Age & Reason
Boomers: A Proven Market That Knows How to Spend
Friday, January 18, 2013 - 2:30am
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Three years into the “boomer bulge” – those 77 million Americans and 450 million people worldwide who are challenging the culture of what was once the magic retirement age over the next couple decades – markets everywhere are beginning to sit up and notice.

When this past fall publishing executive Deborah Needleman accepted the move to editor-in-chief of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, the publishing, writing and style world impatiently began wondering how she would apply her creativity and professional aplomb.

And after all the speculation, who would have guessed that her debut issue would feature – yes, you guessed it – “seniors.” Old people!

This may have less to do, of course, with creative insight or a nod to society doyens than good old self-interest and market demographics.

Remember the characterization in one of that sector’s prominent news outlets: “Seventy-nine-year old socialite and sister to Jackie O., Lee Radziwill will make the premiere cover of Needleman's version of T. What’s more, we hear that another upcoming cover is slated to feature 82-year-old socialite and philanthropist, Deeda Blair… quite the departure from [the mag’s former] ultra-hip covers featuring the likes of Esperanza Spalding, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Lana Del Rey. However, with an average age of readership at age 54…”

It’s time to officially redefine hip, which is clearly not reserved only for the young. “Hip” is changing, as we saw in a recent spate of appearances by pop culture’s finest, from James Bond to Mick Jagger and my personal favorite, the film “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,”  which featured a star-studded cast of seniors who ventured to India for an active, exciting and awesome new period of life. 

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Everywhere people are beginning to notice and react to the seminal social and economic transformation of our 21st century, a time when there will be more of us over age 60 than under 14. This fact certainly has not escaped Ms. Needleman’s attention, as she continues to lead the ever-hip and always with-it world of fashion, where apparently the market opportunities associated with the exploding adult demographic are tremendous.     

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And why not? This certainly is a demographic, it might be further noted, which is behaving in our 21st century far differently than its parents or grandparents – one that considers itself neither dependent nor disabled merely as a consequence of turning a certain age. 

If this represents a profound culture change, maybe there’s even some hope that our political leaders in D.C., Brussels , Tokyo and Beijing will also get the message: The 21st century does not itself automatically equate with  benefits  and subsidies, which are breaking budgets everywhere. And if we thought there were challenges around the last century’s notion of age and retirement, it’s even worse on the health side.

Perhaps Ms. Needleman’s market-driven culture shift, where adults are in the ascendancy, will have impact on the public policy world that still seems stuck in an earlier era. Yet it’s reassuring that the solutions to the aging populations’ possible “peril” will be found in the “promise” of market responses to the role this demographic cohort demands for itself,  as more active and engaged than 20th century public policy could ever have imagined.  

Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is Adjunct Senior Fellow at The Council of Foreign Relations and Executive Director of The Global Coalition on Aging.

 

Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.