The Aging Baby Boom Part One

 Continuing each Monday, excerpts from my 2001 book.  This is the second section about studying how things change through time — history and trends.
The single most important trend for most of us, especially in the US, is the aging of the baby boom generation. This is a trend that many of us already see. (I see it every morning when I look in the mirror and see my hairline receding!) This trend is critically important because of three things:
¨      The baby boom generation is the largest single bulge in population in US history.
¨      The years in which the members of this boom will reach particular stages of their lives are precisely predictable.
¨      People do many important things at predictable points in their lives.
First, the size of the baby boom. After World War II, the number of babies born in the US began to accelerate. The figure rose from 2.8 million babies in 1945 to a peak of 4.25 to 4.3 million in each year from 1957 through 1961. Then a decline started, with a trough at 3.1 million births in 1973. By 1977, the number of births began to rise again as the oldest baby boomers began to have babies of their own.
While different observers use different definitions, I consider the baby boom as including all of those born during the bulge from 1946 through 1973. During these years, 107.5 million people were born in the US. This number was equal to 50.7% of the 211.9 million Americans alive in 1973. Today’s baby boom generation is reduced by the number who have died and increased by net immigration. But the bottom line is that the size of this population bulge is huge and, in fact, unprecedented in history.
The baby boom is so huge that, as the baby boomers have children, they are producing a so-called echo boom that is also quite large. As a result, the number of annual births today is almost as high as it was at the peak of the baby boom.
This huge population bubble has had enormous effects on our society. This generation grew up with TV, interstate highways, air travel, and the automobile-based suburb – things that came late in life to their parents. This generation helped end the Vietnam War, accelerated the demand for civil rights, and made the Beatles wealthy. Books have been written about these folks, and books will continue to be written. Not all of the baby boomers have the same social, political, cultural, and economic characteristics. Many baby boomers born before 1951 were not exposed to the drug era. Boomers born after 1960 were not the ones who bought Beatles albums. But now all these various boomers are getting older.
So what are some of the things that usually change as people age? While any individual – you or me – might not fit the mold, here are the general truths that hold true when you aggregate a large number of people – like 107 million. In general, people tend to:
  1. Commit crimes in their teens and twenties.
  2. Experiment with drugs and various “alternative lifestyles” in their twenties.
  3. Complete their formal schooling in their teens and twenties.
  4. Get their first jobs in their teens and twenties.
  5. Get married in their twenties and thirties.
  6. Move to a new city in their twenties and thirties.
  7. Rent apartments in their twenties.
  8. Buy their first home in their thirties.
  9. Have their first child in their twenties and thirties.
  10. Pay for their kids’ upbringing and education in their thirties and forties.
  11. Spend heavily on consumer items in their thirties and forties.
  12. Begin to invest in their thirties but don’t get serious about it until their forties and fifties
  13. Achieve their greatest wealth in their fifties or sixties.
  14. Steadily increase their skills and job productivity until their fifties.
  15. Launch their kids (and therefore stop spending so much on them) in their forties and fifties.
  16. Begin to spend heavily on travel in their late forties and into their fifties and sixties.
  17. Spend more time and money on hobbies and leisure pursuits in their fifties and beyond.
  18. Give away more money in their sixties and beyond.
  19. Gradually increase political participation, especially voting, from a very low level in their twenties to a peak in their seventies or even eighties.
  20. Increase their power (corporate, community, political) through their fifties and possibly sixties.
  21. Begin to retire in their fifties, with a peak of retirement in their sixties.
  22. Begin to establish second or retirement homes in their fifties and sixties.
  23. Move into nursing homes and assisted living in their seventies and eighties.
  24. Increase their concern with health and nutrition in their fifties and sixties.
  25. Die in their seventies and eighties, supporting enterprises even with their last breath.
Obviously, there are millions of exceptions to each of these generalizations. But there are even more millions of cases in which the generalizations hold true. And each generalization amounts to a trend. When millions of people take up (or drop) a particular activity, it produces much more than a blip on the social and economic radar screen. In fact, each of these shifts produces changes that affect almost every enterprise.