Friday, October 31, 2008

Extra! Extra! Newspaper Publishers Refocus on Boomers

Faced with steadily declining readership -- as much as three percent in the past year alone -- daily newspapers have been desperately redesigning themselves to appeal to a broader cross-section of subscribers. Some publishers have finally figured out that they're only hurting themselves: alienating the Baby Boomers and Silent Generation readers who still do read newspapers.

Writes Joe Strupp in Editor & Publisher:

Some papers are finding that recent efforts to overhaul their daily print product with full redesigns, more "lite" news, cutbacks in story length, pages, and newshole, and even changes to the size or design of the paper's flag often elicit a backlash.

While editors and publishers caught up in the redesign craze claim that changes are needed to attract new subscribers, they may be losing their best customers by chasing non-readers — and chasing away confirmed readers. Statistics show that baby boomers (those between 44 and 62), are the largest demographic of loyal print readers in the U.S.
At last, publishers are figuring it out: They are in the news & information business, and they publish two products (newspapers and web sites) aimed at distinct markets (Boomers/Silent Generation and Gen X/Gen Y). The newspaper market is slowly dying out but it's still lucrative: Boomer readers have as much discretionary spending power as all other generations combined. Publishers need to milk that cash cow as long as they can before ol' Bessie tips over. With luck, they will have developed a business model by then that allows web sites to create their own content and remain profitable.

Boomer Project bottom line: Publishers need to make newspapers the best they can be for Boomers and seniors, and make web sites the best they can be for younger generations. Trying to make the two distinct products all things to all people will take newspaper companies straight to the media graveyard.
(Photo credit: American RadioWorks.)

"I Want to Die Running"

Joy Johnson, of San Jose, Calif., starts her morning training regimen with a brisk block-and-a-half walk, and then shifts gears into a steady trot. Training this summer for the New York City Marathon, she totaled 50 to 60 miles per week of road work, supplemented with hill training and bleacher work. In a Minnesota running camp, her coaches also ran her through stomach crunches, push-ups and hovers.

Johnson is 81 years old.

She will participate in the 80-90-year-old division against four other women, facing stiff competition from Bertha McGruder, who finished the Marathon last year in six hours and 15 minutes -- good for a third place finish in the 75-79-year-old women's category.

"I've told my friends if I die here on the track do not call 911 because I do not want to revive," she says. "I say, wait half an hour, maybe 45 minutes, then call the mortician. That's the way I want to go."

Johnson is profiled today by the Wall Street Journal, which notes that the octagenarian is representative of a larger phenomenon: More older Americans are exercising regularly than ever. Seniors today are undertaking strenuous activity that previous generations never would have contemplated at their age. Since 2003, writes Matthew Futterman, "the number of finishers 80 and above by all road races has risen 23% compared with 16% for all age groups."

While the WSJ does not put a "generational" spin on the story, the implications are clear. Women like Johnson and McGruder provide role models that the next generation, the Baby Boomers, will follow in mass numbers. Boomers, already obsessed with maintaining their physical vitality, will transform today's rivulet of octagenerian athletes into a foaming river.

Bold Boomer Project prediction: While economists fret over the bifurcation of wealth -- the increasing number of rich and poor, and a shrinking middle class -- the United States also will see a bifurcation of health. Increasingly, the elderly will sort themselves into two groups: those who worked diligently to maintain their health over the years, and those who didn't; those who run, play tennis, and practice yoga and pilates, and those who let get obese, contract diabetes and let their arteries harden; those who live full lives then drop dead, and those whose lives stretch into a long, unfulfilling twilight of increasing debilitation and incapacity.
(Photo credit: Jonathan Sprague for The Wall Street Journal.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Everyone Wants to Live Forever, but No One Wants to Be Old

Elizabeth Farrelly is a columnist with the Brisbane Times in Australia, a nation as obsessed about its Baby Boomers as the United States, and she can write extraordinarily well. In her latest piece, "Still feelin' groovy? Your nursing home awaits", she tackles the Boomer approach to their parents' death and dying -- and it's not a pretty picture. Just a sample:

As baby boomers truck their parents from retirement village to nursing home to hospital to hushed, cabbage-stinking hospice, a terrible knowledge dawns. Not only did that whole cosmic revolution fail to shift either death or taxes from their relentless orbits, it also failed to reshape the options on how you die.

The man at the retirement home has gold cufflinks, bottle-blond hair that does not hide the baby-pink scalp and patent leather shoes that clack over the marble expanse from his office. The smile is broad, the hand limp. In a voice almost indistinguishable from the Muzak, which melds in turn with the fountain's chlorinated tinkling, he breezes: "And your relative is?" Dying, actually. "Let me show you round. You'll love it here." ...

