Yesterday I was at the release of Deloitte’s State of Media Democracy report when something that’s been bugging me for a while became clear – have we got our definitions of baby boomers wrong?
In the report’s demographic breakup, there was the usual breakdown of age groups with the interesting twist of separating ‘leading Millennials’ and ‘trailing Millennials’.
Such separation makes sense, how a sixteen year old uses the media is very different from that of a 26 year old, however there’s a good argument breaking up the baby boomer group the same way.
While there’s no denying the post World War II baby boom in most Western countries that lasted roughly from 1945 to 1965, lumping the entire group into one demographic bubble with the same economic characteristics seems mistaken.
If nothing else, the baby boomers should be broken into two groups – those born before 1955 and those afterwards.
Those born between 1945 and 55 had the benefit of being born into the a world rebuilding from the second world war and the massive improvement in living standards that accompanied the reconstruction.
For those born after 1955 their work experience was very different; the 1973 oil shock marked the end of the post war economic certainties and also saw the beginning of increased casualisation of the workforce through the deregulations that accelerated under the Reagan, Thatcher and other Western governments in the 1970s and 80s.
In many ways, the 1955-65 cohort of baby boomers have more in common with the generation who followed them – the Generation Xers, the term coined by the author Douglas Coupland who was born in 1961.
Equally, the earlier half of the baby boomers have much more in common with those born between 1935 and 45, the ‘war babies’ were too young to fight in World War II and they benefited greatest of all from the post war economic boom.
So perhaps we should be talking of the ‘Lucky Generation’ – those born between 1935 and 55 – and redefining ‘Generation X’ as those born 1955 and 80.
While it’s easy to say “who cares”, there’s an important aspect to this. Much of our discussion about the aging population revolves around the boomers retiring and the load this puts on the community.
Not to mention the foibles, beliefs and voting patterns of the boomers which again differ markedly between the ‘early boomers’ and ‘late boomers’.
If we accept that the tipping point wasn’t in 2010 when the first baby boomers reached retirement, but in 2000 when the ‘lucky generation’ started retiring then this discussion about how we service a growing – and demanding – group of retirees becomes even more pressing.
As in many things, life is a lot more complex than the lazy assumptions of demographers and economists would have us believe.
The myth that the baby boomers are one big fat group with equal demands, needs and assets is something may turn out to fool many of our business and political leaders.