Boomers Bounce Back As Millennial Members Shrink

Boomers back on top as America’s largest generation

For a few years at least, we thought we knew the birth years that define the Millennial Generation. In 2015, after a decade of confusion and conflicting opinions, the U.S. Census Bureau stepped into the debate and settled on people born 1982-2000. The press release began …

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE JUNE 25, 2015 –Millennials, or America’s youth born between 1982 and 2000, now number 83.1 million and represent more than one quarter of the nation’s population. Their size exceeds that of the 75.4 million baby boomers, according to new U.S. Census Bureau estimates released today.

But earlier this month, along came The Pew Research Center with a new take. Instead of 19 birth years the Millennials are reduced to 16, now pegged by as Pew as born 1981-1996. Others have also suggested 1996 as the frontier between Millennials and their successors, so, given Pew’s clout, it’s probably a done deal.

The net effect of lopping off those born 1997-2000 and co-opting former Gen Xers born in 1981 was that Pew shrank the Millennial Generation by 12 million members.

This cowabunga! moment is welcomed by the Boomers who, at 74-75 million, now outnumber the Millennials (71 million) to reclaim their former bragging rights as “America’s largest generation.” Yo, Windsong, put a shot of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill  in the Maalox tonight. Make it two, we’re celebrating.

Pew, like other generation trackers, uses seminal events as touchstones to derive definitions. Childhood awareness of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (2001) was an important factor in their new assessment.

All this has implications for Generation X. With the Boomers set in stone as being born 1946-1964, Gen X has always been squeezed between them and the birth range du jour allotted to the Millennials. While the Census Bureau leftovers amounted to 17 birth years (1965-1981), they only snag 16 in the Pew re-assessment (1965-1980).

The upside for Generation X is it now has the same birth year span as the Millennials. But don’t expect many headlines – the “experts” aren’t about to rewrite all the years they spent dissing Xers. And many would like to forget the X label was just a cop out after Latchkey, MTV, Grunge and Slacker failed to stick (who’da thunk it?)

Here are a few previous Gen X age ranges lurking in Google’s attic; in some cases they barely transitioned from Barbie, G.I. Joe and training wheels to a Stingray before being canned:

  • 1965-1974 (The New York Times)
  • 1965-1976 (J.D. Power)
  • 1965-1976 (Pew Research Center, 2010)
  • 1965-1981 (Strauss and Howe, authors)
  • 1965-1984 (The Harvard Center)

In fairness, it should be pointed out that one reason for squeezing Gen X was to inflate the size and value of the Millennial generation. Savvy marketers needed a reason to sell this cool, but cash-strapped crowd to their clients. Especially since ad agency creative departments – average age 28 – are thickly populated with Millennials who, supposedly, can connect brands to same-aged movers and shakers across the fruited plain.

Will Millennial men become Generation Alfie as cute new Z kids arrive?

In 2018, with history as a guide, the generation guessing game is about to intensify. This time the race is to define those who follow the Millennials. Brace yourselves.

For now, Generation Z is the fave, but youth consultancies and social forecasters are hustling for kudos by coining the official name these nifty newcomers will be known by  down through the ages. Predictably, i-this or i-that have been floated. Time will tell.

Although its youngest are still spraying Lucky Charms across the breakfast table, Generation Z is fast-becoming adland’s brightest star. Already, the business press has profiled precocious pre-teens, hyped hip high schoolers and showered savvy college sophomores with giddy praise for their investment acumen.

Even more important, Gen Z is entering the 18-49 demographic. Adding some 16 million reassigned Millennials born 1997-2000 to those entering the cohort in 2018 produces around 20 million Zers aged 18-22. That’s a lot of clickbait.

Considering the wow factor these glam upstarts enjoy, maybe it’s time to rename at least the “aging” male Millennials as Generation Alfie after the movie of the same name (1966, remake 2004).

When brash formerly fascinating 30-something Alfie confronts his Boomer, er, patron about her new flame with what’s he got that I haven’t? she lays it on the line: he’s younger than you.

