The Age Curve

How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Storm

The Age Curve

Author: Kenneth W. Gronbach
Pub Date: June 2008
Print Edition: $19.95
Print ISBN: 9780814417942
Page Count: 288
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814410172

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A Snapshot of Our Nation’s Generations

The GI Generation: 56.6 million, born between 1905 and 1924. Immigration swelled their ranks to 70.4 million. The oldest living generation in the U.S., the GI Generation is defined by the Great Depression, their participation in World War II, and their enormous personal wealth—nearly $11 trillion—amassed through saving. Living longer because they can afford the best health care, GI members continue to wield influence. They hold board seats in major corporations and their campaign contributions got George W. Bush elected. They are the last of many generations characterized by racial and gender intolerance. The remaining GI Generation survivors—fewer than five million—are age 84 and over.

The Silent Generation: 52.5 million, born between 1925 and 1944. The smallest generation of the century, the Silent Generation lived in the shadow of the GI Generation. Despite the Korean War, the sacrifices of the Silent Generation have been largely forgotten. Just as the hardy GI Generation gave us the false impression that we are all going to live past 100, the remnants of this tiny generation will give us the false impression that the longevity trend has reversed. This generation will shut down the assisted-living industry. Surviving “Silents” are 64 to 83 years old.

The Baby Boom Generation: 78.2 million, born between 1945 and 1964. Born in abundance during post-war prosperity, the Boomers set out to change the world. Rebels for women’s rights and racial equality, Boomers are surprisingly intolerant of those who don’t think like them. As the Boomers march on, expect to see strong opposition to the religious right and the legalization of marijuana. Don’t expect Boomers to stop spending beyond their means or get old without a fight. Still hip and cool at 44 to 63, these Babies aren’t graying at warp speed—regardless of what the AARP says. Marketers have bet everything on the abiding presence of this huge active mass of consumers. Many forget that Boomers are steadily moving past their prime buying years.

Generation X: 69.5 million, born between 1965 and 1984. Pegged as “slackers,” Generation X is unfairly maligned because pundits fail to do the math. There are 11 percent fewer Gen Xers than Boomers. Yet, Gen Xers attended college at double the rate of Boomers. Given their education and their numbers, Xers have extremely favorable employment prospects. Oddly, marketers are persistently puzzled by this generation’s diminutive consumption. The simple fact is: smaller generations buy less stuff than larger ones. The housing market is tanking because Xers lack the critical mass to buy up the Boomers’ starter castles. Before long, Xers will torpedo Social Security. At 24 to 43, Generation Xers have rarely had to compete for advantages. They tend to be seen as arrogant.

Generation Y: 100 million (or more), born between 1985 and 2010. The products of pregnancy postponement, second and third marriages, and fertility drugs, these kids will stretch generational patterns to a full 25 years. Gen Y has an appetite for consumption five times stronger than its parents’ generations. Because of their massive numbers and the small infrastructure left behind by the Xers, this generation will need to create its own world just as the Boomers did. Driven by necessity, Yers will become entrepreneurs and start a sea of businesses to meet their own needs. As a homegrown labor force of epic size, they will stop immigration cold and restore manufacturing. Gen Y has already redesigned the automobile and forced companies to act greener. This gigantic group of big spenders offers tremendous opportunities for forward-thinking marketers.

Adapted from THE AGE CURVE: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Storm by Kenneth W. Gronbach (AMACOM 2008).

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