Famously self-indulgent, baby boomers managed to convert a platform of non-materialism and selflessness into the most materialistic, self-absorbed lifestyle ever. They invented eco-awareness, then built themselves the biggest eco-footprint the planet has ever witnessed. They scandalised authority with music so subversive it's now played to four-year-olds at day care.

Through sheer weight of numbers they - or if you insist, we - instituted universal youth culture, where everyone wants to live forever but no one wants to be old.
The woman can write. Read the column.
(Image credit: Brisbane Times.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Retirement Bliss for Boomer Lefties: Nicaragua

Baby Boomers discovered Mexico as a retirement destination, and then they uncovered the rain forest paradise of Costa Rica. As retirement-related development took off in those two countries and real estate prices soared, Boomers stumbled onto the former U.S. protectorate, Panama. Now, those peripatetic seekers of tropical bliss are moving on to Nicaragua.

If the bloggers at Blog the Rockies can be believed, someone (it's not clear who) estimates that 8 million of the nation's 78 million Boomers plan to move abroad in the next five years. I find that number rather extraordinary, if for no other reason than it flies in the face of the stated intention of a large majority of Boomers to continue working in some capacity after they turn 65 -- and the prospect of mixing Margaritas or changing sheets at the local Club Med is probably not what they have in mind.

But let us concede that a large number of Boomers intend to head south of the border. Nicaragua apparently now ranks No. 5 among foreign retirement destinations. Blog the Rockies quotes Sam Stewart, a real estate broker in San Juan del Sur, on the country's Pacific coast: "The country now ranks as the safest and most affordable nation in Latin America, and apparently the word is out because business is booming."

Nicaragua should have tremendous appeal to lefty Boomers who marched against the Vietnam war, agitated over Watergate, and protested the Iran-Contra affair. Those whose memories extend as far back as the Reagan administration may recall that the "Contra" part of the Iran-Contra affair involved the smuggling of weapons to the Contras who opposed the dictatorial proclivities of the Sandinistas led by a certain Daniel Ortega. At the time, Nicaragua followed a close No. 2 to Cuba as a vacation destination for affluent lefties whose idea of fun consisted of showing revolutionary solidarity with Third World peasants and cutting sugar cane.

The Sandinistas lost their grip on power in 1990. Ortega, who abandoned his Marxist rhetoric in favor of a blander democratic socialism, was re-elected president in 2006. Under his presidency, Nicaragua is trolling more aggressively than ever before for U.S. tourists and real estate developers. Ortega still consorts, however, with anti-U.S. leaders like Ahmadinejad of Iran, Correa of Ecuador and Chavez of Venezuela, and Nicaragua was one of the few nations in the world to applaud the Russian invasion of Georgia.

In Nicaragua, old Boomer lefties can re-connect with the revolutionary fervor of the good ol' days --but without the discomfort of sleeping in hammocks and relieving themselves in outhouses. They can build comfortable places to live, using cheap Third World peasant labor, with no fear of having their property expropriated. What bliss.

(Image credit: Morgan's Rock.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Boomer Sociology and Housing Demand

One of the factors driving the boom in United States housing construction over the past decades has been an under-appreciated sociological phenomenon: the atomization of the American family. Once upon a time, it was perfectly normal for multiple generations to live within the same household. But the American ideal changed: After World War II, the expectation was for every nuclear family unit to live in its own abode. Gramps and Granny live in their own place, mom and dad in their's. And as soon as Junior and Missie become financially independent, they move out and live on their own as well.

Atomization of the family has driven an increase in the number of households, which in turn has increased the demand for separate dwelling units. No matter how small the household, every abode needs minimal accommdations like a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and dining room. A consequence is that the average dwelling size is larger than ever. Combine this with the trend toward McMansions for the affluent, and the median floor area of a new single-family house sold in the United States has trended steadily higher since 1982: from 1,630 square feet to 2,235 square feet in 2007 -- a 37 percent increase in 25 years.

As Americans have discovered in the past year, however, housing is not always a great investment. It's really a form of consumption. As Americans look for ways to cut expenses and save more money, one place they'll examine is where and how they live -- and with whom they live.

In a recent posting, "More than Roommates, Less than Lovers," we noted an emergent phenomenon of Baby Boomer women -- widows and divorces for the most part -- moving in together for reasons of economy (maintaining one house instead of two) and companionship.

That's not the whole story. I haven't uncovered any hard numbers yet, but the number of adult children in the United States living at home -- the so-called "boomerang" effect -- appears to be on the rise. As an indirect measure of the phenomenon, I would note that key words "adult children living at home" generate 2.1 million Google hits. Dr. Phil has addressed the topic on his television show, there is a website devoted to the theme,, and Web is ablaze with advice on how to handle the problems that ensue from two adult generations living under the same roof.

