How Gen X Will Help Baby Boomers Challenge Ageism

When the final chapter on Baby Boomers is written, what will emerge as one of the most important and lasting accomplishments is their impact on ageism, particularly in the marketing arena. Size, wealth and a well-established tendency to create better lives as they age have enabled Baby Boomers to redefine life after 50 as a stage in which possibilities expand rather than retract. In doing so, Baby Boomers are the first generation to make it attractive, acceptable and profitable for brands to target people over 50. Increasingly, we are seeing mainstream marketers doing so; new opportunities continue to arise.

In 2015, for the first time in nearly two decades, Baby Boomers will have an ally in the fight against ageism, as Gen Xers begin entering the 50+ life stage and bring with them their own considerable consumer appeal. While stark differences have been drawn between Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, a closer examination of trailing edge Baby Boomers (ages 50-59) and Gen Xers reveals striking similarities that provide opportunities to successfully market to both groups simultaneously, and meaningfully.

Size & Spending Power
There are 40 million trailing-edge Baby Boomers, and they have the highest household income among all Americans. There are 50 million Gen Xers, and they rival younger Baby Boomers in household income. Combined, these two groups represent the largest, highest-spending consumer block in America.

Forever Young
Both groups refuse to define themselves by their age, and they ignore traditional limitations our society has placed on its aging citizens.

Blurred Generational Lines  
According to a recent MetLife study on Gen X, nearly one-third of Gen Xers related more with the "Baby Boomer" label than with "Gen X" “ A 2009 study that found that one-third of the youngest Baby Boomers actually prefer to describe themselves as Gen X.

Responsible Spending
While Baby Boomers are further along, both groups are at an age where they are balancing their desire to spend now and their need to save for retirement.

Experience Rules
Both groups prioritize consumer experience over materialism, although for different reasons. Trailing edge Baby Boomers switched from valuing materialism to experiences as a result of the economic downturn. Gen X has always prioritized experiences since their lives never held the promise of financial security.  

It is important to note that Gen X does not share some key Baby Boomer traits that 50+ marketers may have leveraged in the past, and marketing to these characteristics may alienate Gen X consumers.

Self-Importance
Media and marketers have conditioned Baby Boomers to feel important until they hit 50, whereas Gen X has typically been lampooned or ignored. 

Optimistic Life Outlook
While optimism is hardwired into the Baby Boomer DNA, Gen Xers can be skeptical and pessimistic — no surprise given that their childhoods were marked by high divorce rates, and their adulthoods rocked by repeated economic crises.

Desire to Make a Difference
Whereas many younger Baby Boomers feel a personal responsibility to make society better for all, Gen Xers are not overly concerned with the mark they leave on society.

Baby Boomers have made considerable progress in promoting a positive image of life after 50, and marketers are starting to take note. Yet, there’s more work to be done. Too often, the word “old” is thrown around casually to discriminate against people simply on the basis of age.

As marketers, it is critical that we continue to educate brands on the value of marketing to consumers over age 50. With Gen X joining the fold next year, we must help brands understand the evolving opportunities of the valuable 50+ consumer landscape, and develop increasingly effective and efficient 50+ marketing strategies.

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3 comments about "How Gen X Will Help Baby Boomers Challenge Ageism".
  1. Comment7 A. from CA , April 3, 2014 at 12:39 p.m.
    This is a half baked use of generational marketing theory. Yes, Boomers will recast old age into something new and we're already seeing the ads. But writing that Gen Xers (all of them) are not optimistic as a group is not sustantiated. According to who? What is your source. Further, you wrote there are "50 million Xers in the U.S. today", however in a 2012 article for the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, George Masnick wrote that the "Census counted 82.1 million" Gen Xers in the U.S. The Harvard Center uses 1965 to 1984 to define Gen X so that Boomers, Xers and Millennials "cover equal 20-year age spans". Masnick concluded that immigration has filled in any birth year deficits during low fertility years of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
  2. Mark Bradbury from AARP Media Sales , April 4, 2014 at 3:01 a.m.
    Thank you for taking the time to read my piece and for requesting support for some of the content. To be sure, defining generational birth years, size and characteristics is not an exact science. The years that define Gen X, or any other generation for that matter, vary widely depending on the source. Many estimates are more conservative than the 1965-1984 span used by the Joint Center for Housing Studies. In 2012, New Strategist released its 7th edition of Generation X: Americans born 1965 to 1976, which is often quoted as an authoritative text on Gen X. In late 2012, GfK Custom Research North America conducted a study on behalf of the MetLife Mature Institute, which used the same years (1965-1976) as a basis for its research, and estimated Gen X at 51 million. (Their findings can be downloaded free at https://www.metlife.com/mmi/research/generation-x-mtv-generation-mid-life.html#findings.) Any number between 50 and 80 million supports the argument for marketing to Gen X even after age 50. To describe all Gen Xers as pessimistic or skeptical would be a mistake, just as it would be a mistake to define all Baby Boomers as optimistic. However, generations do develop distinct personality traits, largely impacted by the historical events, parenting norms, etc. My goal was not to demean Gen X, rather to identify attitudinal differences between Baby Boomers and Gen X that have marketing implications. A great source for a much broader source of generational differences, including the optimism/skepticism difference, can be found here: http://www.wmfc.org/uploads/GenerationalDifferencesChart.pdf. Feel free to contact me at mbradbury@aarp.org should you want to discuss this issue in more depth. Mark Bradbury
  3. Comment7 A. from CA , April 4, 2014 at 3:39 p.m.
    You're welcome, thank you for the response. Masnick at the Harvard Center for Housing uses 1965 to 1984. Strauss and Howe (who coined the term "Millennials") use 1961 to 1981 for Gen X. A generation is at least an 18 to 20 year time span more or less (not an 11 year span).