It’s a familiar scenario to Boomers and Xers over 50. Alfie’s lesson is nothing new. It’s just nature’s way.

The penalty for dumping 50-year-olds for low income newbies

Brands addicted to 18-49 demo-centric Kool-Aid pay a heavy price when they drop 50-year-olds from targeting in favor of shiny 18-year-olds on a shoestring budget.

We’ve all seen the statistics and know the meme: young people are saddled with college debt and struggling to become established in low-paying jobs.

Sadly, the cost of college tuition, the price of admission to higher lifetime incomes, soared by 260% between 1980 and 2014 – more than double the 120% rise in the Consumer Price Index (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Paul Taylor’s excellent The Next America (2015) illustrates the consequences; he cites Pew data showing college debt virtually tripled between 1989 ($10,493) and 2013 ($29,595) in 2014 constant dollars.

Brand decision-makers should heed Taylor’s additional – and unsettling – analysis:

“As the national economy has begun to recover, Millennials have led other generations in shedding debt … but even this happy statistic has a dark side. The biggest reason the Millennials have less debt is they have fewer homes and cars than their same-age counterparts had in the past. They downsized their lifestyle.”

Now that Gen Z is following in the Millennials’ footsteps, its worth noting college debt isn’t the only barrier to consumption: the truth is they don’t earn much money.

Dumping 4 million peak-earning 50-year-olds every year in order to accommodate the same number of cash-strapped kids young 18-year-old adults makes zero sense except on youth-obsessed Madison Avenue.

OK, 55% of 18-24 year-olds live in their parent’s home (Census Bureau, 2017) and have reduced expenses, but that doesn’t mean they are flush.

Actually, they are so un-flush that each and every year – year after year after year – the tab for romancing 18-year-olds at the expense of 50-year-olds comes to a net $120 billion in uncontested consumer wages (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Here’s how the real world works in 2018.

Welcome, 4 million 18-year-old rock stars!

>  517,000 work full time for $408 weekly
(median) and 1,057,000 work part time for
$200 weekly (median)

>  Total annual wage value: $2.19 billion

So long, 4 million 50-year-old has-beens!

>  2.58 million work full time for $866 weekly (median) 400,000 work part time for $302 weekly (median)

>  Total annual wage value: $122.46 billion

Upshot: trusting conventional, comfortable wisdom – you know, 50-year olds can be taken for granted, because their buying habits are now fixed – costs conventional, comfortable brands access to $120 billion in consumer wages every year.

Of course, they truly believe that smarter, hungrier competitors won’t grab market share from them. And their ad agencies truly believe that more curious, more creative shops won’t steal the business. Sure. Now, about that bridge in Brooklyn that’s for sale …

Boomer World – far from the madding crowd

What with all the buzz about Gen Z, it is easy to forget the 50+ demographic is the real sweet spot for marketers in virtually every category. And, thanks to Madison Avenue’s fad-focused fixation on youth, it is a quiet and uncontested place where smart and persuasive brands prosper under the radar.

The 110+ million consumers who make up this huge market represent the third largest economy in the world. They own two thirds of U.S. homes, buy over half the new vehicles sold in America and generate around 60% of the nation’s retail sales.

By far the largest group in the 50+ space, at around 100 million are the socio-culturally cohesive  inhabitants of Boomer World.

Dominated by the Boomers, the (thank you, Pew) largest generation, it is also home to 13 million Gen Xers over 50 and 12 million members of the Boomer-Plus generation™, born 1940-1945, all of whom identify with and grew up in vibrant Boomer World.

For brands willing to take the time to learn the subtle inflections of Boomer Speak, immerse in the hidden pathways of Boomer Think and – especially – understand the influence wielded by Boomer World women, it is the place of regeneration, growth and profitability. For the rest, there’s always those cute Z kids.

Sign up for the free newsletter and contact Boomer / neXt for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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