Now comes a survey from Canada, where the trend apparently is far advanced. In a survey of young adults (18 to 24), global research firm Synovate has found that 40 percent live with their parents. That compares to 49 percent globally. (I recall hearing that the number runs as high as 75 percent in Italy.)

I don't know if 40 percent of young American adults will wind up living with their Baby Boomer parents, but the survey suggests that there is precedent in a neighboring, culturally similar country for the number to rise. It would be foolish to assume that the sociological underpinnings of the demand for housing will continue to trend the same direction that it has for the past 60 years. If the atomization of the American family reverses itself, or if households reconstitute themselves around non-kinship groups, our existing housing stock can stretch a lot further.

This is bad news for the housing industry. As children live longer with their Boomer parents, as more single Boomer women merge households to economize on housing expenses, as Boomer households morph into new forms, demand for housing could remain depressed for years.
(Image credit:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Big Six Oh

Turning 40 was never a traumatic event for male Baby Boomers. It's just another year. I only feel 30. Even 50, the half century mark, was no big deal. I'm still going strong. But 60? That’s a milestone. According to Manhattan psychiatrist Dr. Robert Schwalbe, that’s when the existential angst sets in.

Schalbe, author of “Sexy, Sixty and Successful: A Guide for the Aging Male Baby Boomer,” writes about the insight he’s gained from his clientele, mostly male Boomers. “Suddenly, mortality becomes an issue. A 40- and 50-year-old doesn’t have to think about that.”

As described by Peter King for Newsday, the book “helps the generation that four decades ago was singing The Who’s ‘I hope I die before I get old’ come to terms with getting, if not old, at least older.”

Hitting 60 and commencing the seventh decade of life is difficult because men confront the undeniable fact that their bodies are changing -- usually sagging. Hot young women aren't even giving them a first look, much less a second look. Suddenly, those Viagara and Cialis ads sound pretty darned interesting.

“Specific health issues start coming up,” Schwalbe says. “You start hearing about your peers who have health issues.”

Schwalbe, who is 64 himself, advises 60+ Boomers to adjust their expectations and accept their limitations. It’s great to stay active. But don’t try to exercise like you did when you were younger. There’s no way to keep up with someone 20 years younger.

As a 55-year-old, I’ve come to peace with the idea that advancing in years isn’t so bad – as long as I keep my health. I’ve got more experience under my belt, more memories, more stories and anecdotes to draw from -- more wisdom. What's more, I have more disposable income than I did when I was young and more freedom to do fun stuff. Here’s the best benefit of all -- a benefit I never expected. When I was 25, all my friends and contemporaries were clueless, powerless dweebs like me. Three decades later, I find that my friends and contemporaries – the people I know on a first-name basis – are successful professionals, business executives, politicians and civic leaders. Instead of railing against “the man,” my friends are “the man.”

For my money, old and experienced is waayyyy better than young and idealistic.

As for turning 60, I’m not worried. Schwalbe draws his case studies from Manhattan, one of the most angst-ridden cities in the universe. By definition, the people he knows most intimately are suffering from depression, anxiety or neurosis. I doubt they’re typical of the male Baby Boomers of New York, much less the United States. I wouldn’t exactly say I’m looking forward to turning 60, but I’m cool with it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Maybe It Was all that Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll

Suicide rates in the United States have crept higher in recent years, rising from 10.5 suicides per 100,000 population in 1999 to 11.0 2005. But there are cross-cutting currents within those broad averages. Suicide rates increased among middle-aged white women more than any other demographic group, and secondarily among middle-aged white men.

That analysis comes from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at the Johns Hopkin University, in a report published by The American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Suicide rates rose 3.9 percent over the six-year period for white women and 2.6 percent for white men. Suicide rates for African-Americans, less prone to the affliction to begin with, actually went down. Rates were stable for other groups.

“The results underscore a change in the epidemiology of suicide, with middle-aged whites emerging as a new high-risk group,” said study co-author Susan P. Baker, a professor with Bloomberg's Center for Injury Research and Policy. “Historically, suicide prevention programs have focused on groups considered to be at highest risk—teens and young adults of both genders as well as elderly white men. This research tells us we need to refocus our resources to develop prevention programs for men and women in their middle years.”

Even as suicide rates increased marginally more for white Boomer women than for white Boomer men, men are still four times more likely than women to do themselves in.

The reasons for the increase are not fully understood. “While it would be straightforward to attribute the results to a rise in so-called mid-life crises, recent studies find that middle age is mostly a time of relative security and emotional well being,” said Baker. “Further research is warranted to explore societal changes that may be disproportionably affecting the middle-aged in this country.”

