Are boomerang kids the “new normal” now?

I’ve blogged before about how the Great Recession and resulting high unemployment rates drove a significant number of young adults back into their childhood homes — or relying on Mom and Dad for financial support at least. It affected millions of young adults.

The economy and job prospects have been steadily improving since those dark days – even if the improvement hasn’t been as rapid as people would like to see …

But here’s an interesting finding: Those new jobs and the improving economy haven’t resulted in the kids moving back out of the house.

In fact, two studies conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2016 have determined that “living with parents” is now the single most common living arrangement for America’s 18-34 year olds.

That is correct: Instead of living with a spouse, a partner, a roommate or on his or her own, the largest single segment of millennials lives full-time with parents.  The phenomenon is most prevalent in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, where it’s no coincidence that the cost of living is much higher than the national average.

For marketers, this means that the once-coveted 18-34 year-old cohort is today made up of many people who are consuming other people’s resources (e.g., the resources of their parents) rather than making all of their own purchase decisions and spending their own money.

Furthermore, Pew Research has determined that living with parents isn’t merely about employment (or the lack thereof). Over the past eight years, adults age 18-34 have continued to move back home in greater numbers — even as more of them have been able to find jobs.

The Pew findings suggest yet another surprising trend that appears to be in the making – that this is the first American generation where a large portion of the people won’t ever purchase a home.

It’s easy to figure that trends of this kind are transitory. But Pew cautions that the trends may well be more fundamental than the implications of an economic recession.  Instead, there are broader cultural dynamics at play – as well as the long-term challenges of economic independence for this generation of people.

The implications for marketers are intriguing, too.  For some, it will mean placing more emphasis on marketing initiatives aimed at parents, who are the now ones making purchase decisions within a larger multi-generational household — often one that stretches over three generations rather than just two.

And consider these dynamics as well: How do young adults and their parents work through multi-generational purchase decisions?  What are the most effective ways to target and reach multiple generations living under one roof who are making coordinated purchase decisions?  Maybe the old ideas of targeting each audience separately no longer make as much sense as before.

One thing’s for sure – it’s risky for marketers to wait for a return to normal … because that “normal” likely isn’t coming back.  Better to come up with new tactics and new messaging to reach and influence buyers in the new multi-generational environment.

A Generational Shift within the American Workforce

bmI’ve blogged before about the cultural differences between older and younger Americans in the workforce. Some observers consider the differences to be of historic significance compared to previous eras, due to the confluence of various “macro” forces driving change at an extraordinary pace.

And somewhere along the way when few were looking, the millennial generation has now become the largest cohort in the American workforce.

And it isn’t even a close call: As of this year, millennials make up nearly 45% of all American workers, whereas baby boomer generation now comprises just over a quarter of the workforce.

According to a new report by management training and consulting firm RainmakerThinking titled The Great Generational Shift, there are actually seven groups of people currently in the workplace at this moment in time:

  • Pre-Baby Boomers (born before 1946): ~1% of the American workforce
  • Baby Boomers first wave (born 1946-1954): ~11%
  • Baby Boomers second wave (born 1955-1964): ~16%
  • GenXers (born 1965-1977): ~27%
  • Millennials first wave (born 1978-1989): ~27%
  • Millennials second wave (born 1990-2000): ~17%
  • Post-Millennials (born after 2000): ~1%

roowPersonally, I don’t know anyone born before 1946 who is still in the workforce, but there are undoubtedly a few of them — one out of every 100, to be precise.

But the older members of the Baby Boomer generation are fast cycling out of the workforce as well, with more than 10,000 of them turning 70 years old every day.

By the year 2020, the “first wave” Boomers are expected to be only around 6% of the workforce.  Meanwhile, Millennials are on track to represent more than 50% of the workforce by 2020.

Now, that makes some of us feel old!

The Great Generational Shift report can be downloaded here.

The “Millennial Effect” – and how it’s affecting the Boomer Generation.

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In the world of marketing communications, it seems that confluence is in the air. This point was underscored recently by Eric Trow, a MediaPost columnist who is also vice present of strategic services at Pittsburgh, PA-based marketing communications firm Gatesman+Dave.

Trow’s main point is this:  Despite the big differences that marketers have traditionally noted between members of the Boomer Generation and their younger Millennial counterparts, today the two groups are becoming more similar than they are different.

In particular, Boomers are beginning to act more like Millennials.

