Chapter One: The Path to LifeCycle Liberation
We are at the dawn of a LifeCycle revolution. Spurred by the convergence of a number of powerful cultural, technological, and demographic forces, the way we live, work, and buy is beginning to change radically. At its essence, this revolution is a release from the invisible age-related constraints in values, attitudes, and expectations about the reality of life that have enslaved us throughout time. Prescribed by society for centuries, these boundaries have defined our lives and what we've done at each stage of life. Among other things, they dictated that youth was just for the young, that education comes just once before real life starts, that marriage should last a lifetime, and that retirement comes at age 65. They've also telegraphed to business what products and services we might need at what stages of life.
At one time, these rules may have made perfect sense. Dan Levinson's groundbreaking research and Gail Sheehy's illuminating book Passages outlined these predictable life passages based on chronologic age and told us what to expect and how to prepare for each one. Levinson was the first after Erik Erikson to theorize that development did not end at adulthood but continued throughout life. Sheehy's idea was that if we could understand adult LifeCycles and the fact that most people experienced the same things at roughly the same age, we could understand and gain comfort from what we were feeling about where we were in life.
This age-based model of life could also provide a window for business leaders to better understand and target their consumers. Within this paradigm, marketing and sales were, likewise, simplified into a predictable pattern of age-based marketing. If we knew how old someone was, we had a pretty clear idea of what they were doing in their life and which products and services they might purchase. "Aim products and services at consumers based on their age" became the battle cry of Madison Avenue. It was a successful model of age-oriented marketing, made even more intense by the belief that everyone formed their brand preferences in youth and remained loyal to them for life.
Well, things have changed. We no longer live life in a series of predictable life passages. We're breaking free of age-related lifestyle expectations that defined us. We're no longer buying products and services based on this neat age-oriented marketing model. And we're no longer as set in our ways. Welcome to the dawn of LifeCycle liberation!
A Revolution in the Making
In the quarter-century since Passages first appeared, there have been tectonic changes in the landscape of human experience. First, average life expectancy has been on the rise and, with the help of emerging biotechnology and new medical breakthroughs, it will increase substantially in the years ahead. Second, we used to be primarily a young population. Not anymore. Adults fifty and over are now the fastest growing segment of our population, growing twice as fast as the overall population. At the same time, we see the number of young adults 18- to 34-year-olds actually shrinking in size. Last, the largest single population group ever to share a set of common values boomers now dominates our culture, not as rebellious teenagers, but as midlife adults. As they continue to mature, their influence on the attitudes and values of younger generations seems to be growing. And we can be sure that the boomers have no intention of aging like their parents or grandparents did.
All of these enormous changes are transforming the way we think about some long-held social conventions such as education, marriage, parenting, and retirement, and their locations and timing in our lives. Since Sheehy wrote her important but increasingly obsolete book, there has been a groundswell of support for the idea that there is life after youth. No longer do we assume that we open ourselves to education just once when we're young: now we know we might return to it continuously as demanded by work, family, or personal interests. Like it or not, many of us don't necessarily say "'til death do us part" just once either. After all, when marriage was originally conceived, no one expected it to last for 50, 60, or even 70 years. Cyclic monogamy has become the norm, with most people enjoying two or even three primary relationships over the span of their lengthening lives. The roles of men and women have loosened up, too, offering us more options. Even the inevitable physical decline that has always gone hand-in-hand with getting older is not quite as inevitable anymore, as examples of healthy aging are popping up everywhere.
What is happening is that we are moving from a rigid linear approach to life to a more flexible, cyclic life; a new path that isn't as straight or narrow as it used to be. There are more curves in the road and a multitude of divergent side paths that some of us might choose to try. Perhaps most important is the fact that the roles and activities we choose are much less likely to be determined by how old we are. It's not unusual to see a 35-year-old or a 65-year-old starting a new career; a 30-year-old or a 70-year-old getting married; a 45-year-old or a 25-year-old graduating from school. Age is no longer the ultimate definer of who we are, what we're doing, how we feel on the inside, what group we're a member of, or the products and services we demand from the marketplace. We are being liberated from a life of one-way passages to a cyclic life with a nearly unlimited set of choices, options, and possibilities available at any age to anyone with the vision and courage to seize the day.