What societal changes might be responsible? Here's one theory: white Boomer over-medication. Notes Jane Akre with the web site, "Researchers believe that the increase among white middle-aged people may be due to prescription pain medication such as OxyContin. Prescription pills often have suicide as a side effect. The smoking cessation drug, Chantix, is the latest to be associated with suicides, as is Paxil, and the allergy medication, Singulair."

Whatever the reason, climbing suicide rates suggest that there's a dark side to the white Boomer sub-culture that may warrant further investigation.

(Image credit: Neurological Correlates.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

You Raised 'em, Now You Manage 'em

Horrified Baby Boomers are waking up to the fact that the little darlings they raised to be oh, so special, are now entering the workforce in great numbers -- and still think they're pretty darned special. As the author Ron Alsop reports in a Wall Street Journal adaptation of the book, "The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial generation is Shaking Up the Workplace," the little darlings aren't quite so endearing when they're someone else's.

Human Resources managers are finding that members of the Millennial Generation, born between 1980 and 2001, have no lack of self esteem. Indeed, like the inhabitants of Lake Woebegone, everyone is above average. And they feel entitled -- at least HR managers see them that way. Compounding their sense of superiority, Millennials (also referred to as the GenY generation) figure they can get away with being demanding because retiring Baby Boomers will leave such a huge void in the workplace.

Millennials need loads of attention, guidance and continual positive reinforcement -- just like they received at home -- and they don't respond well to criticism. Just like at home. Writes Alsop: "Managers must tread lightly when making a critique. This generation was treated so delicately that many schoolteachers stopped grading papers and tests in harsh-looking red ink. Some managers have seen millennials break down in tears after a negative performance review and even quit their jobs."

Employee retention will be a special challenge. These "workplace nomads" have zero corporate loyalty. They're confident of being able to find a new job, and they figure they can always move in with mom and dad if they run out of money. They're less willing than previous generations to "put in their time." If their quest for opportunity and reward in the corporate world is stifled, many think they can launch their own business.

I have to say, I've been favorably impressed by the young people working in my new workplace, The Boomer Project. But then, we're a small, non-hierarchical organization where employees are given a lot of latitude. I'll be interested to see whether or not Alsop's findings ring true.

Meanwhile, two Millennials of my own have entered the workforce. Needless to say, I find them intelligent, attractive and... special. But I do sometimes wonder what I have unleashed upon the world.

"Hope I Die Before I Get Old" Is Not a Life Plan

Attention in the business media is turning from the alarming drop in value of Baby Boomer retirement savings to a more fundamental problem: the generation's unprecedented indebtedness. As the Wall Street Journal notes today, Boomers have bigger problems than shriveled 401k plans. Over their lives, they've consumed most of their income rather than save it. Writes the Journal:

"What Baby Boomers of all persuasions have done, without dispute and to an unprecedented degree, is spend money instead of saving it. During the 1990s, Baby Boomers accounted for about half of all consumer spending in the U.S., according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute study. ... Their appetites buoyed sales of everything from Bavarian sedans to Sumatran coffee to Swedish furniture."

U.S. household savings plunged to 2 percent of income during the 2000-2005 period, down from 10 percent two decades earlier -- just as Boomers' earnings were peaking and they should have been saving. Citing the McKinsey study, the WSJ article notes that the average Boomer household (where the head of household was 50 years old) carried $122,000 in debt. That compared to $50,000 in inflation-adjusted level of debt for comparable households twenty years previously.

Writes WSJ reporter Joe White: "Millions of Boomers are realizing that 'hope I die before I get old' was just a sarcastic line in a rock and roll song, not a life plan."

It gets worse. White raises the terrifying prospect of a massive imbalance in supply and demand as the 78 million Boomers try to sell into a real estate market in which the much smaller GenX generation is buying. Think real estate prices have fallen a lot already? Just wait.

White touches upon the idea that Boomers will find it extremely difficult to dig their way out. They've built their lifestyles of McMansions and SUVs around cheap credit and cheap energy. The cheap credit has dried up. So has the cheap oil. The article closes with a quote from Wharton business school professor Olivia Mitchell: "The Baby Boomers are going to have to work longer and eat less. And go back to what my mother was doing -- saving string."

In reality, the situation is even worse than White describes. Even if Boomers were inclined to embrace thriftier lifestyles -- and there is evidence that they are -- they can't shed their old ways without some pain. Many are saddled with expensive-to-maintain assets that can't be sold without a loss.

Take houses, a major source of Boomer net worth that Boomers counted on tapping when the kids fly the coop. Many Boomers bought McMansions on the suburban frontier during the cheap-energy era when land and housing prices were cheaper. As traffic congestion, long commutes and higher energy prices nudge households back to the urban core, housing values on the metropolitan periphery have fallen steeper than the national averages.

