Gen X has no Heart? We Don’t Second that Emotion.

When most people think of February, the traditional imagery of Valentine’s Day comes readily to mind. For those of us working in healthcare, we also know February as Heart Month. So what better month could there possibly be for taking a deep dive into our emotions?

In our book–Don’t You Forget About Gen X–we explored many topics, but generational attitudes about love, relationships, and related areas only got a quick treatment. This blog post explores those topics in more depth. And don’t worry, we’re not relying solely on the opinions of three men to talk about feelings and emotions—we’re going to let the data do that. We’ll also discuss how all this ties back into healthcare. Let’s go.

The Generations and Emotions

Dan: The SPM Consumer Compass® delivers a number of interesting, dare I say, “heart-shaped,” insights into the generations, and Gen X in particular. Beginning with family, and consistent with national demographic data, Gen Xers are more likely than any generation to be married or living with someone within a relationship (66%, vs. 62% for millennials and 56% for boomers) and are much more likely than their generational neighbors to have children—71% of Gen Xers say they do, compared to 52% of millennials and 66% of boomers. By a slim margin, Gen Xers are the generation most likely to agree, “I put the needs of others before my own.” (80%)

All generations hold very similar opinions on making sincere connections with the world around them, holding the same high-ranking views on questions such as:

  • I find fulfillment through giving to others
  • I feel loving toward people in general
  • I find fulfillment through relationships

Gen Xers are a little more likely than the overall population to say they make decisions with their heart (49% to 46% in the overall population), but they still slightly lean toward their head (51%) when it comes to making choices.

Dean: Stats like these always remind me how many of the trends that get attributed to millennials started with us. Assuming we get covered at all, Gen X is frequently relegated to a “middle child” status (“between two noisy behemoths”, Pew once said) where our most distinguishing characteristics are merely existing to bridge Boomers and Millennials. Of course, any generation between two others is suddenly in the middle. But as we can see, in many cases Gen X truly did break away from Boomers – in clear ways, leading the way – and Millennials followed and in some cases built on that. It also reflects on what makes us unique and helps to shed light on our story and how we approach problems, crises, or even day to day life.

Alan: This data really makes me think about how our generation has evolved from the “I don’t care about anything” personas and labels of the late 1980s and 1990s. Gen X puts on a good show about not being driving by emotions, but, clearly, we are in some areas. We just hide it well under a tough façade.

The Generations and Health

Dan: Matters of health are where Xers may be showing age effects more than exhibiting any generation-specific traits. In our research sample, 40% of Gen Xers report currently being treated for heart disease, right in between millennials (35%) and boomers (49%). The same is true of other chronic conditions related to cardiovascular disease:

Currently treated for:


Gen X


High Blood Pressure




High Cholesterol




Diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2)




However, Gen Xers’ health literacy on cardiovascular matters might be troubling. While higher than boomers, Gen Xers are slightly less likely than millennials to have heard of a Certified Chest Pain Center (26% vs 27%) or Primary Stroke Center (29% vs 33%) as a credential that might influence their healthcare decisions.

When Gen Xers make healthcare choices, having a compassionate physician is important, but not essential. When choosing a physician, “Is compassionate” is a top 2 box trait for 73% of Gen Xers, in line with the total population. That said, 52% of Xers agree, “I don’t care how compassionate or caring a hospital is as long as my problem gets fixed.”

More than half of Gen Xers—also 52%—say they are in a “committed” primary care relationship and not interested in making a change.

Gen Xers are engaged in behaviors related to heart health and self-improvement. In the past year:

  • 22% say they have done an online health risk assessment for heart disease, cancer and the like (vs. 18% for the overall population)
  • 43% say they have exercised at a fitness center (vs. 38% overall)
  • 12% say they have had an elective cosmetic procedure (vs. 9% overall)

Alan: I’ll be interested to see whether Gen Xers’ feelings about how important compassionate care is change over time. This is an area where you might not know how important compassion is until you have a serious medical problem. Our generation is still aging into the most serious and long-lasting health conditions where compassion can count for a great deal. At least for now, as marketers and communicators, we need to be aware of this bias for a more transactional approach.

The Generations and Love

Dan: 73% of Gen Xers agree, “I am a romantic.” This figure is consistent with what millennials (73%) say, and greater than boomers (61%). When it comes to love and romance, Gen Xers, while more passionate than their boomer counterparts, appear a bit more modest about it than younger generations.

  • 60% of Xers agree, "I like to pamper myself” (vs. 69% of Millennials)
  • 62% agree, “I like to feel sexy” (compared to 70% of Millennials)
  • 32% admit, “I think about sex all the time” (compared to 41% of Millennials)
  • 51% of Xers still believe “I am a better lover than most people,” nearly two-times that of boomers and not too far behind Millennials (60%)!

Dean: These romantic insights on Generation X are always interesting in light of the “cynical” moniker we were saddled with so early on in our lives. You would think we’d end up more bitter and alone if that were our guiding notion! Instead Gen X’s thoughtful approach helps inform every aspect of their life and in their care for others.

Alan: I’m not commenting on any of this–I’m leaving this section to my co-authors!

Dan: Alan, remember, Gen X did make momentary stars of Right Said Fred…it’s possible you’re too sexy for your cat!

Putting all this information to use

So there you have it—in short, don’t be afraid to tap into the emotions of Gen Xers. There is more depth there than you might have ever imagined. With the right messaging and prodding, you can drive action.

If you haven’t read Don’t You Forget About Gen X: One Generation’s Crucial Role in Healthcare, buy it here on Amazon.