Friday, May 16, 2008

Boomers and Vacations with a Purpose

"Voluntourism" is another trend we've talked about for some time (we profiled Habitat for Humanity's Global Village trips program back in 2005) that's really taking off are vacations where you can volunteer and do something to benefit the local community. "Voluntourism" even has its own Web site.

You know it is a trend with legs now that Ritz-Carlton has gotten into the act with their Give Back Getaways program.

Once more, Springwise spotters write about it here.

Life-Long Learning Requires Boomers as Teachers and Students

One trend we expect to see growing rapidly in the coming years is educational opportunities for Boomers -- so they can keep learning new things.

Unlike previous generations, who were educated in the first 20 or so years in life, and then plied a trade until retirement, Boomers have kept on learning. The education has been both formal in the classroom with advanced degrees, or informal like cooking classes or photography at local community colleges.

As Boomers reach age 50 and beyond and find themselves with more time for mental self-improvement, we (and others) expect life-long learning to take off. Already we're seeing some local community colleges developing new curriculum to attract Boomers. One college even got a grant to develop such a program.

Now there's a new Web site starting initially in Seattle called TeachStreet that is a match-making service to link together local teachers with people looking to learn something new. The options range from the obvious -- language skills, cooking, piano -- to the not-so-obvious -- rope tricks, surfing, poker. Read this description from the sharp eyed people at Springwise.

This idea, if executed well, should take off, and Boomers will be the biggest benefactors both as teachers and students.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Rise or Fall of the Millennials?

The power and influence of the Boomer generation began in earnest in the late 1960's when they followed Silent Generation leaders and protested the war in Vietnam, fought for Civil Rights and women's lib, began Earth Day and rocked out at Woodstock.

The power and influence of the Millennial Generation, those born in 1983 and later, is coming into focus as that generation reaches their late teens and early 20's. But it doesn't look like it's going to be similar.

First, Bob Hebert's op/ed in The New York Times "Here Comes the Millennials" points out, this generation faces tough times, and will want the government to provide significant help:

This is a generation that is in danger of being left out of the American dream — the first American generation to do less well economically than their parents. And that economic uncertainty appears to have played a big role in shaping their views of government and politics...

...Younger voters struggling with the enormous costs of a college education, or trying to raise families in a bleak employment environment, or using their credit cards to cover everyday expenses like food or energy costs are not much interested in hearing that the government to which they pay taxes can do little or nothing to help them.
That doesn't sound like the future facing Boomers in the late 1960's and early 70's.

Even less promising is Mark Bauerlein's new book, The Dumbest Generation, about how the digital age is a good time to be young as long as you don't mind a tendency towards empty-headedness. This review, "Can U Read Kant?" in today's The Wall Street Journal sums it up:

Adults are so busy imagining the ways that technology can improve classroom learning or improve the public debate that they've blinded themselves to the collective dumbing down that is actually taking place. The kids are using their technological advantage to immerse themselves in a trivial, solipsistic, distracting online world at the expense of more enriching activities – like opening a book or writing complete sentences.

Mr. Bauerlein presents a wealth of data to show that young people, with the aid of digital media, are intensely focusing on themselves, their peers and the present moment. YouTube and MySpace, he says, are revealingly named: These and other top Web destinations are "peer to peer" environments in the sense that their juvenile users have populated them with predictably juvenile content. The sites where students spend most of their time "harden adolescent styles and thoughts, amplifying the discourse of the lunchroom and keg party, not spreading the works of the Old Masters."

We aren't sure what the future holds for the Millennials, but we hope it is better than this. It has to be.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Boomers' Political Influence Emerges Slowly

Here is a link to last week's op/ed we wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch about the surprisingly weak influence Boomers have as a group when it comes to politics.

The point is this: the 78 million Boomers are too large, too diverse and too different to share a single political agenda. Therefore, they really have not had a unified voice politically (and won't this election year either).

But there will come a time when we will unite, and that future is not too distant.

You can read the story online here. Or download a PDF version.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

This is a Post About Boomers and....uh...oh yeah, Memory

One area we have been predicting will be big for marketers and smart businesspeople is helping Boomers exercise their brains (we wrote about it last year, for example). This article from The New York Times earlier this week sheds new light on the opportunity.

Boomers were the generation that created and embraced the fitness craze in the 1970's and 80's. They made it acceptable for adults, grown-ups that is, to keep wearing sneakers and gym clothes, long past their last official recess or gym class. As David Brooks pointed put in his 2001 book Bobos in Paradise, Boomers turned what was once called "playing" into "working out." That's right, we made play into work. Our Puritan forefathers must be laughing at us from above.

Mental gymnastics will prove to be a big business as Boomers see their parents living well into their 80's and 90's, with the body parts holding up while mental acuity falters. For those of you looking for inexpensive ways to exercise your brains, try this book, Keep Your Brain Alive, and master neurobics.

Or do some jumping jacks.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Raising the Next Generation

For most Boomers, the task of raising kids is nearing the last phases. The majority of Generation Y were born to Boomers, and the next generation, those under the age of 7, which have yet to be named (appropriately, it's too early to label them), are being raised by Gen Xers.

If you're a Boomer, perhaps you've heard of the term "helicopter parent," a term that describes those over-anxious parents (Boomers) who literally hover over their kids at every step of life, from the first one to the most recent one into their first post-college job. The worst kind are called "Blackhawk helicopter parents."

Finally, there is some backlash to this style of co-dependent parenting. Lenore Skenazy, an op/ed columnist for The New York Sun, has launched Free Range Kids, a blog designed to free parents and kids from paranoia. Read the "For or Against" section for horror stories about over-protective parents.

It started with a column in which she shared a story about recently allowing her 9-year-old to ride home on the subway in New York all alone. Before she knew it, she had been labeled "America's Worst Mom."

She retaliated with this brilliant piece on parenting and paranoia.

We're not going to take sides in the argument. But in our work we have seen and studied the impact of parenting decisions on each generation. Boomers were raised by parents filling new homes in new suburbias across the country with modern electronic appliances paid for with newfangled credit cards in the 1950's and early 60's. The result: we're a generation of adults all about instant personal gratification. We're spenders not savers.

Gen Xers were raised by dual income, or single parents, and were the latchkey kids of the 1970's and 80's. Now, they are independent, self-sufficient adults.

Gen Y's had parents who told them they're "special" and give them full credit for just showing up: Remember youth soccer? Most programs don't keep score; everyone participates equally and gets a trophy at the end of the season. No actual performance required. Now those Gen Y's are young adults entering the workforce and looking for credit for just showing up.

Now we have the next generation being raised under a cloud of paranoia. Wonder how that's going to work out.

We Boomers remember the Kinks' Destroyer, which reminds us "Paranoia, will destroy ya."

Valuable Insights into the Hearts, Minds and Wallets of Today's Baby Boomers

This blog is by the authors of Boomer Consumer: Ten New Rules for Marketing to America's Largest, Wealthiest and Most Influential Group, on sale now.

Here is where you'll find information referenced in the book, as well as updates, news and perspectives from Matt Thornhill and John Martin, founders of the Boomer Project.