A life of cycles offers both the challenge and the opportunity for each of us to define and often redefine our own future rather than to have our future imposed on us by society's age markers. By liberating our patterns of purchasing from age-dependent factors, we can emerge as ageless consumers. There is no more easy-to-find Pepsi Generation and, contrary to popular opinion, you can teach an old dog new tricks. The age-segregated mass market is dying, and in its place, a vibrant new LifeCycle- and lifestyle-based marketplace is emerging.
It's a bit like discovering the world is round when all along we were sure it was flat. The social institutions we've put into place and the assumptions about work and career, marriage, parenting, retirement, and even illness are all shifting, coming unhinged from their moorings. If we recognize this fact and understand the new options before us, we can comfortably make choices to help us navigate life's new cycles. How do we figure out who our market is? What kinds of products and services will be in demand? Who are the new arbiters of cultural hipness? These are the questions we're just starting to ask as we move into the new world of LifeCycle liberation.
Why This Revolution? Why Now?
Powerful demographic forces drive this revolution and we need to understand them. The word demography sounds complicated and boring. And, if you go by the technical definition, "the science of vital statistics," your eyes might quickly glaze over. But look closer, back to its original meaning, and it comes alive. Demography derives from the Greek demos, which means "people" and graphic which means "to write." So, originally, demography meant "writing about people." I think of demographics as "the science of understanding people and populations through vital statistics."
Many business, economic, and political leaders believe if you can grasp demographic trends, you can anticipate future trends in terms of consumers, economics, and public policy. I take it one step further. I think demographics can open a window into tomorrow our tomorrow, our customer's tomorrow, even our employee's tomorrow so that the future becomes easier to understand, more predictable, and easier to make decisions about. The wonderful benefit of making sense of the unknown in this way is that the fear of the future is reduced, and we can more readily take charge of our own plans for tomorrow. It may even give us a feeling of hope that it's never too late. After all, if we have a clearer picture of what the road ahead looks like, it's that much easier to travel with ease and comfort. We might also get the feeling that our time to shine may be in front of us rather than behind us, no matter how old we might be.
So what new demographic forces are reshaping our lives and the marketplace? There are three unprecedented trends at work. First is the ever compounding longevity revolution, the result of dramatic advances in medicine and biotechnology; second is the steady decline of the youth society based on both the declining birth and mortality rates; and last is the impact of the pioneering values, attitudes, and traits of the boomers as they continue to revolutionize maturity. (This generation has transformed every stage of life through which they've passed.) The convergence of these three forces is transforming who we are and who we can become; moreover, it will liberate us from yesterday's oppressive act your age rules and limits.
The Longevity Revolution
We are the first humans to experience long life en masse. Until now, young people have almost exclusively dominated the planet. Aided by technologic breakthroughs in the life sciences, medicine, and health care, people are living longer and better than ever before.
Throughout most of history, death came early to many. Life was short and brutish for all but the privileged classes; older people were a rarity. If we go back to the year 1000, the average life expectancy was only 25 years. (See Figure 1.1.) At the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the average life expectancy was only 37 years. Just 100 years ago, the average American could expect to live to age 47 and the median age was 17. In fact, throughout 99 percent of human history, the average life expectancy was under age 18. Think about that in perspective: during the 4,500 years from the Bronze Age to the year 1900, life expectancy increased less than it did in the twentieth century.
Today we are living longer and better than ever before. In the twentieth century alone, average life expectancy went up 29 years. Right now the average American will live to age 77 and the median age is almost 36. And the United States isn't even at the head of the list of nations when it comes to longevity, but ranks thirty-fifth of nations worldwide. (See Figure 1.2, which shows a sampling of, but not all, countries.)
Waging the War for Longer Life
How have we waged the war for longer lives? We employed continual technologic innovation and improvements in every aspect of medicine and public health. First, we attacked death in the early years of life. As a result of sanitation improvements, advances in public health, better nutrition, and a varied diet made available by the invention of refrigeration, infant mortality rates and childhood death rates decreased dramatically worldwide in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Then medical and pharmacologic breakthroughs such as antibiotics and immunization helped us overcome infectious diseases such as pneumonia, diphtheria, smallpox, polio, and tuberculosis.
