Baby boomers-just who are they? With 78 million members, the baby boomer generation is the largest, best educated, wealthiest and most studied generation in U.S. history. What trends have this research yielded?
Above all, this is a forward-looking group. Generally, boomers tend to be young at heart, flexible and educated. They have always been known as an individualistic generation, with a focus on self and a tendency to reject authority. In contrast to previous aging generations, boomers are more likely to try something new. For them, life continues to be an exploration. In fact, most of them would say that coming into their retirement years is just a stage of life that has little to do with chronological age and everything to do with new opportunities.
Baby boomers are more optimistic economically than their predecessors, probably because they didn’t experience the Great Depression. One of the real differences between this and the previous generation is that its women worked outside the home in greater numbers, even while raising young children. It is also apparent that how they spend their time is more important than how they spend their money.
Unfortunately, many baby boomers are facing layoffs as corporations downsize. This is a shocking reality for people who thought that, at middle age, they would be entering a period of economic stability, job security and their peak earning years. Their financial status is even more uncertain because boomers are a spending, not saving generation who liberally use credit to finance purchases. As poor savers, they face an increasing number of financial needs in the years ahead, including subsidizing their aging parents. This situation is compounded by the fact that there is great uncertainty concerning the future availability and reliability of Social Security.
In an effort to counter the aging process and retain its youth, this group, whose members kept fit in their younger years, will continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle. As the baby boomers enter mid-life, they face the same emotional and physical transitions that everyone has to deal with. As they age, they will confront some chronic health problems and face their own mortality just as every generation before them.
It is a well-accepted fact that this generation will also push for increased medical services. They will demand good primary health care and will continue to participate in specialties like holistic medicine, plastic surgery and drugs, both cosmetic and body-enhancing. This effort to control the aging process with beauty products and health treatments will be more pronounced than with former generations, and will have an enormous effect on professional services, such as medical and plastic surgery, dental cosmetics, vision and hearing aids, physical therapy, massage and chiropractic services. Along with this, there will be a huge increase in the use of spiritual or yoga and meditation services. Such ‘higher purpose’ experiences are attracting boomers who want to feel and look their best. These are just a few of the many medically-related sectors that will be influenced by this generation’s entry into retirement.
Boomer women are defying ‘old lady’ stereotypes and re-inventing themselves. With kids grown and gone from the house, women are increasingly getting out and sharing experiences with other women or taking trips with friends.
More women than in the past are remaining single or becoming single through the loss of their partner. Also, boomers have a higher divorce rate than their predecessors, which has made dating another trend. It used to be that when an older adult’s lifetime mate died, they simply accepted their fate. This generation is more accustomed to changing partners and moving on. They will look for someone to join them, some for just plain companionship and some for the excitement of romance.
Where Are They Going?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006 population figures, the nation’s population has nearly doubled since 1950. Despite this trend, the population of most of the country’s 20 largest cities has shrunk significantly in size. In 1950, one in five citizens lived in America’s big cities. Today, only one in ten does.
Americans have been moving south and west for years in search of improved employment possibilities and a better climate. The suburbs have attracted most of these individuals, many of whom were in search of more space, lower crime rates and better schools. As an example, take Phoenix, AZ, which ranked 99th in size in 1950 with 107,000 people. Today, it has surpassed Philadelphia as the fifth largest city in the United States, with a population of 1.5 million. If you look closely, the census figures tell a revealing story about the migration of Americans.
It is interesting to note that boomers tend to live in urban areas, with more than half living in nine of our most populous states: California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. We can expect that the move south and out of the cities will only increase in volume as baby boomers reach retirement age.
How Will Boomers Deal With Retirement?
Boomers have been labeled the ‘me’ generation-a group whose actions often reflect the desire to make life as good as possible for its members. If this is true, then who is better skilled to create a self-motivated, individualized lifestyle in retirement? Surely, the talents that led this huge group of people to restructure so many aspects of society will manifest themselves in the creation of the ideal retirement. Boomers will solve their financial difficulties. They will unravel the social challenges and make those years the best of their lives. This is an enormously talented, well-educated group of people who are used to having things work out for them. Retirement will not be an exception. They will revolutionize how every person’s later years will be lived from now on, most probably in innovative and surprising ways.
What do Boomers Want?
Though it is impossible to predict exactly what the baby boomer generation will do as they approach retirement age, there are clues from their past group behavior that are sending some strong signals.
The boomer generation will not allow their government to overlook their needs. New laws will be passed that provide safety nets through programs aimed at solving today’s social and financial problems. This group will make living well and prospering during the last third of their lives a political priority. In the spending arena their influence is unparalleled, as they are expected to exercise $3 trillion in spending muscle beginning in 2007.
As an example, if you think there’s been an upsurge in health clubs or diet fads lately, just wait. The real explosion is just around the corner. Good and sustainable health will be a major issue. Consider what effect this huge explosion will have on day spas and beauty services; exercise gear that tones and shapes; pharmaceuticals; health-conscious restaurants or low-fat takeout foods; hair care and the like.
Since the population scales are tipped heavily toward an excess of women over men, the result will be a growing sense of competition for the companionship of available men as they age.
Affluent and educated, the boomer group will lavish attention on their grandkids like no previous generation. This marketing juggernaut will include an enormous influence on the purchases of trendy toys and kid experiences like theme parks.
Technologically proficient, this group will continue to make good use of computers, the Internet, and other electronic products that were the driving force behind the rapid technological explosion of the past 20 years.
No one can really predict what boomers actually want, but the clues are there: They will redesign the infrastructure surrounding them to fit their individual needs and act collectively when that is the best way to change what they feel is wrong in their world.