more than Gen Xers in social distancing — at least according to the wisdom of Twitter, which includes a heavy dose of stereotyping.
For example, we’ve heard about a certain segment of the boomer generation downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus threat — President Trump among them, at times. Some seem to think it’s all political, an effort to hurt the president’s approval ratings, and they’re going about their business as usual.
Meanwhile, there are a lot of millennials who seem unwilling or unable to stay away from crowded cafes, bars and nightclubs (and that’s certainly been the case in Seattle’s millennial-heavy Capitol Hill neighborhood).
But Gen Xers — the latchkey kids of the ’80s and ’90s — are uniquely qualified for social distancing. In their youth, they spent hours alone in their rooms, watching after-school specials, doing homework, making mixtapes for their friends. To this day, they’re perfectly content holed up at home and finding ways to entertain themselves.
I don’t know whether there’s much truth to this argument, but as I was reading these tweets, it occurred to me that I’ve written many times about millennials and boomers in my column, but never about Gen X (my own generation). S0 I thought I’d take the opportunity to look at the data.
Mind you, this isn’t an exact science. As with any generation, there’s some debate about when Gen X begins and when it ends. I used a widely accepted range of the birth years 1965 to 1980. The most recent census population data is for 2018, so in that year, Gen Xers would have been between the ages of 38 and 53.
Something that I hadn’t realized before is that the Seattle metro actually has more Gen Xers than boomers. In this regard, we’re somewhat unusual.
By my estimation, in the Seattle metro area (including King, Pierce and Snohomish counties), there are nearly 840,000 Gen Xers — that’s just a little bigger than the boomer cohort (folks between the ages of 53 and 72 in 2018), who number around 815,000 in our metro area.
This is different from the U.S. as a whole. Nationally, boomers still outnumber Gen Xers by about 73 million to 66 million.
As you’d expect, boomers are the larger group in metro areas that are attractive to retirees, like Phoenix. And boomers also outnumber Gen Xers in some of the large metros in the Northeast and Midwest, including New York, Boston and Chicago.
But in Seattle’s demographically similar “peer” cities on the West Coast, including the metro areas of Portland and San Francisco, there are also more Gen Xers than boomers.
The Seattle area’s largest generation is, of course, millennials (ages 22 to 36 in 2018), numbering just over 1 million. The smallest cohort, at just about a quarter million, is the Silent generation (ages 72 and older in 2018). Naturally, as a generation ages, its numbers decline.
Another thing that happens with each older generation is that the balance between men and women shifts. There are slightly more male babies born than female babies. But because women tend to live longer, older generations skew more female.
In the Seattle area, boomers are the first generation with more women than men. Among Gen Xers, the men are still predominant.
This is another way Seattle is different from the U.S. as a whole. Nationally, it’s Gen Xers — not boomers — that are the youngest generation in which women outnumber men.
Here’s a little more on the demographics on Seattle-area Gen Xers.
They’re mostly transplants. About 250,000, or 30%, were born in Washington. The top out-of-state birthplace is, naturally, California (about 76,000). The top foreign country birthplace is Mexico (36,000).
Seattle’s Gen Xers are a more racially diverse group than boomers, but less racially diverse than millennials. About 64% are white.
Just like millennials in the Seattle area, a top occupation for Gen Xers here is software developer. But with a total of about 26,000 in that field, millennial developers outnumber them by two-to-one. Compared to millennials, Gen Xers are a lot more likely to be elementary or middle-school teachers — this occupation ranks right behind software developers for Seattle-area Gen Xers, with more than 18,000 employed in this field.
If Gen Xers really are better are entertaining themselves at home than other generations, it’s a good thing that the Seattle area has so many. As of Monday, an emergency declaration signed by Gov. Jay Inslee shut down restaurants, bars, nightclubs, gyms and other places of recreation and entertainment.
For the time being, we’re all going to need to channel our inner Gen Xer.