The next battle in the war for increased life expectancy was begun in the late twentieth century. Once we had control of acute, infectious diseases, we began to focus attention on diseases that are slow moving, debilitating, and tend to occur in life's second half chronic, degenerative diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. While still a far cry from successful, progress has been developing on this front so death rates among older age groups are 50 percent lower than they were a century ago.
Combating these chronic, degenerative diseases has required a highly refined medical system relying primarily on high-tech weapons of war. Our detection systems have evolved so that we can now discover many conditions before they cause major damage. Over time, we've developed highly specific drugs to combat diseases like hypertension, heart disease, and kidney disease so that we can live relatively well while controlling a particular disease. When I was just a child (in the '60s), my uncle had a sudden heart attack and died. He was only 35 years old. Today, that same heart attack probably wouldn't have meant death because of the tremendous technologic breakthroughs we have witnessed in the management of heart disease.
Lifestyle management is emerging today as another potent tool in the war on many chronic, degenerative diseases. Science has begun to confirm what many of us suspected: how we live our lives impacts both the quality of our health and how long we live. We've begun to see firsthand the detrimental effect smoking cigarettes has on our health while, at the same time, learning that a simple thing like regular exercise can help us feel energetic and vital and even help prevent and manage diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. The saying, "You are what you eat," has proven to be true; a low-fat diet can help prevent certain chronic, degenerative diseases while a diet high in fat can actually contribute to those same diseases. Even stress has been associated with disease. In fact, recent studies have pointed to the likely possibility that individuals with a positive attitude are less likely to contract cancer. We're still at the beginning stages of figuring out which lifestyle habits are the right ones, but it's a track that's gaining respectability and acceptance.
The life sciences are becoming even more effective in developing new and improved tools to prevent and manage disease. Biotechnology is still in its early stages of development, but holds the promise of extending life expectancy. Stem cells hold the hope of growing new organs when the old ones wear out or stop working effectively. New biotech tools are being developed that offer the promise of combating diseases that are closely associated with aging such as Alzheimer's, arthritis, and osteoporosis.
Even aging itself could someday become a thing of the past. Modern cellular research, boosted by exploding genomic understanding, has begun to hint that the so-called biologic clock could possibly be reset. As a result, we may, in our lifetimes, be able to slow down or even halt our own agng process through impending biotechnology breakthroughs to increase life expectancy even more.
This kind of future science may sound like science fiction, but it may very well help shape how long many of us will live. One thing is clear: The increasing velocity of medical and biotech breakthroughs will in all likelihood continue to help us add both years to our lives and life to those years.
The Future of Longevity
In many ways, increased longevity is like a dream come true. Throughout history, men have fantasized and schemed for long life with eternal youth. Even the ancient Egyptians, obsessed with planning for the afterlife, were responsible for the first documented antiwrinkle recipe discovered in the Ebers papyrus and believed to have been written in 1530 B.C. In the Middle Ages, Lucas Cranach the Elder painted a famous picture of a spectacular spring where wrinkled old women plunged in at one end and young beauties came out at the other. Ponce de Leon bumped into Florida while searching for the fountain of youth. Almost every culture has a myth or legend related to the fountain of youth, but we're the first to experience long life en masse.
Have we gone as far as we will go? Will life expectancy plateau at its present levels? Although there is much controversy concerning the potential life span of humans, there are some indicators of how long we might live. Renowned cell biologist Leonard Hayflick of the University of California has believed for a half century that human cells have a finite number of times they can divide before dying off. His groundbreaking discoveries, now well accepted, explain that each living cell has a biologic clock that controls the aging process and how long we live. Based on a growing body of scientific research, Hayflick believes humans have the potential to live to somewhere between 100 and 120 years.
According to John Rowe and Robert Kahn in their book Successful Aging, "in almost every species, the oldest age observed is approximately six times the length of time from birth to maturity. In the human case, this argues for a life span of 108 or 120 years, assuming that the age of complete biological maturity is 18 to 20. On the other hand, many scientists now feel that it is unlikely that there is any fixed life span limit."
