The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow ... Or Not

In our work studying Boomers, one key generational characteristic of this cohort has been its optimism. Coming of age in the late 1950s, '60s and early '70s, when the economy prospered, social issues were addressed (civil and women's rights), and the Vietnam war came and went, Boomers entered adulthood with a rose-colored view of the future (as best represented by "Tomorrow" from "Annie, the Musical", 1977):

The sun'll come out
Tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There'll be sun!

Jump forward some 30 years to the Great Recession. It isn't so sunny any more. Boomers are entrenched in middle age, feeling their age, facing mounting debt as the kids go through college and the parents face healthcare needs. Squeezed by both and suffering from a shrinking 401(k) balance and an economy destined to remain soft, it is not surprising that some of that youthful optimism has faded.

Four recent reports about attitudes at the end of the Uh-Oh's (the 2000's) indicate that the bloom has indeed come off those rose-colored glasses.

First, our analysis of new data from the January 2010 BIGresearch Consumer Intentions & Actions survey, focusing on the attitudes of better-off consumers of all generations, those who live in households with incomes over $50,000 a year: The Boomers are bummed. They're feeling poorer than they did a year ago. (Do you remember how things were a year ago? Not so hot. A year later and Boomers feel worse? This is not a good sign.)

Boomer/slide2

Boomers aren't happy about their health, which is no surprise considering the rising rates of obesity. As the generation that defined itself through work, Boomers aren't feeling particularly chipper about their jobs, either.

Boomers/slide 3

Second, Pew Research reports in "Current Decade Rates as Worse in Fifty Years," that Boomers are the least optimistic about the next ten years -- only half say the next decade will be "better" that the current one. Think overcast, not sunny.

A third measure, fairly new, is the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The Well-Being Index tracks responses to several questions about emotional health, physical health, work environment and other aspects of life to gauge an overall "well-being" score. That score is on an upward trend since March 2009, when the stock market bottomed out. As of November, 2009, it stood at 66.7. But Boomers report lower scores than other generations. Their "well-being" is a little sickly.

A fourth study, by Mintel International, also reports only six out of ten Boomers "expect the future to be better," and that score is driven by 44 percent who say "I expect the future to be better because I have become better at handling problems in the past couple of years." With age comes experience, it seems. And again, compared to other generations, fewer Boomers are optimistic.

Our sense is that middle age pragmatism is trumping youthful optimism in Boomers. Despite countless warnings by their elders to save for a rainy day (lessons they learned thanks to the Depression and World War II), Boomers didn't save and find themselves in precarious financial position at exactly the worse time in their life -- when they need to be saving for their retirement.

What does this mean for marketers?

Boomers will respond to pragmatic marketing messages, not overly optimistic ones. They are looking for products and services that can help them deal with life's current issues, which include stresses over money, care-giving responsibilities, kids, and careers.

The sun will come up tomorrow, but Boomers now realize it might be cloudy for quite a while.

Tags: baby boomers
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7 comments about "The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow ... Or Not".
  1. Haralee Weintraub from Haralee.com , February 22, 2010 at 12:26 p.m.

    Matt,
    Good data, but Boomers and I am one and doing business with them, we still are in denial.

  2. Barb Geldersma , February 22, 2010 at 1:34 p.m.

    I think we Boomers have been dealt a financial blow and are starting to feel the effects of aging BUT counting us out is an over-siplification. The way I read your data 70% are happy with their life in general and 6 out of 10 expect the future to be brighter. Not exactly negative attitudes.
    We own a small Bed & Breakfast in a gateway community to a national park and our advance reservations for Spring and Fall (when the 50+ crowd travels to Parks) are simply off the charts. Way different than last year when reservations were very last minute reflecting the uncertainity of the economy. This makes me think Boomers are not so gloomy, are adjusting to the new ecomonic reality and are still finding the money to enjoy life.

  3. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine , February 22, 2010 at 1:46 p.m.

    Great article. Puts into words what I have been unable to. I'd like to know more about Haralee's "denial" statement.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , February 22, 2010 at 2:59 p.m.

    It is this generation who are finding out what it costs to take care of a sick parent who cannot live on their own. $4500+ per month for a decent assistant care/nursing care facility. If the person who needs to be admitted cannot prove there is enough financial resources, they wind up in state facilities. There is no inheritance. Unless, this generation has prepared themselves for the future of that kind of expense, existing in a state run nursing home with 24/7 care is a bleak future and the state is broke.

  5. Adrienne Crowther , February 23, 2010 at 12:54 p.m.

    I think that we boomers are very adaptable, AND... most of us grew up with some idealistic values. While we definitely enjoy the finer things in life - i.e., travel, nice homes, good food and wine, good quality of life - we also had ideals about what is important. I think the current (or new) economic reality has forced many of us to adapt our lifestyles and re-assess what's important to us. We always manage to figure it out. I have faith that we can re-align and still realign to new financial woes. I compare this to Generation X and others after us, who grew up with crazy, materialistic, "master of the universe" ideals.

  6. Jerry Foster from Energraphics , February 24, 2010 at 3:21 a.m.

    Wow. I didn't know other Boomers no longer felt like masters of the universe. I am 50 now but my girlfriend is graduating from college on Friday (advanced degree) and the future seems bright to me (her parents and the state paid for her degree). If we get married, the college expenses of our children will need to be met 20 years from now when I am 70 - but they won't be high if they are going to a Spanish, Chinese, German or Russian university while racking up the language skills - and things like the GI Bill are great: if they serve in the military like I did to get an education (I also never had to pay health insurance for 30 years because military VA benefits were my perceived safety net).

    Why would anyone feel responsibility for paying more than a few hundred dollars per month for a kid's college? And why on Earth should they go to an over-priced American college when practically every other country on Earth invests in higher education at the government level (I'm conservative, but if other countries are going to subsidize education systems and not charge me or my kids too much to take advantage of that, it would be stupid for me to opt for the ultra-high-priced American universities - keep in mind that Canadian schools try to jack up their prices for Americans who just say "forget that" and leave, but other countries welcome smart Americans to their higher education institutions at nominal prices).

    Regarding parents, it is good to have siblings on that score, that is for sure. I would recommend having the care bounce back and forth between siblings as much as possible as in olden days. It is good to have a father who served in the military and got benefits. There are plenty of countries that we might be living in where a full-time nurse would not cost $4000 but rather $500 (that would get an MD in many countries with very high standards of living and great weather).

    It sounds like some of my fellow boomers are stuck in an over-heated economic region that has imploded, meaning the prices are still high but nobody can pay them. It also sounds like the Baby Boomer Media Elite, who never considered it possible to live outside of Manhattan, may have to now reconsider (I come from the Upper East Side but haven't lived there for years).

  7. Dori Schwaiger from TopHealthSpot.com , February 27, 2010 at 4:54 p.m.

    Very interesting post. I thought I was one of the Boomers that had it all figured out. Until the market dropped out of the Real Estate Market. That's when I decided to something new and innovative with the rest of my life. ( I am 53 years young) I decided to go into web affiliate marketing. This was how TopHealthSpot.com was born. I needed a constant revenue stream that would carry myself and my family to retirement and then some. I am not saying this is an easy endeavor. Keep in mind that I am having to learn a whole new industry and marketing business. TopHealthspot is just about 3 years old now and finally beginning to turn a very good profit. One thing that I have learned about this economy is that nothing stays the same. Swim or be sucked under.