The Age Wave Phenomenon
In recent decades, dramatic advances in medicine, public health, and lifestyle management have caused predictable and irreversible trends toward declining fertility and increasing longevity. These demographic changes are causing an “age wave” that will transform every aspect of our personal, social, financial and political lives.
This profound demographic revolution will shift the epicenter of consumer activity from an exclusive focus on youth to the needs, challenges, and aspirations of middle-aged and mature consumers. Companies and organizations whose products and services are aligned with the needs of new generations of maturing consumers are on the threshold of tremendous opportunity.
Seeing this trend as an “age wave” was conceived of by Dr. Ken Dychtwald, psychologist, gerontologist, and entrepreneur. Dr. Dychtwald’s interest in the transformative power of demographic forces and his desire to promote a new, more positive image of aging initially grew out of his groundbreaking work from 1973 to 1979 as co-founder and co-director of the Sage Project. This pioneering social service organization, funded by the National Institutes of Health, taught the elderly how to improve the quality of their lives by taking charge of their mental and physical health.
In the late 1970s, as his work branched out into other aspects of gerontology, Dr. Dychtwald was struck by how many of the social, economic, and physical problems of aging were preventable. He noticed that many older adults who were lonely or depressed had simply given up on making new friends or had long since resigned from social and intellectual involvement. Many who were struggling with the hardships of fixed incomes had been financially secure during their working years but simply hadn’t saved enough or hadn’t managed their finances well in retirement. He repeatedly saw how a lifetime of disregard for personal health usually led to chronic disease. Aging, he came to realize, was not something that begins at one’s 65th birthday. Rather, all of the choices we make regarding how we care for ourselves, how we manage our finances, and even how we think about our futures ultimately shape who we become—both personally and culturally—in our later years.
Boomers: The Age Wave Tsunami
By the early 1980s, Dr. Dychtwald had become a member of various scientific and social service advisory panels, a frequent lecturer at academic and business conferences, and a consultant with numerous universities, hospitals, and corporations. He repeatedly observed that there was barely an older adult to be seen in popular advertising. Businesses were focusing all of their product development and marketing efforts on the young. And the entertainment industry emphasized a distorted picture of the glory of youth and the irrelevance of maturity. In addition, while serving as advisor to the federal Office of Technology Assessment, the think tank connected with the U.S. Congress, he realized with a jolt that the next population of elders would not be his grandparents’ generation; they would not be his parents’ generation either. Instead, tomorrow’s elders would be the baby boom generation—his generation.
As Dr. Dychtwald widened his attention to include the aging of the boomer generation, he observed that the massive numbers of his cohorts had amplified and intensified the importance of whatever experiences they’d had at each new moment in their lives. Just as surely as they learned to use a baby bottle, they learned to read, play records, buy cars, vote, rent condos, and invest in the stock market. And each time they reached a new stage of life, the issues that concerned them—whether financial, interpersonal, or even hormonal—become the dominant social, political, and marketplace themes of that time. He recognized that boomers don’t just populate existing lifestages or consumer trends, they transform them.
- Boomers didn’t just eat food—they transformed the snack, restaurant, and supermarket industries
- Boomers didn’t just wear clothes—they transformed the fashion industry
- Boomers didn’t just buy cars—they transformed the auto industry.
- Boomers didn’t just date—they transformed sex roles and practices.
- Boomers didn’t just go to work—they transformed the workplace.
- Boomers didn’t just get married—they transformed relationships and the institution of the family.
- Boomers didn’t just borrow money—they transformed the debt market.
- Boomers didn’t just go to the doctor—they transformed healthcare.
- Boomers didn’t just use computers—they transformed technology.
- Boomers didn’t just invest in stocks—they transformed the investment marketplace.
Soon after this recognition, in 1986, Dr. Dychtwald and his wife, Maddy Dychtwald, founded Age Wave, a firm created to guide Fortune 500 companies and government groups in product/service development for boomers and mature adults.
Age Wave swiftly emerged as the nation’s leader in market analysis and entrepreneurial insights concerning the new maturing marketplace. Over the years, no one has pursued an understanding of the emerging mature marketplace with as much depth, zeal and success. Based on decades of trial and error, and countless breakthroughs in a broad range of industry sectors—from vitamins and cookies to mutual funds and health insurance to advertising and media—the Age Wave team has come to a deep understanding of the body, mind, heart, soul, desires, and demands of today’s new mature adult consumer.
The Age Wave Vision: Boom Markets Ahead if You Know Where to Look
The rising age wave will continue to produce many demographically driven revolutions in the consumer marketplace. As the boomers pass through middlescence and on to maturity, four key factors will reshape supply and demand:
- Their concern about the onset of chronic disease and their desire to do whatever is possible to postpone physical aging.
- Increasing amounts of discretionary dollars (for many) over the long-term as a result of escalating earning power, inheritances, and investment returns.
- Entry into new adult lifestages, including empty-nesting, caregiving, grandparenthood, retirement, widowhood, and retirement—each with its own challenges and opportunities.
- A psychological shift from acquiring more material possessions toward a desire to purchase enjoyable, satisfying, and memorable experiences.