How about those low-mileage SUVs? Richmond, Va.-based CarMax, the nation's largest retailer of used cars, learned what happens when everyone unload their gas guzzlers at the same time. The price of used SUVs and trucks plunged 25 percent over three months earlier this year, obliterating millions of dollars in the value of its inventory. The Boomers face a devil's dilemma: Take a big financial hit up front by selling the gas hogs now, or take it over several years each time they fill up their gas tanks.

Indebtedness... lack of savings... houses built in poor locations, with values that continue to decline... energy inefficient automobiles and long commutes... Boomers are boxed in by the choices they've made over their lives. Boomer angst will likely get worse before it gets better.

(Image credit: Spoleto Today.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Here Come the Simplifiers

John Quelch, an associate dean at the Harvard Business School, foresees the rise of a new type of consumer in 2008: the "middle-aged simplifier." This group consists of well-off people who are turning their backs on conspicuous consumption and the accumulation of stuff. They don't define their social status by the size of their McMansions or the number of range Rovers in their garages. They value experiences over material possessions.

Writing in a Harvard Business Publishing blog, Quelch does not analyze this phenomenon in generational terms. But a generational dimension is implied. He notes that the group includes "empty-nester baby-boomers ... who are tired of heating unused spaces in cavernous mansions, now preferring smaller houses with architectural character and intimate spaces, more charm and less maintenance."

This analysis is consistent with Boomer Project research findings that today's Boomers define their self identities less by how they compare to others -- "keeping up with the Joneses," as it were -- and more by their own internal compasses.

Quelch identifies four salient characteristics of the Simplifiers:
  • They have more stuff than they need. The temperamental opposite of pack rats, they want to purge themselves of excess possessions.

  • They want to collect experiences, not possessions. They'd rather dine out, go on an adventure travel or learn a new sport than buy a vacation home, with all the responsibilities and headaches it entails.

  • Their stuff embarrasses them. Big, gas-guzzling cars and big, electricity-guzzling houses convey conspicuous consumption, which in the era of rising green consciousness, is deemed irresponsible, if not downright anti-social.

  • Their wealth is so assured it no longer requires conspicuous display. "They reject the marketer's continual pressure to spend more money on possessions rather than on education, health care and other social goods."

The Simplifiers pose a huge challenge to the marketers of traditional consumer goods. As the number of Simplifers grows, suggests Quelch, expenditures on stuff by this group will lag rising incomes. Consumer goods multinationals may find richer rewards focusing on emerging markets where "stuff" still has allure.

(Hat tip: Dick Stroud at 50-Plus Marketing.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Retirement Expectations in Britain: Long Walks, Watching the Telly

While evidence piles up that American Baby Boomers are contemplating a future of "unretirement," in which work continues to play a major role in their lives, the sea-change in thinking about retirement is far from universal in global Boomerdom.

Speaking about Boomers in Great Britain, Dr. Rebecca Leach, of Keele University and King's College, London, says there is limited evidence that "first wave boomers are developing new third-age lifestyles."

Leach led an ambitious study that focuses mainly on anticipated in lifestyles and consumption patterns. From what I can tell from the best summary of the report I could find, in, the study did not ask whether British Boomers plan to defer retirement or work longer, as U.S. Boomers expect to do. But it appears to be an unstated assumption that no such reappraisal is going on.

Like their American counterparts, British Boomers told researchers they feel younger than their actual age, and they identify with young people more than their elders. But the main finding of the study is how utterly conventional their retirement aspirations are by the standards of previous generations. States the PhysOrg article:

Most have fairly modest aspirations, hoping at best to maintain current lifestyles and activities provided health and finances permit them to do so. The range of lifestyles is greater than would have been the case with previous generations but there is little evidence of 'alternative' models of consumption.

While some plan substantial projects, particularly in relation to travel or using second homes, most people's ideas for spending time after retirement retain a traditional pattern – watching television and films, playing records or going for long walks.

European societies are facing the same "age wave" challenges as the U.S., particularly how to finance expensive medical and retirement benefits for the Baby Boomer cohort. Indeed, the birth dearth in many European countries will create an even greater imbalance between workers and retirees. A cultural shift in which millions of Boomers voluntarily defer retirement could offer post-industrial societies a way out of the dilemma. Such a shift appears to be taking place in the U.S. We'll keep our eyes peeled for evidence, or lack of it, in other countries.

(For what it's worth, Britain's most famous Baby Boomer, Prince Charles, appears to be an exception to the norm. At 60 years of age, he's still waiting to be king. It looks like a working retirement for him!)

Update: Here is an even better summary of the study.

(Photo credit Prince Charles:

It's Nice to Be Appreciated... Though Not Exactly in this Way

"They're just sort of waiting for the Baby Boomers to start dying off."