According to even the most conservative estimates, average life expectancy will continue to rise over the next several decades. The National Institute on Aging predicts that by the year 2050, average life expectancy will be somewhere between 90 and 95. Demographer James Vaupel describes the future of longevity as "a new paradigm of aging in which average life expectancy could reach one hundred or more." In the United States there are already more than 50,000 people over the age of 100 while worldwide there are 250,000. Doctors Rowe and Kahn project that there will be over 600,000 centenarians in the United States alone by the middle of the twenty-first century. And it is projected that the number of centenarians worldwide will increase sixteenfold by 2050.
We see the pioneers of this super-longevity trend already beginning to appear. San Francisco Bay Area resident Chris Mortensen died at the age of 115 in 1998. Mortensen was the "world's oldest man with a verifiable birth date of 1882." When he was 96, Mortensen moved into a retirement community where he was often seen riding his bicycle. He lived independently until 110. In order to better understand longevity, John Wilmoth, a demographer at University of California/Berkeley became friendly with Mortensen during the last few years of his life. At age 37, Wilmoth said, "I had spent more than ten years studying changes in longevity in kind of an abstract scientific way. Chris, in a sense, was a data point. Meeting him changed my perspective. Suddenly my 88-year-old grandma wasn't that old anymore."
The one thing that seems clear is that many of us might live a lot longer than we've planned. We may see 100 or 110. Sixty will seem young in a life that spans more than a century. You may just hit your stride at 80. The term late bloomer will take on a whole new meaning. We'll have more time to live, freeing us up to do all that we want to do instead of just all that we have to do.
The era of long life is upon us. We are entering unexplored terrain, creating a world of long-lived humans. As we've put to rest the fear of dying young, a mounting concern is the polar opposite living too long outliving our health, money, and purpose in life. The problem is that few of us have ever contemplated living a century or more, and we have no real model for how to do it. However difficult, we will need to create one.
This longevity revolution will require new ways to think about many of the things that we each take for granted in our daily life. Some of the cornerstones of our thinking how old is old? When do we retire? How many careers can we have in one lifetime? How long is a life? will be challenged and, ultimately, give way to new beliefs about what extended life can hold for us. New products and services will be required and business will develop new methods to help customers access products and services easily, conveniently, and in ways responsive to their needs. Many generations will be alive at once, all vying for the attention of both business and government. As pioneers at the forefront of this unprecedented longevity revolution, we will each help define the future and many of the multibillion products and companies of tomorrow. We will release ourselves from a life of predictable passages and break free of age-related lifestyle expectations to pioneer a life of cycles and lifestage liberation. It won't always be easy but it promises to be interesting, challenging, and, at moments, exhilarating.
Shifting Demographic Plates
Another demographic force reshaping our lives is that the overall composition of the general population is changing, altering the landscape and mindscape of our world as emphatically as an earthquake. Who we were was young.
Just 100 years ago, the median age was 17. We were a youth-focused world for all the right reasons. Everything from the clothes we wore to the way we designed our communities was geared to meeting the needs of young people. Even the way life was organized. Few worried about what to do after the kids grew up because most didn't live long enough to have that problem. Social Security and Medicare? The concept had little relevancy because of the small number of adults over 65. Entitlements were for the young, not the old. Free education was the big entitlement. The world was youth focused, as it should have been, then.
That youth focus followed us into the twentieth century as well. Health care for young families with children was a top priority. Marrying young, learning a trade while still in one's teens, creating job opportunities for young people and education for their even younger children...these were some of the key needs of our youth-focused culture.
Not surprisingly, the big sellers were products that glorified the spirit of youth. Clothing that enhanced young bodies, transportation designed for young spirits, homes designed for young families, and an educational system designed for young minds. These were just some of the products that were a logical outcome of living in a youth-focused world.
But the world is morphing. Although who we were was young, who we are becoming is mature. According to the United Nations, both birthrates and mortality rates are now declining, radically changing the age structure in most countries worldwide. In other words, while more of us are living longer, we're also not reproducing ourselves at the rate we once were. Demographer Carl Haub states it clearly, "Population decline due to low fertility is a new phenomenon." As recently as post-World War II in the United States, the birthrate was 3.8; today it is only 2.06, the minimum replacement level. Italy has the distinction of having the lowest fertility rate of any country with a birthrate of 1.2. In fact, it's the first country ever to have more people over age 65 than under age 25, followed by Germany, Greece, and Spain. China has a strict policy on family size and is proud that its birthrate has dropped from 6.7 in 1950 to 1.8 today. Japan's is 1.39. Even developing nations have lowered their fertility rates by as much as 50 percent over the last few decades. This worldwide paradigm shift is moving the pendulum of people from youth toward the middle and later years of life.
