The worm has turned…

It seems as if we are reminded on a daily basis – ad nauseum – just how many Boomers are coming up for retirement and the drain they will be on resources. In the US, Leonard Steinhorn has posed an interesting question: “Imagine if the generation getting ready to retire wasn’t the baby boomers, but the World War II generation — or the Greatest Generation, as it’s popularly lionized. No one would be calling those Americans a burden or a drag. If they were retiring today, we’d be writing columns full of praise for their sacrifice and discussing what our nation owes them and how it’s our moral duty to support them. Why the different attitudes toward these two generations? Why is one idealized as heroic and giving, while the other is disdained as self-indulgent and taking? It’s time to reassess…The boomers’ problem is not that they haven’t accomplished a great deal; it’s that we take their accomplishments for granted and don’t give them any credit.â€?
This is a welcome change from recent postings on the Net that have done nothing but criticize and patronize the Boomers. Certainly we see a much more positive portrayal of Boomers in this month’s GenerationWatch.

Perhaps we are getting more used to accommodating the changing face of Boomer needs. This is evident, for example, in the way that the National Association of Home Builders in the US are changing the way they operate. Builders long ago discarded the notion that retirement buyers wanted nothing more than a languid game of shuffleboard or golf followed by an afternoon nap. These days, retirement communities often include fitness centers, nature trails and cybercafes. The National Association of Home Builders says the fastest-growing part of the housing market is the 50-plus segment of buyers that includes boomers, empty nesters, potential retirees and other categories of older buyers. People 55 or older bought nearly a fifth of the 1.1 million new U.S. homes sold in 2003 and the NAHB is offering individualized units rather than one-size-fits-all home designs. In similarly accommodating tones, Wally Spiers has written that, “60 is the new 40, or 30 if you really feel young� and John Hall of Texas Baptist Communications notes that, “Baby Boomers are poised to change American culture once again.� This is seen as a positive move in as much as retiring Boomers will invest their energies in volunteer opportunities and charitable causes. George Young, minister to people age 50 and older at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio concurs, “I think they realize they are not going to be the president of that or this other, so they might as well do the best they can right now. I think if they see opportunities they can plug into, they really look that over and say, ‘Hey that would be nice.’�
That is not to say that all Boomers will suddenly develop a philanthropic bent. Consumerism is still recognized as a driving force for this generation. It is what is now being called ‘Insperience’ in the US. A cinema in their living room, a concert hall in their back room and a sound proof games area in their guest room…That’s ‘insperience’. Mature and experienced consumers demand higher levels of comfort and quality and are prepared to pay the price. To match this, online shopping has become an everyday activity for many baby boomers. Japan Direct Marketing Association estimates its market size at 340 billion yen in 2004, some 30.3% of total direct-marketing sales. Rakuten.Inc best illustrates the Internet boom. With contracts with 45,884 companies and 15.2 million items on sale, Rakuten.Inc has established itself as the leading online shopping company. Last year the company shocked Japanese citizens into realizing how gigantic Internet shopping had become, by bidding to take over Tokyo Broadcasting system, a major TV network. Why is online shopping so successful? Japan’s aging population finds it increasingly easier to shop online instead on trudging down to the shops and dragging back their groceries. In the future, it is expected that more elderly people will shop online and that home delivery service will become more and more popular. For younger baby-boomers who still have high demanding jobs, online shopping is very convenient. They can shop at home or at work, place orders at any time of the day or night and have their products delivered to their homes.

Who will be the New Leaders?