So says Tara Olson, owner of AllPoints Research, a marketing research firm, referring to funeral parlor owners anticipating a boom in their business.

The death rate of about 8.1 per 1,000 people is expected to trend upward sometime in the next decade, potentially topping out at 10.9, reports the Associated Press. The average funeral home is projected to go from serving 120 families a year to 165.

One potential downer: What happens if Boomers skip the fancy burials and go for cremation instead?

You can count on this: Boomers will reinvent death and dying like they've reinvented everything else. Here's my prediction: Boomers will spend less on "dirt and caskets" funerals to memorialize their loved ones and more on cyber tributes. My wife toyed with the idea of creating a business that digitizes family photos and video, creates online memorials to loved ones and posts them for on the Internet for posterity. She dropped the idea when she discovered that someone else had beat her to it.

Now that I think of it, maybe I need to update my will: Cremate me and spread my ashes on the James River. Convert my family photos into a loving tribute set to the beat of "Wooly Bully.

("Death of Bob" image credit:

Hank Paulson May Be a Baby Boomer, but Boomers Aren't Hank Paulson

Yesterday I commented upon the Boomer-bashing screed of Becky C. over at the "Just a Girl in Short Shorts" blog, who regards Baby Boomers' sense of entitlement as a driving force behind the government bail out of Wall Street. This morning, new polling data has fallen into my lap to contradict her blame-Boomers-first polemic.

In an early October survey of 800 Baby Boomers (ages 40 to 59), TV Land found that half of all Boomers "feel that the government is doing too much to solve Wall Street's problems," while only one quarter believe the government is not doing enough. (The TV Land network provides programming targeting the 40 to 59-year-old demographic.)

If this poll can be believed, it certainly wasn't Baby Boomers who were pressuring Congressmen to bail out the big New York financial firms. More likely, Boomers were behind the barrage of e-mails and phone calls to Congress that opposed the easy terms favored by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (born 1946) and other panicky politicians early on. Indeed, younger generations may have Baby Boomers to thank that the raid on taxpayer wallets wasn't worse!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Blaming Boomers for the Bail Out

The stock market crash provides more fodder for the generation wars. Becky C., a libertarian Arizona GenXer who blogs on "Just a Girl in Short Shorts," uses the occasion to engaged in some spirited Boomer bashing, putting a generational spin on the $700 billion government bail-out of the financial sector.

"In the last few months as their 401(k)s started slipping in value--- who would a guessed it—here come the Boomers. It instantly became imperative that the federal government bail them out. Who ever promised them that the stock market would go up in value for ever and ever? ...

"If you are a Boomer the operative word is entitlement-- and you will get all those things which you so richly deserve--even if it is necessary to mortgage the country and your children's future. Who cares about that—the kids and grandkids will pay the bill—and they will be happy to do it—because you are all so special."
As far as Becky C. is concerned, Boomers are pretty much the source of all problems. We Boomers are "worthless and hollow." We drive giant SUVs and suck up oil. We eat at McDonalds and get fat. Politically, we've totally sold out. Instead of saving the world, we're padding our wallets.

We've heard a lot of this before, and much of it is wildly off base -- even if it comes from a hot blogger in short shorts. Boomers, for all their flaws, are not the ones who set up the Social Security and Medicare systems to bankrupt the country. Those were creations of the New Deal and Great Society, with modifications by various presidents since then, and Boomers played little role in creating them. If Becky C. is looking for the guilty parties who have fought off every effort to put those programs on an actuarially sounder basis, she should take a drive through one of the massive retirement communities in her own state of Arizona, which she'll find comprised mainly of members of the Silent and G.I. generations.

Far from feeling entitled to an early, financially secure retirement, Boomers are the first American generation since... well, since forever... that has abandoned the dream of retiring at an earlier age than the preceding generation. The latest evidence, which reinforces numerous earlier reports, comes from a Sun Life Financial study. Nearly half the respondents said that they expected to work past 67 -- a sentiment that was strongest in the 50-59 Boomer age bracket. Only six years ago, the average retirement age was 62.

So, take that, hot pants!
(Photo credit: "Just a Girl in Short Shorts" blog.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pity Us, the Poor, Pitiful Literates of Society

Baby Boomers prided themselves for being the most educated generation in history – at least until the GenXers came along. But in the not-too-distant future, we snooty Boomers may be regarded as hold-outs of the backward-looking “literate” society in a world evolving toward a “non-literate” society.

“Non-literate,” a descriptor for those who rely heavily upon books, magazines and newspapers to absorb knowledge, is not the same as “illiterate,” a tag for those unable read those publications. Rather, “non-literate” characterizes a society that downplays the written word in favor of a society “immersed in knowledge, imagery, social networks, fiction, world events and massive amounts of sensorial stimulation ... mediated by technological means.”