The net result is that the youth segment of our population which has traditionally been where most population growth took place is shrinking in size while the mature age segments are growing. This dramatic swing is shifting the focus of every aspect of our lives from popular fashion to the average age of college students, from the kinds of foods we eat to our society's political priorities. Our new composition of fewer youths and more older adults is just the opposite of what we've traditionally seen in the demographic makeup of our world, and this trend is projected to continue, recalibrating the balance of power away from youth, toward the later years.
So what is the specific demographic makeup that is changing what we look like? In the year 2000, the youngest age group those from birth to 17 consisted of 70 million people, the largest population of young people to appear since the post-World War II baby boom generation. However, it represents not just U.S. births but the constant in-migration of children and young families moving into the United States. If this were not the case, this age group would be a shrinking population group.
The young adult population group age 18 to 34 is the smallest of any age group, with only 55 million people in the United States. That has never before been the case. Historically, this stage of life has always been the bull's-eye of American business; the group most coveted by marketers; the group influencing society and culture the most. However, for the first time ever due to declining birthrates in the '70s and '80s this has become a shrinking demographic segment. As a result, the young adult age group is steadily diminishing in size, spending power, and, ultimately, importance.
While the young adult population is declining, the midlife age group is growing in size, gaining strength in numbers and financial power. It is where the growth and, consequently, the power in the United States is migrating. The 35- to 54-year-old population segment is comprised mostly of those born during the post-World War II baby boom and known as baby boomers. Seventy-eight million strong, it represents one-third of the entire U.S. population. Based on sheer size alone, it's an influential group. As we will soon see, this population impacts the overall culture more than any other and will continue to do so for decades to come.
The 55-plus age group has become the fastest growing segment with almost 60 million people. As life expectancy continues to rise, this age group will remain the fastest growing, with rising financial and political strength.
As birthrates remain on the decline and people continue to live longer, our world is shifting from one dominated by youth to one steadily filling up with midlife and older adults. Although our world is no longer youth dominated, that reality hasn't fully sunk into our collective attitudes and mind-set. For example, youth is still defined as the in place to be in our culture. We still cling to the basic assumption that the first 40 or 50 years is where the action is and then life becomes a slow descent; life after 50 is the over the hill years. Our center of gravity has moved from youth to midlife, but our perceptions of life have remained somewhat stagnant and stuck in the past reality.
Businesses continue, out of habit, to think that the youth market is still where the action is. They continue to think that adults are over the hill, that they have but one shot at consumers, when they're young: "Catch them in youth, and you'll have them forever."
But, as we're about to see, that is no longer the case. The world will steadily transform to better match the size and the shape of who we are becoming. And the boomers will help ignite this transformation toward a more cyclic way of life.
Boomers: Pioneering the Cyclic Life
As the cultural epicenter moves from youth to midlife and beyond, the character and values of consumers will change, influenced strongly by the boomer generation. In researching and studying the different generations, it has become clear that although boomers are a huge and highly diverse group, there is a set of values, attitudes, and expectations that are generally shared within the overall group. In fact, boomers were the first generation to exemplify certain traits that have been adopted by younger generations and even sometimes by their elders. Let me add that boomers are not always admired or even liked by other generations. In fact, they're often resented, for the very reason that they are followed. That is, there are so many of them, their sheer size and confluence of core values and attitudes influence the attitudes and values of the overall society. Boomers will be the pioneers creating the path into the second half of life that future generations will follow.
Boomers entered life after a series of tumultuous, dark moments in history. During the 1930s and early 1940s, couples had few children. Worldwide economic depression, followed by a devastating World War, led to low birthrates. But that all changed after the Allies, led by the United States, won World War II. Suddenly, the economy was expanding as it never had before; prosperity became a reality. Hope and optimism replaced despair and hopelessness. Believing the future held great promise, young men and women rushed to get married and help build a new, better world. Ninety-two percent of those people of marriageable age went to the altar, and more than 84 percent of those had children, averaging nearly four births per couple. As shown in Figure 1.3, between 1946 and 1964 we had 76 million live births in the United States alone. That translates to one-third of the entire U.S. population, born in an 18-year period. Similar population explosions took place throughout Australia, Canada, Great Britain, France, and New Zealand.