So the oldest Boomers are turning 60 this year. It’s big news. But just as important is the fact that the youngest Gen Xers are about to turn 30. This is surely the beginning of a new era – one which, according to Kathy Fredrickson, is being lost on marketers. As she comments, “Just because Gen Xers are pushing strollers instead of pushing through mosh pits doesn’t mean we’re too old to rock. Boomers and their bands have dispelled that notion very well.â€? Gen Xer milestones are becoming increasingly important as the statistics suggest: there are 44.9 million Gen Xers in the Us, compared with 77.4 million Boomers and 70.7 million Millennials. Fredrickson thinks that, “Gen X should be called the sandwich generation, outnumbered four to one by those younger and older.â€? Of course, marketers are most attracted to Boomers and Millennials – but who will focus on the large and lucrative ‘forgotten’ Generation X?
Well, there has been plenty of good analysis of Generation X on the Net this month. Let’s have a quick overview of topics under the microscope.
The first is the issue of women in the workplace. The mother of modern feminism, Betty Friedan died this month, aged 85. She wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963 and The Second Stage in 1981. It was interesting to see how her views developed as the years went by and she was often criticized for her later views. But, in many ways, Friedan formed the Gen X feminist worldview. Quite simply, Gen Xer women work very hard in the world of business but, when they finally have children, will work just as hard at raising the family. GenerationWatch this month has picked up on the phrase “feminist personalismâ€?: a feminism that has discarded the masculine concepts of power favoured by some feminists to emphasise the dignity and intrinsic worth of women as persons. That is the legacy of Friedan. Commentators this month are suggesting that it is this new feminism and not the old feminism that will shape Gen Xer women into the future. The stats from Australia echo the desire of Gen X women to succeed in the workplace. Latest research from the Queensland University of Technology suggests that more women than ever are choosing entrepreneurship as a career choice. Dr Rebekah Bennett comments that, “Young women today are being bolder than their mothers and are prepared to take the risk of entering the uncharted territory of business ownership.” Their research found younger women are more likely to be university educated, enter male-dominated industries, use banks as a source of capital, have a mentor and take on a higher level of business risk. Clearly, women are taking greater business risks but they are also maintaining the positive ‘female’ traits of being good planners and accepting advice of others. Nevertheless, women are still under-represented when compared with overall labour force participation rates. Perhaps that is because they are happier to give up top roles when the family comes along…
Secondly, there has been consideration of Gen Xers in the world of politics. Dafna Linzer calls them ‘The Sesame Street Generation’: “They headed off to college as the Berlin Wall was coming down, were inspired by globalization and came of age with international terrorism. Freed from a constant nuclear standoff as a dominant fact of international life, members of Generation X no longer fear war or upheaval in the global status quo.â€? That, Linzer argues, is behind current White House foreign policy. The new aides, “breastfed on ‘Sesame Street’ and babysat by ‘The Brady Bunch,’ are now shaping those strategies in unexpected ways as senior advisers at the National Security Council, the White House’s powerful inner chamber of foreign policy aides with routine access to Bush.â€? This is a concern because they have never known the awesome fear of having a superpower enemy. Their worldview is shaped by the Middle East troubles that they watched unfold on the Fox News over their pre-school breakfast cereal. With no sense of history that pre-dates September 11 2001, there is a real fear that Gen Xer political aides will take the world into a dangerous future through their naivety and political innocence. Scary…
Thirdly, there has been some very good analysis of the role of black leadership amongst Generation X. Nayaba Arinde of the Amsterdam News raises the issue in a fine article from 16 March. Quoting Nova Felder from Medgar Evers College, Brookly, the question is posed, “Is there any young Black leadership that is ready to take the reigns from the old guard?� The fear is that there is a void of leadership amongst the black communities, especially in Europe. Cultural icons are providing a voice for the black community, rather than politicians. Many commentators see this as a dangerous development because they are not activists and their agendas are very different from activists. In the article, the comment is made that, “The dominant (white) society gives us ex-cons, sambo’s, pimps, and hoes to be our leaders. I’m not attacking the 50 Cents, Snoop Doggs, or Little Kims of the world because they are our misguided brothers and sisters, but they are not a representative sample of us. They are definitely not our leaders. The white institutions give us Clarence Thomas, Roy Innis, Condoleeza Rice, and Henry Gates as our intellectual leadership and they are not representative of us either. Both of these distinct groups work in tandem to further white supremacy and further our oppression.�
It’s not all depressing news for Gen Xers this month, though – especially if you live in the UK. The latest research suggests that British Gen Xers are set to inherit £360bn worth of property over the coming 15 years, according to new research. The value of housing assets that people will leave behind them in wills every year will more than double from £14bn in 2002/2003 to £32bn in today’s money by 2019/2020, according to Halifax Financial Services. The group estimates that by 2019/2020 housing will account for 60% of all assets left behind by people when they die. The proportion of estates that would include property will also increase from 59% in 2002/2003 to 65% in 2019/2020, and the transfer of housing wealth over the coming 15 years would be the largest of its kind ever recorded in the UK. At a time when there is an increasing fear for the future of pensions in the UK, this will come as a welcome relief for many!
Gen X men are seeking relief in another way to – through yoga, of course! In the US, there is a huge trend in yoga-practitioners amongst this group. Apparently, there is something in the region of 3.5 million Gen X men currently taking up this ancient discipline, 22% of all yoga-practitioners. Stillo, no matter how laid back Gen X men are getting, it is not always respected by the up and coming Millennials. Ryan Heath, born in 1980, has come out punching with the delicately titled Please just f* off it’s our turn now. Subtle…but maybe reflective of the Millennial impatience with their closest generation.