That comes from Donald Marinelli, executive producer of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University, in a speech delivered to the 2008 International Conference of Entertaining Computing.

Marinelli expects video games, which Boomers regard as a frivolity or amusement, to become an central element of society.

Let us recognize that videogames have become an integral part of all aspects of daily existence: from home to school to the workplace to the matrix of our real and imagined lives. And it is morphing constantly into variations and applications affecting every imaginable discipline, and many that will be created and crafted by succeeding generations of "digital natives."

The time will come when questioning the value or veracity of videogames will be as inane as pondering whether or not Shakespeare was correct when he said our lives mirrored the roles played by actors upon a stage.
Marinelli's world will present a difficult challenge to Baby Boomers. While we Boomers have taken to e-mail and the World Wide Web, there may be limits to which we can acclimate ourselves to an all-digital world and artificial universes. Our brains have been sculpted to think and conceptualize the world around us in verbal terms. (OK, a few mathematically literate people may view the world in terms of numbers, but most of us are stuck in a verbal world.) But technology is hurtling by. As I interpret Marinelli, new paradigms of visualizing and thinking are arising – less sequential, more three-dimensional; less verbal, more visual; less literal, more hypothetical.

Video “games” used for entertainment are morphing into tools for simulating the world and aiding decision making. They are infiltrating museums, schools, medical institutions and the military-industrial complex. As computational capability becomes ubiquitous, embedded in every device, as I understand Marinelli, so will gaming and simulation.

Boomers are accustomed to redefining society on their own terms and thinking of themselves as agents of change. But our neural pathways are largely set. This is one revolution we are unlikely to lead. Indeed, as the pace of technological change accelerates, we’ll find ourselves falling further and further behind. One day, younger generations may mock us for our primitive, “literate” ways.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

A New Age of Frugality?

Could Baby Boomers, notorious spendthrifts that they are, be leading the United States into a new age of frugality? BusinessWeek magazine thinks that may be the case.

The business pub profiles the Ingram-Behre family of New Hope, Pa., an all-American household of two 40-something parents with good jobs. (Technically, the Ingram-Behres are GenXers on the cusp of Boomerdom, but the article interviews several other newly parsimonious families that are in the Boomer cohort.) A year ago, the family was trapped in a lifestyle of mass overconsumption: dining out, shopping for entertainment, taking expensive cruises and trips to Disney World. They regularly busted their budget and ran up their credit cards, which they paid off by tapping the equity in their house. In sum, the Ingram-Behres epitomized the mighty American consumer who kept the global economy humming by racking up ever-mounting debt.

It didn't take the sub-prime mortgage crisis, or even the recent melt-down of their 401k plans to sober up the Ingram-Behres from their spending binge. Reality hit home a year ago when they sold a house that had doubled in value to $490,000 and netted only $60,000. "I was practically nauseated when I realized what our out-of-control spending had done," said Ingram, the wife.

In a remarkable turn-around, the family started eating more meals at home and reining in the shopping-for-pleasure habit. The Ingram-Behres now buy clothes at the consignment shop, turn out the lights and often walk places instead of driving. Earlier this year, they saved enough money to pay off one of their auto loans. Writes BusinessWeek:

Ingram and Behre are harbingers of a dawning Age of Frugality. People who overconsumed during the past decade are now rejecting extravagant lifestyles. They're spending less, and more wisely. Some are getting their finances in order. Others are fearful of losing their jobs, shocked by investment losses, or hunkering down amid the general uncertainty.
I've been a tightwad all my life -- at least that's what my wife and kids tell me. I pinched pennies while the rest of the country was on a credit-card bender. I guess I never understood the joys of mass overconsumption. I never saw why people bought so much "stuff" they didn't need, or didn't even want a week later: stuff that accumulated in closets, attics and garages. So much stuff that people rented self-storage units to hold what they didn't give to Good Will or cart off to the landfill!

The greens have been telling us that our addiction to buying "stuff" was ruining the world by consuming way more resources than we needed to. More stuff = larger carbon footprint = global warming. Economists have been telling us that the trillions of dollars of indebtedness -- much of it owed to foreigners -- eventually would be the ruin of the nation, as we nearly saw this past month. None of those jeremiads made much of an impression, but the culture does finally seem to be shifting.

If Baby Boomers have any sense whatsoever, they'll confront the yawning gap between their savings and their ambitions for later in life and realize that something has to give. As we have pointed out on the Boomer Consumer blog more than once, many Boomers have come to accept the idea that they'll have to work longer in life than their parents did to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. But staying solvent into old age may take more than hard work. It may require an old-fashioned virtue that has never been a big part of the Boomer ethic: thrift.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Stock Market Crash and the Quest for Inner Peace

Talk about unlucky timing. On Oct. 7, SWL Retirement, Inc., of Ashland, Ohio, launched a “hilarious” new board game, “The Baby Boomer Retirement Game,” which combines “nostalgia, life experiences and fun as players compete to be the first to reach ‘inner peace.’”

