Wealth Opportunity: The Baby Boomer Trend

““Nothing arouses ambition so much in the heart as the trumpet-clang of another’s fame.”” – Baltasar Gracian

In the investment business, they say “the trend is your friend.” This is also true in the world of wealth building. (See Message # 139.) You can create a healthy, high-income business all kinds of ways – but your success will be greater and quicker if you have a major trend behind you.

Today, in America, there is no bigger trend than the aging of the baby boomers.

If you think about the history of American business in the second half of the 20th century, you’ll have to admit that many, if not most, of the important consumer floods were related to this disproportionately large part of the population.

My next-door neighbor, BSS, is worth about $50 million. He business took off early on, in the ’50s. What was it? He was a producer of Romper Room – that ancient television program that baby boomers were addicted to for a good 10 years. I didn’t know it until I met BSS, but Romper Room was a locally syndicated show. He got his break traveling around the country setting it up.

Rock ‘n’ roll has old roots but first became a billion-dollar business in the ’60s, when the baby boomers were old enough to buy records. Same with fashions. The women’s apparel industry, for example, tripled in the late ‘60s and ’70s when baby boomerettes were old enough to wear designer clothes.

From Hula-Hoops to Harleys and Havanas, the baby boom generation has created one flood of buying after another. Businesspeople smart and/or fortunate enough to get in the water at the right time became wealthy because of it.

In her book The Master Trend: How the Baby Boom Generation Is Remaking America, Cheryl Russell argues that the boomers are distinct from their parents and children in their self-absorption. They are, to use Russell’s terminology, the “first generation of free agents.” Example: In 1940, only 11 percent of women and 20 percent of men agreed with the statement “I am an important person.” By 1990, 66% of women and 62% of men believed they were important people.

In the 1950s, about 70 percent of women who were questioned identified “helping others in difficulty” as a “very important goal.” By the early 1980s, 65% of baby boomer women had a new priority: “Make a lot of money.”

It’s really no surprise that my generation is self-centered. Two phenomena made it almost inevitable: the sheer size of our numbers and the advent of television as the primary and most ubiquitous cultural factor. As baby boomers aged, so aged America’s primary concerns. First came Dr. Spock. Then the Beatles. Then Twiggy. Then Gordon Gecko. And now . . . what?

Identifying the current trend isn’t the problem. It’s predicting what’s coming next that matters. And the future for baby boomers is all about gray hair, aching joints, memory loss, and wrinkles. Is it a coincidence that the biggest pharmacological breakthrough of our times is a little blue pill that encourages the flow of blood to aging genitals?

To understand what baby boomers are going to start buying (REALLY buying), Russell argues, you need to know something about how they think and feel. And she makes a pretty good case that free agency – the desire to do what you want when and where you want to do it – is the common psychological denominator of baby boomers.

The baby boomers, Russell says, have been the prime movers and the prime beneficiaries of the shift in America (and elsewhere) from an industrial economy to a personalized economy. “Success in the personalized economy demands different strategies than success in the industrial economy. The personalized economy rewards innovation more than loyalty, instant action more than careful analysis, and short-term gains more than long-term goals. These new economic strategies created free agents, which in turn became the eager market for the personalized economy, creating a personalized culture in the process.

“Speed is the competitive edge in the personalized economy, giving rise to one-hour film processing, walk-in medical clinics, 30-minute pizza delivery, and one-minute managers. The ultimate consequence of the fast-paced culture of free agents is ‘real time’ products and services. These are products and services delivered at the instant someone demands them.”

I recommend Russell’s book if you are interested in thinking more about taking advantage of this trend in your business. She also edits a newsletter, The Boomer Report, which I’m going to take a look at.

There are so many interesting things to know about this huge market. For example:

* Baby boomer women married late. The proportion of unmarried women in the 20-24 age group grew from 28% to 50% between 1960 and 1980.

* A shrinking share of Americans is happily married. The percentage that said their marriages were “very happy” fell from 60% in the mid-1970s to 53% by the late 1980s.

* The friction between free agents heats up the battle of the sexes. When asked their opinion of men, 42% of all women say they are “basically selfish and self-centered.” This proportion is up from 32% in 1970.

* Baby boomer mothers say they would like to spend twice as much free time pursuing personal interests and dining out. Fathers want to spend more time pursuing personal interests.

* The emergence of the matriarchal family is not rooted in feminism. It is rooted in the fact that women are now the dominant parent in a majority of American families.

But if I had one area of interest to focus on in developing a marketing strategy, I’d select health issues – particularly health issues that relate to aging. Baby boomers are getting old and they are dying. Of all the things that affect buying habits, none is more compelling than sickness and/or the fear of death.

The market for alternative-health products in America has grown more than tenfold in the last 10 years – primarily due to the aging of the baby boomers. Once you hit your 40s and 50s, your body doesn’t work as well as it used to. And since mainstream medicine has done little to combat the most prevalent problems of aging – arthritis, heart disease, fatigue, impotence, etc. – the natural-supplement industry has filled the void.

Ten years ago, the only supplement products you could find on supermarket shelves were multiple vitamins. Today, you can find hundreds of products from dozens of manufacturers. Everything from Ginkgo biloba (for energy) to saw palmetto (for prostate disease) to glucosamine (for stiff joints) to Avena sativa (for erectile dysfunction).

And it’s just beginning. As the boomers enter their 50s and 60s, the problems will increase and anything that makes them feel like teenagers again will be successful.

Remember, many of the boomers have money to spend. And they’ll be getting more money as their parents die and leave them inheritances.

To take advantage of this megatrend, you have to do one thing now. You have to start thinking about this phenomenon so you can shape or direct your business or career accordingly. Whether you are running a large business or sitting at home working as a free-lance professional, there are very big opportunities to make very big money by getting ahead of this trend. By getting your thinking at the cutting edge, you are much more likely to have that idea that tips the balance – to use Malcolm Gladwell’s “tipping point” metaphor. (See Messages #139 and #140.)

It’s not just Cheryl Russell and her readers who are thinking about baby boomer concerns – it is the immense tide of baby boomers themselves. It is they who have the sore elbows and swollen ankles, they who are worried about getting mugged by young people, and they who are hoping to retire at age 60.

He who is first to come up with plausible solutions to their concerns will get wealthy.

We’ll come back to this important subject often. Meanwhile, start thinking about your own situation and how you can take advantage of the baby boomer trend. And please give me and your fellow ETRs your ideas and suggestions by noting them in the ETR Speak Out message board.