What soon became evident was that the boomers were a magnetic force field that held the attention of our entire culture. Wherever the boomers moved along the life span, their needs, interests, and desires created trends that reverberated throughout society.
Smart businesses saw that these boomers were a potent marketplace phenomenon, affecting product purchases more than any other age group. When they were babies, Dr. Spock became the first millionaire author by advising parents how to raise them. The strong single-family home market and the development of the suburbs were driven by the desire to give boomers a better life. They contributed to the growth of pediatric medicine, the baby food and diaper delivery business, the positioning of Kodak cameras as a way to capture young families, the ever-burgeoning life insurance market. Wherever they were in the life span, boomers created havoc and market opportunity by their sheer numbers.
Early television executives were quick to realize that boomers were a target audience and shaped much of their schedule to entertain young kids. Popular television series of the early '50s and '60s included Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and Ozzie and Harriet. In the '50s and '60s, for the first time ever, all Americans were tuned into the same information and entertainment, planting the seeds for the first national mass market.
As the boomers migrated through the educational system, elementary and then secondary schools became overcrowded. Colleges became more demanding in their standards because of the glut in college-bound students, which tripled between 1965 and 1975. Similarly, the housing market and the job market became inflated as the boomers began the "nesting" cycle of life.
When the boomers hit their teenage years, suddenly rebellion took on a life of its own. Every generation goes through some sort of rebellious behavior as part of asserting their own persona, but to witness 76 million people rebelling at once created a worldwide revolution a youth revolution. "Don't trust anyone over 30" became their mantra, jeans and long hair their uniform, and rock 'n' roll music their anthem.
During this period, our obsession with youth became so total that the overall culture embraced this message, and youth became the in place to be. Anyone who was not young, was considered over the hill. Even as the boomers crossed this artificial demarcation line defining youth, that obsession has never quite been erased.
As free-spending teenagers, boomers continued to fuel the economy. The Pepsi Generation was born because American adolescents gulped 25 percent of all soft drinks. They invented rock 'n' roll and were responsible for 43 percent of total record sales. They bought 53 percent of all movie tickets and soon became the target market for new business ideas such as fast food. According to boomer historian Landon Jones, "Advertisers intensified this generation's self-awareness. Being isolated as the first target market has made the boomers avid consumers." At the same time, being earmarked as an incredibly attractive consumer group has given them tremendous power as a generational force.
In many ways, that is the greatest strength of this generation: their collective power. The boomers are a lot like the phenomenal Pando Aspen Grove in Utah. Fly over Pando and the naked eye views a large, beautiful grove of aspen trees, but looks can be deceiving. This aspen grove is really just one organism, sharing the same root system. The boomers, too, are large in numbers and seemingly diverse, but they share a common set of values and attitudes from which much of their power emanates. As individuals, boomers have never held any more or less clout than previous generations. But, as a generation, they have pruned themselves to be an all-powerful organism.
In 1969, Time magazine singled out this generation as their Man of the Year, an honor usually bestowed on significant world leaders. It was the first time ever that a generation had been singled out for its leadership power. And the boomers demonstrated that power.
Today, not one person of that first generation to chant, "Don't trust anyone over 30," is under the age of 30. In 1996, the first boomers started to turn 50. From that moment forward, every eight and a half seconds, another boomer celebrates a 50th birthday. Ten thousand people each day cross the threshold to the second half of life.
Not surprisingly, as this happens, the concept of over the hill will be redefined. So will a lot of other things such as: how old is old, what is attractive, how long will we work, what kinds of products and services will we want, which is the target market to be coveted, what is retirement, and how we will organize our lives. Maturing boomers will see to that.
The boomers, as a collective, will use their power to reinvent the second half of life. It's time. And, as we've repeatedly seen, the boomers have the magnetic power to create new trends and accelerate social change. Reinventing maturity is next in line and that's exactly what they will do.
