Prepare for the deluge. The oldest baby boomers start turning 60 next year and it’s a sure bet media and marketing people won’t stop talking about them until every last one is in his or her grave which, according to boomers, won’t be until they are a 100 years old. That takes us to 2064 when the youngest will finally kick off.
In its cover story this week, Newsweek has produced a reasonably good overview of what boomers expect in their approaching dotage and the impact that will have on the culture.
“To say boomers expect to stay young isn’t just a figure of speech, it is a statistically verifiable fact. ‘Baby boomers literally think they’re going to die before they get old,’ said J. Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich Partners, the polling company, which found in one study that boomers defined ‘old age’ as starting three years after the average American was dead.”
Isn’t that just like the boomers – the ones who invented our youth-centric culture. The cover story continues:
“’If you’re marketing to boomers, you should start staying away from age,’ says Jim Gilmartin, president of Coming of Age, Inc. ‘Some boomers are new dads at 59.’”
Wrong again. As Newsweek writer Jerry Adler points out:
“The marketing industry’s apparent fixation on boomer fathers belies the statistics, which show that as of 2002, the 27.5 million American men older than 55 were responsible for about 83,000 births, a fertility rate of 0.3 percent.”
Undoubtedly, Mr. Gilmartin is a baby boomer.
Some good news amidst boomers’ impressive self-regard turns up on the employment front. According to the Merrill Lynch New Retirement Survey, 81 percent of boomers expect to keep working past 65, but their professional goals will shift:
Says Ken Dychtwald, president of Age Wave:
“You have corporate CEOs who want to be schoolteachers, and marketing managers who’d really rather run a coffee shop, bookkeepers who want to join the Peace Corps. They’ll work fewer hours or only eight months a year, and they won’t be as concerned about having the biggest office or the most lucrative job. It will be more important to do something they enjoy.”
Of course, not all boomers will have such attractive options. One study reports that three-fifths of people between the ages of 21 and 64 have neither an IRA nor a 401(k) and their old age will not be financially easy.
“Many of them haven’t faced retirement planning yet, says [demographer Cheryl Russell] but when they do, it will come as a shock...
“’Some baby boomers got a big slice of the pie,’ says [58-year old Patrick Debol], ‘people like David Letterman and George W. Bush. But it never really came to me.’ he says. This would be more of a problem if he thought he was getting old, but like all boomers, he assumes that time is actually on his side. ‘I still have some good years left in me to work,’ he says stalwartly.”
Individual fortunes and dubious longevity beliefs aside, the thing about boomers is that being born in tandem with the post-World War II economic boom, they always had more money than previous generations. That, coupled with their numbers – 78 million, which is larger than any previous or subsequent generation - has given them the clout to impose their sensibility on American culture. Blue jeans might have become a relic of old West without the boomers. Rock-and-roll might never have overtaken crooners like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
Those aren’t bad things; I a fan of both. But what I’d like to see in the press is a little attention to other generations of Americans. At five years their senior, I have little of the boomer mentality and I’ve resented their pre-eminence for a long time or, if not them personally, the media attention they get.
In connection with the Newsweek cover story, NBC Nightly News is running a boomer series all week. Boomer mentality has ruled the culture for 50 years and there is fat chance that will change in the near future.