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Friday, October 7, 2011

About Baby Boomers: Assume Nothing and You'll Be Correct

We watched Howdy Doody and Star Trek. We played with Hula Hoops, and went to Woodstock.

As the leading-edge generation, we baby boomers have reinvented what it is like to grow older in the United States. And if we have one defining characteristic—it is how little we all have in common.

This opinion is echoed by Matt Thornhill, the president and founder of a market research and consulting firm called The Boomer Project, located in Richmond, VA. This group is composed of a team of marketers who are experts at helping organizations understand the generation that continues to be the major driving force of the United States economy.

Thornhill has co-authored an acclaimed book entitled Boomer Consumer: Ten New Rules for Marketing to America’s Largest, Wealthiest, and Most Important Demographic Group. He also writes The Boomer Project’s column, Viva the Vita! He is devoted to this generation’s needs, spending habits, activities, as well as their goals. To be sure, his hand is on the pulse of this diverse group.

According to Thornhill, “Unlike the GI generation that preceded them, most boomers do not lead linear lives.” (A linear life would be one in which a person progresses methodically and predictably from school to marriage, to child-rearing or lifetime employment and finally, to retirement.)

These days, boomers are all over the map. Many have gone to school, gotten married, divorced, remarried, worked, returned to school, or started a new business at any age. When asked how they define “over the hill,” they have no idea which hill you’re referring to. In short, they have places to go, people to see, and things to do.

While many marketers would like to believe that boomers are all alike, that is simply not the case: a person born at the start of the population boom in 1946 is extremely different from someone born in 1964, in terms of values and experiences. We boomers born at the early end of the spectrum were in our early 20’s by 1970. We were deeply impressed by the deaths of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King. Then there was the Vietnam War, numerous protests, and the Watergate Scandal; these were truly dramatic events.

On the other end of the spectrum, the boomers born after 1959 have no real recollection of, and no personal reference to, these occurrences. This younger group was never subjected to the military draft, and many were far more likely to use illegal drugs than their older fellow-boomers. Their taste in music was remarkably different, reminding us that all boomers cannot be lumped together.

One size does not fit all when it comes to baby boomers.

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This blog was written by Laraine Jablon, a one-time member of the Peanut Gallery.

Laraine Jablon, BA, MA, is a freelance writer specializing in social, health, and spiritual concerns of seniors. She lives in Nesconset, New York, and welcomes your thoughts.