For such a large population, boomers share a surprising number of the same experiences, attitudes, and values. Because they are the magnetic core of our society, these values and attitudes are transferred by osmosis to the overall population. They have already laid the groundwork to defy every cultural stereotype there is on aging and how to live the second half of life. That's their nature as rule breakers, one of their key traits that falls directly out of the fact that boomers are much more highly educated than previous generations.
Based on their educational background and their intellectual curiosity, boomers have done what well-educated people do question authority and the status quo. In older generations, such as the mature generations born before World War II, individuals tended to respect authority and follow the rules set down by society. Boomers broke this rule and set the precedent for future generations to question authority as a matter of course. They're rebellious by nature and like to do things differently than those who came before.
The parents of boomers who, themselves, were rule-followers and comfortable with conformity, raised their children to believe in themselves and think of themselves as unique or special. One result of that message is that many boomers feel it their right and obligation to "do life" in their own way. This individualistic nature of boomers makes them fundamentally different from their parents, no matter how old they are.
Although it was their parents who fed them the message, "you're special" as they grew up, boomers' parents didn't always like the way this message manifested in their children's personalities. They considered their individualistic nature to be self-centered and narcissistic. They started to label the boomers the Me Generation and resented their attitude. But what some call narcissistic or selfish might also be described as self-reliant and entrepreneurial two key survival skills for the fast-paced and quickly changing twenty-first century.
Boomers are social entrepreneurs, experimenters, and innovators by nature and nurture. Usually experimentation and innovation is something associated primarily with the young, but boomers have broken this rule, too. With every step they have taken, they have created innovation in the social, lifestyle, business, and economic life of our entire society.
It's no surprise that boomers ended up protesting as teenagers and exploring a spectrum of alternative lifestyles as adults such as delayed marriage, divorce if the marriage didn't work out, delayed childbearing, and alternative ways to practice religion. They have changed the role of women, expanded the definition of family, and transformed the workplace. Boomer entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak launched a technology revolution from their garages, which became a force of change for our entire economy.
If boomers are nothing else, they are control freaks. They enjoy regulating the social and lifestyle barometer or the direction our society is moving. They take pride in the fact that wherever they are in the cycle of life, their needs and interests become central themes for the entire culture. We can almost bet that they aren't about to give up that role willingly as past generations have done when they reach their more mature years. The boomers won't accept the downward descent stereotypical of the second half of life as a fait accompli.
According to my husband, Ken Dychtwald, in Age Power, "The assumption that boomers would migrate through life's stages in exactly the same way as the more traditional generations before them proved to be way off base. Much more indulged, boomers are more inclined to question the status quo and more willing to speak out and challenge authority than any previous generation." Throughout their lives, boomers haven't really behaved like their parents and grandparents and are not about to start now just because they are crossing the traditional threshold of youth. They will strive to age differently. Remember, they created the youth culture and feel it their privilege to bring the concept of youth with them into the second half of life. They will not accept the long-held belief that older people are past their prime; they disavow the commandment to "act your age"; they will live, work, and buy in a more cyclic approach to life.
What does that mean? Business will need to adjust its attitude toward maturity if it is to effectively woo the newly empowered mature consumer which, by the way, will soon represent the majority of consumers.
Boomers will be the pioneers that clear the paths for the cyclic life, merging the spirit and excitement of youth with the experience and perspective of maturity to create an entirely new hybrid a kind of youthful wisdom or even ageless aging. In so doing, they will lay the foundation for a new approach to living with the space for continual reinvention a more cyclic approach.
Evolution of the Cyclic Life
When the three demographic forces (1) the longevity factor, (2) a youth society giving way to a more middle-aged world, and (3) the magnetic force of boomer values and attitudes intersect, one of the most basic implications that results is that boomers opt to "do life" on their own terms rather than by the old linear-life formula. This is creating a new model of how we'll live; a model that gives us the freedom to design our lives to fit our personal needs and desires.
Sociologists have long told us that society organizes life into a linear-life pattern where three clear stages of life are defined. Education, the first stage, prepares us for our main roles in life. The second stage is the major part of life: work and family. The final stage of life was originally designed as a short period of rest and reflection before death, but that has now evolved into a longer period of leisure activity. Life was seen as orderly, linear, and predictable; this created a straightforward roadmap of life. You might veer off the prescribed path, but at least a roadmap existed to beckon you back. This linear pattern was sensible in a society where people lived short lives and showed a deep respect for following the rules and outside authority.
