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Generation X poised to see trilions from the ‘Great Wealth Transfer,’ new report finds

Jun 23, 2024

Generation X has become the overlooked, if not somewhat pitied, castaway of the Great Wealth Transfer headed Americans’ way. But new research suggests that there is a massive tide of inheritances—greater than the entire GDP of the U.S.—coming up for grabs in the next 10 years, and Gen Xers are the odds-on favorites to receive them. 

By 2033, 1.2 million individuals worldwide worth $5 million or more are going to pass on more than $31 trillion to their inheritors, according to a recent report by Wealth-X, a company that provides research and data on the world’s wealthy. Individuals worth $100 million or more—of which there are fewer than 40,000 globally—are expected to pass on almost half of that wealth. And most of it is going to Generation X. 

Over the last few years, millennials have emerged as the projected winners of the much-lauded  Great Wealth Transfer, in which older generations, mostly baby Boomers, are expected to hand over tens of trillions of dollars in wealth. (By 2045, $84 to $90 trillion is expected to be transferred between generations in the U.S. alone.) In the next 20 years, the shift in assets will make people born between 1981 and 1996 the richest generation in history, according to a 2024 report from Knight Frank, making millennials five times richer in 2030 than they were at the start of the 2020s.

But the new report by Wealth-X suggests that the youth will have to wait a little longer. At least in the short term, the heirs to the wealth of the rich and ultra rich will actually be those aged 44 to 59. In North America alone, the sum of the fortunes coming down from wealthy donors will surpass $14 billion.

“Much is often made in the media of millennial and Generation Z heirs but, in fact, Generation X will be first in line to inherit from their wealthy parents,” the report said. “Millennials and the younger Gen Z, for now, are more likely to receive sums as grandchildren, which will often be less substantial.”

On balance, Gen X has been perceived as getting the short end of the financial stick. Gen Xers, also referred to as the “sandwich” generation—having to simultaneously provide financial security for themselves, their children and their parents—are significantly less likely to feel secure in their ability to meet their retirement goals compared to their younger and older relatives, according to a report by Schroders. 

In addition, unlike baby boomers, the vast majority of Gen Xers will be relying on 401(k) plans, rather than pensions, once they retire, meaning they’re more responsible for their savings than the post war generation. 

But even though the new findings suggest there is a trove of wealth waiting for Generation X in the coming decade, that inheritance may not be equally spread out.

As of 2023, it took a $5 million fortune to join the ranks of the 1% in the U.S.—the minimum threshold for those passing on their wealth in the Wealth-X report. What’s more, Gen X has the largest wealth gap of any current generation. While the top 25% of earners in the generation have $250,000 saved toward retirement, the bottom quartile has just $35,000 saved, according to a report by the National Institute on Retirement Security.

Still, the massive transfer of resources coming from the aging wealthy elite will have major implications for wealth managers, philanthropies and other organizations handling the newly inherited money, Wealth-X reports. Generation X, and their younger peers, are more motivated by technological, environment and social issues than previous generations of investors.

“The younger generations are very focused on charity and foundations,” D’Arcy Fellona, client success manager at Altrata, said in the report. “This doesn’t necessarily imply larger donations, but there is certainly stronger engagement and an interest in wanting to be more involved with the work of organizations and seeing their impact over time.”

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