Trow identifies a set of fundamental trending characteristics that underscore his belief:

  • Boomers increasingly want instant gratification – and related to that, they want convenience as well.
  • Boomers are embracing technology more every day, including being nearly as dependent on mobile devices as their younger counterparts.
  • Boomers connect online – with adults over the age of 65 now driving social media growth more than any other generation at the moment.
  • Boomers want control – and to that end, they do their research as well.
  • Boomers want to live healthier – with levels of interest in natural, healthy and environmentally responsible products rivaling those of younger age groups.
  • Boomers are more questioning of traditional authority – and not just because of the 2016 U.S. presidential election race, either.

Putting it all together, Trow concludes that he and many other Boomers could, in practice, be classified more accurately as “middle-aged Millennials.”

Speaking as someone who falls inside the Boomer generation age range, I concede many of Trow’s points.

But how about you?  Do they ring true to you as well?

Boomers and Millennials: Destined always to be different … or on the same trajectory?

NeuroWhen it comes to advertising, it turns out that the Baby Boomer generation sees things quite a bit differently than the Millennial generation.

In fact, based on neuromarketing research conducted last year by Nielsen NeuroFocus, generational differences account for some interesting neurological contrasts between Boomer and Millennial brains.

The research results also point to how companies might find it wise to tweak the design and presentation of their advertising based on the age levels of their audiences.

Consider these distinct differences found by Nielsen NeuroFocus in its research:

Brain Function: The Boomer Brain likes repetition. Boomers also tend to believe that information that is “familiar” is true. On the other hand, the Millennial brain is more stimulated by dynamic elements such as rich media, animation, and lighting that cuts through their “perception threshold.”

Distractions: Boomer brains are more easily distracted, whereas Millennials are adept at dealing with “bleeding-over” communications such as those found in dynamic banner ads and in contemporary magazine layouts.

Attention Spans: Boomers have a broader attention span and are open to processing more information, whereas Millennials prefer at-the-ready, multi-sensory communications. (And “impatience” is their middle name.)

Colors: In advertising, contrasts gain the attention of Boomers in advertising. With Millennials, it’s more the intensity of the color palette overall rather than contrasts within it that does the trick.

Humor: The Boomer generation prefers lighthearted, clever humor in advertising messages – positive and not mean-spirited. Boomers also like relatable characters that aren’t much younger than themselves. Millennials tend to prefer offbeat, sarcastic or slapstick humor – basically, the kind of humor that many Boomers find offputting or even offensive. Making special effects and other visual hi-jinks part of the shtick attracts the attention and interest of Millennials, too.

It turns out, there’s some real science behind these findings, too. Nielsen NeuroFocus reports that when people are in their mid-50s, distraction suppression mechanisms tend to weaken. Even as early as the mid-40s there are dramatic declines in neurotransmitter levels – particularly serotonin and dopamine.

How does that manifest itself in situations where we see “Boomers behaving badly?” Dopamine declines can lead to thrill-seeking behaviors to compensate. And a drop in serotonin levels can lead to the feeling that “something is missing” – thereby leading to classic midlife crisis behaviors affecting a person’s professional life and personal relationships.

… And as we know, that often doesn’t end up particularly well.

But here’s the more central takeaway from the research: Boomer-Millennial differences don’t turn out to be so much a function of differing world views; it’s more a function of the aging process itself.

So look for the Millennials to begin responding more like Boomers in the coming years.

Welcome to Modern Times’ Newest Malady: “Digital Dementia.”

Digital dementia among young people: studies in South Korean, the U.S. and Germany confirmIt seems like a new “unintended consequence” of our digital age emerges every other week.  Recently it’s been a spate of warnings about the dangers of texting while driving.

And now we have reports of a condition dubbed “digital dementia” that’s supposedly plaguing teens and Millennials.

This phenomenon is being reported out of South Korea, a country that happens to have the highest rate of smartphone adoption in the world.  More than two thirds of all South Korean adults have a smartphone, and among teenagers, it’s nearly as high (~64%).

Indeed, according to the country’s Ministry of Science, smartphone adoption by South Korean teens has jumped more than 200% since 2011 when it was less than 22%.

So what is “digital dementia”?  It’s described as the deterioration in cognitive abilities that comes from an imbalanced development of brain functions.

