Anyone reading this blog knows what it means to be a Baby Boomer woman of the “sandwich generation” – and the care-giving economy gets abundant attention on these pages.
But few who talk about that Sandwich Generation pay enough attention to the “bottom” layer of that sandwich: the generation of adult children – and I do mean adult – who now live with their parents.
Harris Interactive says that 40% of children aged 18-39 are living at home (or have done so in the recent past), which means there are at least 16 million Boomer women whose nests are no longer empty. We recently completed our annual “Full Nest” survey on Boomer women with adult children at home, and the results offer a picture of her new domestic world and what it means to companies that sell to her.
It’s about the Economy, but it’s Not Necessarily about Unemployment
Seventy-eight percent of the Boomer women who answered our survey said that their adult child had moved home for economic reasons. And, unlike earlier periods, the child’s return home is not just a temporary way-station while they seek their first job. Fifty-five percent of them are 26 or older; a full 28% are over 30.
Among the adult children living at home for economic reasons, most are actually employed. Fifty-five percent have a job but can’t afford their own living expenses, 25% fit the traditional “boomerang” stereotype: college graduates who can’t yet find a job, and 12% have lost the job they had.
If a job is not what separates these children from living independently, they’re not going anywhere soon. Indeed, 57% of Boomer mothers expect those back-at-home children to remain for at least a year (and will probably answer that question the same way one year from now).
Neither parent-training nor their own experience helped prepare Boomer women for this new experience of housing an adult child. Sixty-four percent of those with children at home say they never returned home as an adult themselves.
While mothers are mothers, and 65% of them say it would be “okay” if their child stays longer than anticipated, these Boomer women also report that this refilled nest has had negative effects. Seventy-one percent say it has made it harder to achieve personal goals; 65% say it has diminished their discretionary income; and 42% say it has negatively impacted their own marriage. This is definitely not the life this vibrant Boomer woman was waiting for.
What it Means for Marketers
The first lesson from this research is that women don’t stop being moms, or spending like moms, just because their children have graduated from college or have jobs. They are buying products (food, household supplies, cars and clothing) and covering the costs of services (medical and veterinary care, dry-cleaning) that many marketers assume are being paid for by Millennials themselves.
As with most marketing-to-Boomers generally, the first important lesson is to recognize the reality of the new “full nest” and to reflect it in your messaging and advertising.
If this woman sees herself and her reality reflected in your marketing, she will appreciate it and reward you with her business. If you’re selling detergent, laugh with her about the fact that she may still be doing her children’s laundry, even though they’re 30. If you’re selling her a car, remind her that she can still have fun – even if she needs a backseat big enough to fit her 6’ 2” twins. She will appreciate your support.
And if your services offer her a break from this reality, let her know it. Financial planners need to help this Boomer mom manage a financial future that has more moving parts than anticipated. And if you’re offering her a cruise, remember that it may not represent the reward she and her husband have earned but the (brief) return to an empty nest that they need to survive.