Generational attitude differences could impact legacy decisions – study

New research has revealed important differences in the behaviours and attitudes towards legacy giving of the baby boomer generation (born 1945-1964) compared to Generation X (born 1965-1980), which could help charities better steward supporters into the future. 

The research, conducted by the Legacy Foresight research team at Legacy Futures, highlights the opportunities and challenges charities will face as Gen X becomes the focus for engagement. The data provides organisations with insight as to what impact the current climate of uncertainty is having on legacy planning across population cohorts. This will help them take the right action now to engage these supporters with the powerful potential of legacy giving.

Key Findings

  • Deaths are set to rise by almost a third to reach 825,000 in 2050 — driven primarily by the size of the Boomer population. However, by this time, Gen X will account for 40% of deaths
  • Boomers have significantly more wealth than previous generations (50% more than War Babies at their age)
  • The wealth of Gen X reveals a more optimistic picture than the media presents, with Gen Xers aged 50-54 appearing to be similarly wealthy to Boomers when they were the same age, although with a profile towards more pensions and less property
  • There is greater polarisation of wealth among Gen X, with the top quarter of Gen X households owning 70% of wealth (compared to 65% for Boomers). Whilst not good for wider society, this is positive for legacies, as it shows Gen X holds significant wealth and increased wealth increases the chance of a charitable gift left in a will
  • Gen X however are less likely to have made a will than Boomers were at the same age

Many of the findings can be attributed to two main themes: economic uncertainty and diversity, such as ethnicity, family structure and faith. The analysis found that uncertainty around the economy was driving short-term thinking. Respondents from both generations felt in limbo and were putting off making important decisions, as they didn’t know what the future would hold or what their families might need. This also translated into will-making behaviours — with people delaying making a will, reporting that things seemed too uncertain at the moment to make commitments for the future.

Gen X are feeling the squeeze more than their Boomer counterparts and are more pessimistic about economic prospects. With many having dependent children at home, Gen X are more likely to be thinking carefully about how they spend their money. Their main aim was to try to hold on to what they had and to save planning for the future for when things feel more certain.

Being child-free is a key driver of legacy giving across all generations. 14% of core Boomer females (now aged 65-75) are child free versus 18% of Gen X females. This will lead to an increase in child-free deaths from mid 2020s — an important consideration for charities whose supporters won’t all have automatic beneficiaries and may be seeking ways in which their legacy can live on.

There is also a different religious makeup among Gen X, with a lower percentage identifying as Christian (46% of Gen X versus 67% of core Boomers), and a higher percentage describing themselves as Muslim (6.1% Gen X versus 2.1% of core Boomers) or of no religion (37% Gen X vs 22% of Core Boomers).

Gen X are also considerably more ethnically diverse, with almost 1 in 5 Gen Xers belonging to a Black, Asian, mixed or other ethnic group according to the 2021 census data. This is an increase of 130% from the oldest Boomers, with just 1 in 12 core Boomers identifying as belonging to a non-white ethnic group. CEO of Legacy Futures, Ashley Rowthorn, said:

“While economic uncertainty seems to be delaying legacy decision making, the good news is that donors don’t seem to be removing charities from their wills all together. There is still a strong desire to give to causes that matter in life, as well as to family and friends, and charities need to use this moment of pause to deepen and strengthen relationships through good stewardship.

As time moves on, charities also need to understand the changing generations and make sure they are engaging them on their terms. This latest research helps charities develop long-term programmes, including how to tailor their messaging, develop their storytelling and demonstrate impact.

The research shows why charities cannot take the same approach with all supporters, bearing in mind the vast differences in attitudes and behaviours. Understanding generational differences aids charities in formulating their communication messaging and content choices, leading to more positive outcomes for all.”

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