Consumer Assumptions Based On Age No Longer Apply

It has happened -- I'm at the age when my social media feeds illustrate an interesting dichotomy of where my peers are in life.

I scroll through the "traditional" life milestone announcements, from engagements and weddings to babies and first homes. However, I see many of my peers following a different path through their 20s and into their 30s, choosing to wait longer to get married, have children or buy a home.

All of this is the focus of recent research -- "Delayed Adulthood: How Younger & Older Generations Are Achieving 'Life Milestones' at Their Own Pace."

What is "Delayed Adulthood"?

There has been a decades-long trend, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, of young adults holding off on achieving key milestones until later in life. This trend is widespread.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, only half as many adults ages 25-34 had achieved all four major life milestones (employed, living independently, married, with children) in 2016 (24%) as they did in 1975 (45%).



Why are Young Adults Delaying Adulthood"?

Finances are often the main reason. In fact, 76% of millennials who are carrying debt claim they can't achieve their personal goals because of it, but they are trying to save for their future.

Shaped by their experience with the Great Recession and now the COVID-19 pandemic, contrary to what one might assume, 73% of millennials are now actively trying to save money, and at a greater rate than their parents.

Beyond finances, younger generations are delaying milestones because they can do so without the same stigmas of the past.

In 2020, more than half of all young adults ages 18-29 (52%) were living with a parent  -- a higher percentage than during the Great Depression.

By moving back home during the pandemic, something I did myself for a few months of 2020, young adults could save money while also being in a more stable environment during a tumultuous time.

There has also been a significant shift in when people have children due to greater access to education and a wider pool of career opportunities for young women.

This aspect felt especially relevant to my life and the lives of many of my friends who are working to establish their careers before starting a family.

While young adults might be holding off, it is important to note that they are not writing off achieving these milestones indefinitely. Rather, they are taking their time and choosing the moment when they will embrace these new life milestones.

Adults over 50

"Delayed adulthood" is not just a millennial trend. Older adults are also putting off their own milestones and embracing more active lifestyles rather than downsizing.

At one point, my own parents sold the house I grew up in with the goal of simplifying their lives as they contemplated retirement, only to make a complete about-face when they realized they were not ready to retire at all.

Instead, they have continued to expand their business and "upsized" into a new home with plenty of room to entertain their friends — and future grandchildren, of course.

Like my parents, many people over 50 are choosing to work longer than previous generations, and with more time in the workforce, they are also accruing more wealth later in life.

Compared to younger generations, baby boomers are more likely to be spenders who are buying across a range of categories, including entertainment and vehicle purchases. 

With so much more life after 50, older adults have transformed into a true buying force to be reckoned with — accounting for 41% of total U.S. expenditures or $3.4 trillion in annual spend, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Why Does this Matters to Marketers?

The traditional path to adulthood has evolved, and marketers today should be mindful that assumptions around what people buy based on their age no longer apply. 

As purchases become increasingly dictated by life stage and behaviors, this underscores the importance of considering a more modern, audience-first approach. One that allows marketers to target their campaigns based on buying habits and personal characteristics, rather than a blunt demographic like adults 18-49.

By targeting based on audiences, marketers can unlock the full value of TV to more effectively engage their best consumer prospects.


3 comments about "Consumer Assumptions Based On Age No Longer Apply".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 11, 2021 at 10:06 a.m.

    Very interesting, Leah. One of the key factors I would think is the decision by more and more young women to carve out significant workplace/business careers for themselves---to enrich their lives them and make them financially indemendent---which, in many cases causes them to delay their first marriages and childbirth well beyond what was "normal" practice back when. This has an obvious impact on  males, who must now follow suit re the timing of setting up their own "family" households and moving into "adulthood". When you compare the appropriate stats regarding maritial status, first time births, college enrollment, employment outside the home as well as where many young people live today with those of several generations ago, the contrqsts are all too evident. Whether marketers are paying attention to these developments is a good question. I suspect that where product positionning and TV commercial execution are concenred appreciation of the nuances is greater than what we see in 18-49/25-54 media buying.

  2. PJ Lehrer from NYU, October 11, 2021 at 2:07 p.m.

    While I agree that we should not make assumptions about buying behavior based on age, it is important to be aware of which generation your target belongs to because different generations behave differently due to the environment that they were raised in. 

    This translates into everything from engaing with different media to having different ideas about what eating healthy actually means.  More here...

  3. Victoria Potter from IDComms, October 25, 2021 at 2:17 p.m.

    Yes, very interesting. A strictly demo-based way of buying tends to miss the boat with the nuances of personality and behavior. "Age is just a number". I remember when I moved from NY to Pittsburgh in my (very) late-20s, I identified more from a lifestyle basis with early 20 year olds than the 30-somethings that were more in line with my husband's and my age. Even now, as we are firmly in the parenting game, our friends and acquaintances are much wider than our age band. There are so many factors that determine life stage, and therefore buying habits. While we have always known this (as a media planner, I've always put together "psychographic targets" to go with our media buying parameters), the acceleration of video outside of the linear TV landscape, and a re-evaluation of measurement, creates a richer lens for targeting.

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