By Oct. 10 -- three days later -- the Dow Jones Industrial Average had fallen 15 percent. Millions of Baby Boomers watched in horror as hundreds of billions of dollars of retirement nest eggs disappeared into the ether.

Not many of us feel like laughing at the moment.

If we had $30 to shell out for "fun" right now -- which we don't -- some of us would head down to the liquor store and spend it on a quart of Jack Black.

Market timing aside, the premise of the game was amusing. The idea “started over cocktails,” according to the game website. (Cocktails? Actually, that’s kind of reassuring. At least they weren’t passing around a joint.) Each player starts with a “severance package” (pretty clever), moves tokens on a board shaped like a peace symbol, and collects life experiences, health and assets in the quest for inner peace.

Now that the thundering herd has trampled their life savings into the mud, real-world Boomers by the millions are reappraising their retirement plans, news accounts tell us. Come to think of it, “The Baby Boomer Retirement Game” may be just the therapy we need. With the meltdown of housing markets and stock prices, achieving “inner peace” may be the only retirement option we can afford.

Monday, October 6, 2008

More than Roommates, Less than Lovers

Cohabitation has gone mainstream, and baby boomers, whose coming of age coincided with the sexual revolution and the rise of divorce, played a large role in legitimizing a practice once known as “living in sin.” According to U.S. Census data, the number of couples living together increased from 439,000 to 5,500,000 over the four decades between 1960 and 2000. It’s too early to say for sure, but Boomers may be in the vanguard of re-defining the family once again by putting a new spin on the term “roommates.”

GenXers and Millennials cohabit easily -- women, men, straights, gays, sometimes entangled romantically, often not. In most cases, young people who choose to live together fall into one of two categories: they’re couples, or they’re friends. Often, finance is a major consideration – young people lack buying power, so they pitch in together to rent a nicer apartment or to purchase a house. Thus, Time magazine popularizes a label for a new phenomenon: "co-hos" -- or communal homeowners. The non-sexual, roommate-style relationships are rarely stable or lasting, however. Invariably, someone moves in with a girl (boy) friend, moves to San Francisco, or gets in a fight over the Foosball table. Whatever.

But we read a story recently in the Richmond Times-Dispatch of two Boomer women – one a 68-year-old widow and the other a 52-year-old divorce – who pitched in to buy a house. Sharing the financial burden was one motive. So, too, was the desire for stable, long-term companionship.

Writes reporter Bill Lohman: Susan Grady and Sharon McAbee “represent what could become a trend – friends co-owning houses – for baby boomers, who, because of scattered family and because of their sheer numbers, might need to create their own support systems as they grow older."

At the Boomer Project, we expect this phenomenon to take off, especially among the distaff side of side of the generation. Nearly one third of all Boomers -- some 25 million -- are spouseless. (Twelve percent never married, about twice the percentage of the previous generation; 16 percent are divorced or separated, and 4 percent are widowed.)

As periodically remarked upon in news magazines, women over 40 have a far harder time finding mates than men. Boomer males – those who don’t live in cardboard houses or under the highway overpass – remarry at higher rates. It’s simple mathematics: Men die sooner, meaning less competition for available females. It is the sad fate of many females – sad at least to those who don’t subscribe to the notion that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle – to find themselves spouseless and childless.

While convention dictates that widows and divorcees spend lonely lives in their own homes, living for the day their children come to visit, Boomer women have other ideas. As Lohmann tells the story, Susan Grady and Sharon McAbee were long-time friends, and they commiserated week after week on the phone how lonely they were. "Finally, we said, 'We're so stupid,'" Grady recalled. They decided to stop living alone and to buy a house together.

The duo now share three dogs and a one-eyed cat, split the cooking and other household chores, and share holidays with extended family. Said Gray: “It’s nice to have someone to cook for. … It’s just like getting married."

It’s not marriage, but the women are more than roommates. We don't know if there's even a name yet for the relationship between Susan Grady and Sharon McAbee. But we're betting that enough Baby Boomers will be living this way that someone will coin a term before long.

Update: This trend is bigger than I realized. Alison, a blogger at Women Bloom, was a widow for 11 years when she moved in with a friend. There have been "some privcy things to adjust to," she told us in a comment on this post, "but I'm sold on the idea." Allison's blog points to a website, CoAbode, a matchmaking service for single mothers who want to share expenses and support. An online matchmaker for widows and divorces can't be far behind.

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.