The rise of millennials and the aging of the boomer generation is reshaping America. In 2017 50% of the U.S. population will be 50 years old or older. In 2017 the millennial generation will become both America’s most employed demographic group and the demographic group with the largest buying power. The best way to visualize these demographic mega trends is to envision two tectonic plates moving past each other.
Two generations moving too often in opposite directions
Much of the boomer generation’s economic history is defined by its consumption. It is the first generation to be born into mass marketing that touted “having it your way.” No other generation has experienced, or will ever experience, the same high volume of TV and radio advertising.
The boomer generation’s consumption drove three mega trends. The first was the rapid growth in fossil fuel consumption used to run their cars, homes and businesses. The second was their purchases of personal computers and programs that has resulted in today’s Information Age. The third was the adoption of a mass produced food supply artificially infused with sugar, salt, fat and chemicals.
The millennial generation is just now putting their stamp on our economy and environment. Most obviously this is a generation defined by their smart phones and reliance on sites like Google, Facebook and YouTube for real time learning, entertainment, purchases and awareness. Less obvious to other generations but not to millennials, they are the most diverse generation in history. From food to fun they try new things, test new ideas and socially engage. Their relative fiscal conservativeness is driven from coming of age during a Great Recession created by the financial risks taken by Wall Street boomers. The urban members of the millennial generation are redeveloping the downtowns abandoned by the boomer generation. They are inventing best practices in small (or smaller) living and a shared economy enabled though smart phone apps. Millennials are the empowering force behind the success of companies like Uber and Amazon.
Boomer generation is hitting a sustainability wall
For all of the boomer generation’s accomplishments and examples of service this generation maybe remembered by history as the generation that borrowed so much money that it threatened America’s financial integrity. History will definitely remember this generation for consuming so much fossil fuels that it created climate change. It is also the fattest generation with over 70% of boomers being overweight or obese. This is a generation where the majority of its members cannot afford their future health costs or retirement. The boomer generation is hitting a sustainability wall.
Millennial generation seeking sustainable solutions
The millennial generation is seeking sustainable solutions to the mistakes they think their boomer generation parents or grandparents have made. For example, they are the driving force behind a growing national shift away from mass produced foods that are not sustainably sourced. Their buying power, along with concerned parents, are driving the sales of healthier foods to double digit annual growth rates.
The millennial generation believes climate change is real, manmade and is damaging to human health. They are aligning with businesses that have made climate change that are taking actions to reduce climate changing emissions.
Will these mega-generations unite or fight over sustainability?
The boomer generation shaped the 20th Century. The millennial generation will shape the 21st Century. At this transitional point in time the question is whether these two generations can come together over sustainability?
Pain is what will eventually drive the boomer generation toward sustainability. At some point in their near future the boomer generation will be suffering the fullest ramifications of their unsustainable diet. This will push their focus from plus size clothing to survival and the cost of survival. For many boomers this realization will be too late. For many more, they will realize their worst fears and become dependent on government funding of pills and care. The optimistic vision is that the boomer generation will figure this out before this happens by following the millennial generation in buying healthy and sustainably-sourced food.
A related question is whether the boomer generation will shift from their climate changing consumption of fossil fuels? Again pain could be a motivator. How much longer can this generation afford the homes they raised their children in? My experience is that it is the boomer generation homeowners who are the leading purchasers of roof top solar because it lowers their electric bills. Many of these boomers are then really getting “weird” by using their electric bill savings to lease electric cars they fuel for free through their home’s solar system. In addition, a growing number of boomers are beginning the process of downsizing that has the potential of reducing their emissions.
Finally, another pain point for both the boomer and millennial generation is the lack of income growth for the middle class over the last 15 years. Both generations have been harmed by this. Can these generations come together over this common economic challenge by adopting sustainable consumption?
Those will be the type of generational questions that will determine the future of boomers, millennials, our economy and the environment.
About the author
Bill Roth is the author of The Boomer Generation Diet, now on sale at Amazon! Here’s what Jen Boynton, Editor in Chief of Triple Pundit says about the book: ”Written in Bill Roth’s lovable, relatable tone. The Boomer Generation Diet is a must-read for any Boomer who is looking to jumpstart their health and have fun at the same time. I hope my parents read it!” Follow Bill on Twitter and Facebook.