In South Africa, Generation X Is Redefining Adulthood

A look at how Gen Xers in South Africa differ from their global peers.

Viacom’s Gen X Today study spoke with over 12,000 adults in 21 countries to paint a picture of adulthood for people ages 30 to 49 around the world. The study found that while the world was focusing on Millennials and Baby Boomers, Gen X quietly reinvented what it means to be an adult.

South Africa is one of the countries included in the project – and we wanted to understand how this generation differs from its global peers. As a note, because this data is based on an online survey, respondents tended to skew higher socioeconomically.

Here are some key things to know about this generation of South Africans:

They’re redefining the traditional norms of adulthood. Less than half of Gen X respondents in South Africa (46%) had achieved all three milestones of marriage, homeownership and having a child — higher than the global average of 39%. White respondents (49%) are more likely to have achieved these milestones than black respondents (41%).

In South Africa especially, traditional family structures are an exception and not the rule. A few social realities limit Gen Xers’ ability to conform to these structures. These include the rise of single moms, an expectation for the younger black population to financially support parents and extended family (known in South Africa as “black tax”), and parents who are not in relationships with each other raising children together, often referred to as “situationship”.

Gender roles have shifted. Dads are playing a critical role in child rearing, with 82% of Gen Xers in South Africa agreeing that a man can bring up a child as well as a woman can (on par with global average). Many black fathers in South Africa explained how absent fathers and a lack of positive role models to emulate while growing up have motivated them to embrace fatherhood with enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, 68% of South African women are either chief or equal wage earners in their households – well above the global average of 58%. This is considerably higher for black households than white (75% vs. 50%).

They’re avid social media users. More than 8 in 10 South African Gen Xers use technology and social media to stay up to date (83%), compared with 74% globally. Black respondents were also much more likely than white respondents to feel that social media is beneficial to their relationships (87% vs. 62%). A contributing factor here is that that many black Gen Xers live further away from their hometowns compared to white respondents, and therefore rely more on technology and social media to stay connected with loved ones that live far away.

In friendships, they choose quality over quantity. Gen Xers in South Africa are placing greater emphasis on friendships that are nurturing, supportive and loyal. They average 25 people they consider as close friends, compared with 55 for South African Millennials.