Commenting on the use of smartphones and gaming devices among young people, “Heavy users are likely to develop the left side of their brains, leaving the right side untapped or underdeveloped,” claims Byun Gi-won, a physician at the Balance Brain Centre in Seoul.

According to Dr. Gi-won, such overuse results in symptoms that are more commonly observed in people who have psychiatric illnesses or have suffered head injuries.

The country’s Ministry of Science estimates that nearly one in five South Koreans ages 10-19 use their smartphone seven hours per day or more.  That’s up sharply from around 10% doing so just a year before.

Is the phenomenon of “digital dementia” among the young confined to South Korea or East Asia?  Manfred Spitzer, a professor of neuroscience in Germany, thinks not.  He’s the author of a book on digital dementia that was published in 2012, wherein he warned of the dangers of allowing children to spend too much time on electronic devices such as tablets, smartphones and game devices.

Dr. Manfred Spitzer, author of "Digital Dementia."
Do you recognize this face? Dr. Manfred Spitzer, author of “Digital Dementia.”

In fact, Dr. Spitzer maintains that deficits in brain development are irreversible.  His solution:  Ban digital media from German classrooms completely.

Dream on, professor.  That’s certainly not going to happen!

Likewise, we have a recent study from the University of Southern California at Los Angeles that points to increasing memory problems among people ages 18-39.  The UCLA report blames “modern lifestyles,” claiming that the many digital gadgets within easy reach of young people prevent them from developing memorization skills and other forms of focus.

On the other hand, that same UCLA study concludes that for some older patients suffering from mental decline, engaging in brain-fitness computer games like Luminosity or Posit Science’s Brain HQ have improved their language and memory skills significantly.

Considering that age-related memory decline affects as many as 40% of older adults, that UCLA finding may turn out to be as noteworthy on the positive side of the ledger as the South Korean one on the negative side about young people.

Like any other “transformational” technology, the digital revolution continues to play out in unexpected ways.  Somehow, I expect us to be hearing many more reports of this type as the years roll on.

Not that these theories of cognitive weakness don’t have their detractors.  You can read several strongly worded retorts here and here.

What do readers think?  Big news … or bunk?  Please share your thoughts here.

The Millennial generation: Are they redefining the concept of “news consumption”?

News consumption habits (millennials)Recently, I read an interesting column written by Emily Anatole that addresses how the Millennial generation is reshaping the concept of “news” and how it is consumed.

Anatole notes that Millennials are criticized for not being news consumers, but she argues against this point. 

In her view, the younger generation is simply getting their news in a different way.  She writes:  “Milleninials’ approach to consumer news reflects how they differ … they perceive the ‘power of the pack’ – or Facebook updates, tweets and trending topics as we know them – as more valuable than the fact-checked, overly polished POV of one reporter.”

Anatole’s company, research firm Youth Pulse, Inc. (YPulse), conducted a survey in October 2012 of ~1,800 people aged 14-34, which found that television remains the top way in which this age group gets the news, with more than 70% reporting that they turn to TV to stay informed.

However, two-thirds of the respondents also reported that they get their news from Facebook, while approximately one-third get news from Twitter.

If these stats seem a bit unusual for those of us in the over-40 or -50 set, consider this:  Today’s 17-year-old was barely twelve when the iPhone first came out. 

So an environment in which comments, updates and opinions aren’t part of the “standard media mix” isn’t just a quaint memory; for Millennials, it never existed!

For the younger generation, becoming part-and parcel of “journalism” in its broadest sense is an integral part of the equation.  Uploading or sharing videos, tweeting a comment, updating a social status … it’s all part of a “co-created experience” where the lines are blurred between the media industry and consumers of the news.

Impatience has always been a trait of the young — as far back as the Children’s Crusade or even before.  So it shouldn’t come as much surprise that Millennials would tend to go for “immediacy” over “credibility.” 

Given the choice of learning something “first” — even if the details or veracity of the story are sketchy — versus waiting around for a well-curated 5:00 pm news broadcast … well, it’s not even a fair fight anymore.

And here’s another important point to consider:  Whereas we older generation-types were trained to seek out news by buying the daily paper or tuning in to a radio or TV broadcast, today’s younger generation can afford to be less perspicacious.  The news comes to them without barely lifting a finger because of friends and others in their social sphere sharing stories, leaving comments, and tweeting.

Some believe it’s yet another “e-volution” that’s turning out to be more “re-volutionary” than we could have imagined. 

What’s your take?