Wednesday, December 29, 2010

65 is only 50?

I see a curious turn of events that I wasn't paying attention to 9 years ago. The age of "getting old" seems to be older than I thought it would be.

A couple of factors shaped my thinking:

1) Family History. I only had one grandparent alive when I was born. My Grandmother who was healthy until the last year of her life when she was diagnosed of the cancer that she died from in her late 60's. Then my own Dad passed away a few months after he turned 67. Three years later, my Mom died at age 68. I was only 42. I thought this was the norm until people told me that my parents died early.

2) Last year when I turned 50, I decided that I still had at least another 25 good productive years ahead and have decided that I'll live into my 80's or longer. I have an Aunt and Uncle in their 90's so it is not impossible.

Take a look at this report from Mediapost:

The Rush To Age 65 Begins
On Saturday, the first Boomers turn 65. The stories, articles, news features and research reports celebrating this milestone are reaching their dizzying peak, chronicling this tremendous transformative event.


As in the way kids say it today: "Real-ly, I mean real-ly?"

Boomers turning 65 is a big deal, but just not to Boomers themselves. Here is the real news: Boomers see 65 as just another birthday.

How do we know?

We asked them. Specially, we asked those about to turn age 65 about the big event. In our national survey, only one in four said it was a "big deal." Over half said it was most certainly "not a big deal." Sure, they said, now we'll qualify for Medicare and that will help with medical expenses. But, it simply isn't that big a deal anymore.

You wouldn't know it from two studies released last week, the timing of which was designed to tap into the monumental event. Pew Research Center published "Boomers Approach 65 -- Glumly," and AARP went with "Approaching 65: A Survey of Boomers Turning 65 Years Old." Other than using the same verb, the two reports are on polar ends when it comes to assessing Boomer attitudes.

Pew compares Boomers of all ages to other generations and finds them "more downbeat than other age groups about the trajectory of their own lives and about the direction of the nation as a whole."

Pew does admit that "some of this pessimism is related to life cycle -- for most people, middle age is the most demanding and stressful time of life." But mostly it implies that the funkitude is something innate in the Boomer generation. Yet, the data it reports show Boomers were the most impacted by the Great Recession, are dealing with delaying retirement to fund said retirement, and find themselves forever stuck in middle age, with adults kids at home and aging parents requiring caregiving. It is no wonder Boomers are glum.

AARP's findings are much more optimistic. They sum it up by telling us that this "first wave of the Boomer generation [is] generally satisfied with their lives and optimistic about the next third of life." (We're guessing they weren't surveyed by Pew.)

Who is Right?

In truth, both studies and conclusions about Boomers are right -- which, in itself, is today's lesson. Be careful with research.

Pew's study is perhaps the most interesting for marketers because it compares Boomer attitudes with other generations'. However, as Pew points out, there are life stage and age factors that play a role in attitudes. A Boomer at 56 (the median age of the generation in 2011) has a different worldview and perspective than a 36 year old or a 26 year old, no matter the generational cohort.

AARP focuses only on Boomers, and only those 4% set to reach age 65 in 2011. Those vanguard Boomers are not all Boomers, so their attitudes must be taken for what they are -- their attitudes.

The point is that, with a generation some 76 million large, there are countless variations. You can't sum up generational attitudes in a word or a phrase. There are tens of millions of very happy and satisfied Boomers of all ages, and there are some soon-to-be-65 Boomers who are depressed and, well, glum.

The only thing we can tell you with certainty is that Boomers are not old. Follow the logic: the median age is 56 and, according to Pew, the typical Boomer feels nine years younger (so age 47) and thinks "old age" starts at age 72 -- some 25 years in the future!

Let's do stories on Boomers reaching old age then, in December 2036.

Boomer Project founder/president Matt Thornhill is an authority on marketing to today's Boomer Consumer. He has appeared on NBC, CBS and CNBC, in "BusinessWeek," "Time," "Newsweek" and "The New York Times" and countless others. Matt is also the co-author of the business book "Boomer Consumer." Boomer Project is a marketing research and consulting firm and has done work for Johnson & Johnson, Lincoln Financial, Samsung, Hershey's Foods and Home Instead Senior Care. Reach him here.

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