The linear view was great for business because marketers knew exactly what activities consumers were likely to be involved in just by knowing how old they were. If, for instance, you were in the education business, you could target your products to young people and only young people. They were the market. If you were in the insurance business, you targeted young families 18- to 34-year-olds exclusively. Within this predictable life pattern, age alone was the primary factor in understanding and targeting the market. That was all we needed to know.
Now a more cyclic approach to life is already beginning to evolve where the stages of life education, work and family, and leisure are reshuffling and reappear multiple times throughout each lifetime. A new life of cycles is replacing the straight and narrow linear path of yesterday.
For business, those easy days of marketing to populations that were marching lockstep through the predictable stages of life is over! We are seeing women opting to raise a family after they reach 40; men and women of all ages reinventing their careers; an avid interest in learning at 20, 40, and even 70; and we're even seeing budding romance and love among those at the far end of the age spectrum, 80-year-olds and beyond.
This new model tells us "just because you're down, it doesn't mean you're out," "comebacks are not only possible, but probable," "life is what you make it," and other hopeful messages to imply we can all bloom innumerable times in life, adorned in different colors and patterns each time.
As a result, education is no longer something just for the young. Retirement is not just for the old. Marriage, career, parenting, and leisure pursuits are all being transformed, creating opportunities for some and challenges for others. If you can see it coming, the new cyclic model is like a breath of fresh air liberating us at every turn. This far-reaching LifeCycle revolution introduces new values, attitudes, and expectations that break loose the shackles that have restrained us throughout time.
According to a Yankelovich Monitor survey, 42 percent of consumers agree with the statement, "If I had a chance to start over in life, I would do things much differently." And many of us are. Harbingers of reinvention are popping up all around us. We've all watched Regis Philbin come back from a bout with heart disease to rev up his career as the host of the recently canceled Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? For a while, he was treated almost like a rock star, with men of all ages copying his style of dress. Maybe he'll come back once again. Most of us shared Katie Couric's pain as she courageously helped her husband (and, later, her sister) unsuccessfully battle colon cancer. We supported her as she grieved and finally overcame this tragedy, beginning to build a life as a single working mother, dating for the first time in years. She updated her hairstyle, became a blond, renewed her contract with the Today show for millions, and found a cute boyfriend. She has since fallen in and out of love again, and we're cheering her on as she continues to discover and rediscover herself. And Carlos Santana reinvented his rock 'n' roll career, winning eight Grammies including album of the year for Supernatural at the 2000 Grammy Awards. By partnering with a variety of hip young musicians such as Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, Lauryn Hill, and Dave Matthews, he created an album that was loved by young and old selling more than 21 million copies worldwide. What helps make this comeback even more impressive is that it was produced and orchestrated by then 67-year-old Clive Davis.
This revolutionary cyclic model of living will unhinge many of the basic expectations that businesses take for granted. For example, we could take three 50-year-old men, all in the same socioeconomic category, even in the same career, and find they have very different needs based on the LifeCycle events they are moving into. One, for instance, might be very traditional, with kids already out of school. He hopes to take an early retirement and live a traditional retiree lifestyle. He's a perfect target customer for golf clubs, a retirement home in a warm climate, and long-term care insurance. But don't try selling those products to the second man. He hates his job and wants to quit to become an entrepreneur. He's looking for a contractor to renovate and add an office onto his home, home office equipment, and a good small business health insurance plan. Not the third 50-year-old. He just got married to a younger woman who wants to start a family. He's shopping for fertility treatments, a bigger home, a minivan, and term life insurance.
Age no longer defines who we are, what we are doing with our lives, and what we might be demanding from the marketplace. As we will soon see, the boomers will be the first generation to extend the number of working and spending years to remain part of mainstream society far longer than any preceding generation. We need to look at LifeCycle events and where people are in the cycle of their own lives rather than at their chronologic age as a method of understanding the new adult consumer.
In the chapters that follow, we will look at every aspect of our lives from learning to recreation, from romance to the family to envision how the LifeCycle revolution will change the way we live, work, and buy. We will explore some of the ways this revolution will impact each of us, and the products and services we demand from the marketplace. And, of course, we will explore its impact on business.
Copyright © 2003 by Maddy Dychtwald