What Gen X Can Teach Us About COVID & the Holidays

By: Dan Miers, Dean Browell, and Alan Shoebridge

The 2020 Holiday Season will certainly be unlike any before. COVID’s Fall/Winter surge creates a challenging backdrop. Everyone, Gen Xers included, struggles to balance sharing important holiday traditions and taking responsible steps to prevent exposure to, and the spread of, COVID-19. What’s a child of the AIDS crisis and the birth of the anti-vaxxer movement to do?

For inspiration, let’s dive into The Gen X Files. 

Data from the SPM Consumer Compass® tells us a few things. Generally speaking, members of Generation X are rule followers, with 63% agreeing, “I don’t rebel against convention.” They’ll wear their masks, avoid large gatherings, and hunker down. “I put aside fear and do what has to be done,” is a sentiment 76% of Gen Xers say describes them.

But, beneath all this healthcare “conformity,” there may lay a darker side. In the Consumer Compass® we pose the statement, “Holiday traditions are important to me.” Also, we study how people react to the suggestion, “When it comes to my health, I live for today and don’t think about tomorrow.” At Don’t You Forget About Gen X we wondered, after nine months of quarantine, isolation, and disruption, would people throw caution to the wind? Will they give in to their inner “carpe diem” and embrace those beloved traditions?

So, we created the custom profile of the “Holiday Rebel”–people who agree with both statements. Millennials and Gen Xers comprise nearly 70% of all Holiday Rebels (35% and 33% respectively) and exist in essentially the same proportion of their generations:

Percent who agree:


Gen Xers


“Holiday traditions are important to me” AND “When it comes to my health, I live for today and don’t think about tomorrow.”




The Gen X Holiday Rebel is an interesting study in contrasts. These Holiday Rebels don’t take the medical “norms” at face value; they are much more likely than the average American to say, “In general, I am skeptical of what doctors say” (59% of Gen X Holiday Rebels agree vs. 42% in the general population). In the same vein, Gen X Holiday Rebels are more likely than the total population to say, “When it comes to my health, I know better than my doctor what’s the right thing to do.”

On the other hand, they might not be completely secure in their convictions. 68% of Gen X Holiday Rebels agree, “I feel like people are always judging me,” (compared to 46% among the total population) and 58% say, “I am reluctant to challenge my doctor’s advice,” (compared to 44% among the total population).

These Gen X Holiday Rebels respect the proven authority of established organizations. They list Hospital websites, generally, and ClevelandClinic.org, MayoClinic.org and WebMD specifically as their most trusted sources of health advice. Millennial and Gen X Holiday Rebels, more than any other demographic, agree, “Advertisements for hospitals help me make better decisions,” (59% and 56% respectively).

How might we inspire these Holiday Rebels to buckle down and persevere? Ego and tapping their competitive spirit might be a useful path. 63% of Gen X Holiday Rebels say, “My friends and neighbors often come to me for advice about health-related issues,” (compared to 44% of Gen Xers overall and 40% among the total population). Their public image is important to them, more often saying, “I would pay extra for a product that is consistent with the image I want to convey.” The Gen X Holiday Rebels tell us, “I hate to lose, even in friendly competitions.” Beyond “competition” to do the smart thing, maybe make safe behavior a matter of national duty, as 81% of Gen X Holiday Rebels agree, “I consider myself very patriotic,” compared to 71% among the total population.

Dean and Alan, what does this data suggest to you?

Dean: Wow, this modelling really fits me to a tee. Just the entire concept of holiday traditions and nostalgia somehow riding alongside a self-critical and fatalist streak probably explains why A Christmas Carol is a personal favorite.

The judgement and skepticism findings help tell the further story of how Gen X starts skeptical but once we’re bought in, we’re very loyal. The Gen X Holiday Rebels have their loyal brands and it makes up some of their personal armor and very self-aware image—because those choices were very hard fought and weren’t made lightly. In fact, that may also explain the tight grip on holiday traditions: these are tried and true ways the Gen X Holiday Rebel copes and revels; they are proven so they are loyal. Maybe they’re the holiday lights over-achievers determined to win that neighborhood recognition—or give the most thoughtful and clever present. This helps power why we see Gen X show up writing reviews, telling their heartfelt, informative stories but also how your holiday-centric messages might work in inspiring them to show their support for you or your foundation when you need them.

Still, it’s the tradition but “live for today” contrast that fascinates and fits me: eschewing astrology but determined to eat black eyed peas and collards on New Year’s Day. Just remember to not be mad after your Gen X cousin does a dance after pummeling you in Monopoly—it’s just in their generational nature!

Alan: One aspect of Gen X that we discuss in the book is that our generation embraces information after we have time to process it and validate it for ourselves. With that in mind, perhaps the majority of us have moved past our inclination toward skepticism and can embrace the science behind fighting COVID-19. I really hope that proves to be the case in our response to COVID-19 through the rest of the holiday season and until we have a vaccine in 2021.

As a marketer/communicator for a health system that is dealing with a significant surge in hospitalizations right now, I’m doubling down on the messaging that we’ve been using since the summer surge: using masks and practicing social distancing. No indoor parties with people you don’t live with and getting care before COVID symptoms become too serious. We’ve got to be consistent with our messaging on those points and not give up.

Gen Xers have gotten a “good rap” about dealing with COVID-19 as our generation’s comfort with hunkering down has been a real asset during the pandemic restrictions. We’re going to need to continue being a role model for that behavior for the other generations during the months to come. Being disciplined is going to crucially important.

Interested in learning more about Gen X's unique role in healthcare, and what that means for organizations and marketers? Download our eBook, Don't You Forget About Gen X: One Generation's Crucial Role in Healthcare here.