Land the Helicopter Before It’s Too Late

That impatience is showing through in the political arena. Rebecca Huntley, commenting on the Australian situation, suggests that Millennials are not apathetic – it’s just that they feel very left out of the process: “There are some basic truths about generation Y’s attitude to politics: they are turned off, annoyed by and distrustful of political parties, politicians and increasingly the media that is supposed to keep them honest. Few see mainstream politics as a useful vehicle for changing the world. But they do care about political issues.â€? The truth is, of course, that it is not politics that is a turn-off so much as political parties. Millennials feel powerless to make a change through traditional political methods. When Millennials do identify a possible change, it is usually something small but profound. Saving some trees in a public park; raising money for a community project; sending a text in support of dropping Africa’s debt. This generation feels that “one person can make a difference in the world – but not much”. Millennials use words such as “lie”, “distrust” and “corrupt” in connection with politics; it seems that this is a generation that anticipates being duped by authority figures. Why invest in a system that you expect is going to lie to you? Better to disengage than be fooled.
Disengagement is not a relational method which parents of Millennials find easy to do, though. Tahree Lane, Blade Staff Writer, calls them, “‘Helicopter’ parents: They hover over their college-age children, unwilling to let go…Not only do they hover, they often swoop down and come to the aid of their young adults.� Mom and dad’s increasing involvement in campus life and their demands on college staff was one of the top concerns at last week’s annual conference of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators in Washington. In a recent survey of 400 college students, 25% said their parents were involved in their lives to an embarrassing or annoying degree. 38% said their parents had called or attended meetings with academic advisers. And 31% said their parents had phoned a faculty member to complain about a grade their child had received. In the future, colleges can expect even more parental involvement, said William Strauss, author with Neil Howe of Millennials Go to College (LifeCourse Books, 2003), and Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation (Vintage Books, 2000). Gen X parents, the generation that followed Baby Boomers and preceded Millennials, are “tremendously protective and vigilant, acting more decisively. They’re very, very watchful of their children,� said Mr. Strauss.
One thing they are watching, of course, is the development of a whole new set of skills amongst their Millennial children. This skill base is impacting the way businesses are having to develop. Tom McGhee of the Denver Post comments on the fact that young workers are tech-savvy multitaskers with strengths and weaknesses that are challenging the workplaces they’re entering. As a group, Millennials are characterized as confident, hardworking and technologically fluent but lacking the resourcefulness, independence and, in some cases, basic literacy skills that marked earlier generations, workplace experts said. Acknowledging that many from this generation have much closer ties to their parents, Enterprise Rent-a-Car asks job candidates if they would like to have information about the company sent to their parents. Most accept the offer, said Marie Artim, assistant vice president of recruiting for Enterprise. The post-World War II generation came into the workplace believing the path to success lay in hard work and long-term employment with the same company. Generation X grew up during changing times, and many of its members saw their parents work hard, divorce and lose jobs to downsizing. As a consequence, they have less loyalty to the corporate world, are more likely to switch jobs and are less receptive to working long hours. The Millennials have a similar attitude about work. But they have grown up in a society that places a greater emphasis on children than any before it. And more of them are coming of age without the hard times, and hands-on experience, that helped build resourcefulness in earlier generations.
Perhaps the change in thinking from Gen X to Millennials is down to the fact, as Lorne Oke, an education professor at Bethel College who also serves as the Mishawaka college’s vice president for institutional technology says, “they are growing up in a media-saturated environment.” A national study released last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that students 8 to 18 are spending more and more time using “new media,” such as the Internet and video games. One result of this media saturation, Oke said, is that students tend to possess “different learning modes” than a child who was, for example, read to every day, or a child raised in a previous generation. For today’s parents and educators to address that shift in learning modes, hearkening back to their own school days probably won’t help. Chalkboards and textbook learning might have been good enough then, but this is now. “It’s exactly the wrong question: ‘I learned on a chalkboard; what’s wrong with that?’ ” Oke said. “You have to look honestly at your learner now.”

Love is in the air

So it seems that this month in GenerationWatch, in comparison with the previous two months, we have witnessed a far more conciliatory attitude towards each generation. That is good news because it seems that the commentators are trying to understand and analyse rather than ignore or criticize. Let’s see if it continues next month…

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