Silver Industries: Introduction

Article excerpt

This issue of Generations focuses on the multiple connections between business and aging, in terms of the "silver industries." But just what does this term mean? Out of context, the word industry might conjure up traditional images of coal, steel, and automotive manufacturing, tough, manly, blue-collar components of economy and society: industrial-strength gerontology. Today we use the word to represent business sectors more generally: The cosmetics industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the advertising industry, even the social services industry, as our author Maureen Kelly describes. Each sector encompasses a range of businesses and organizations, for-profit and nonprofit, large and small, national and local.

Indeed, this collection of articles ranges from automobiles to eldercare to entrepreneurship and marketing. While the word silver also suggests a range of meanings, our primary concern is about how these industries are responding to the changing nature of the older population as an older market, a "modern" trend with historical roots, as Helen Dennis and Glenn Ruffenach discuss. Some industries, pharmaceuticals, for example, have had older people as a substantial part of their customer base for quite a while. But even these enterprises must heed the clarion call to "do things differently" in order to retain their customers' allegiance, as Douglas Bender argues. Other industries that traditionally focus on younger consumers, for example, the automobile industry and financial services, are becoming more sensitive to the gerontological demographics of the market place, and are becoming reengineered as silver industries, as Joseph Coughlin, Donald Haas, and Kathryn DeWitt discuss.

Thus, the concept and label "silver industries" refers to businesses that create, produce, market, and sell goods and services to older people. The phrase appropriately describes large existing companies that are adapting their products and appeals to the aging consumer (for example, cars designed with easier-to-read dashboards), and applies equally to a new business that creates or adapts new technology, as Anthony Sterns and Scott Collins describe, or to services, as in the articles by Margit Novak and Paul Hogan.

The key to understanding the market for these silver industries is demographic change, a combination of population aging and individual aging. In 2005 it is not innovative to note that much of the economic and political debate in the United States focuses on the fact that the 1946 to 1964 boom (they're not babies any more) is moving rapidly through middle age into old age.

To understand the dynamics of current and emerging silver industries, however, we need to go beyond the simple head count of boomer citizens and consumers. Even the obvious recognition that boomers are rich and poor, black and white, male and female, urban and rural is not enough; such market heterogeneity has been around for a long time. What social scientists and market researchers know about earlier cohorts of older people may very well not be useful in understanding and reaching tomorrow's generation of older consumers, as David Wolfe, John Migliaccio, and Vicki Thomas discuss.

Rather, from a business and aging perspective, a central if not the central proposition here is that the cohorts of men and women who will wear the mantle of "old" in the next decades are a different generation from yesterday's and even today's "older consumer." It's not just that there will be more of them, but that collectively they are different in fundamental ways that will shape their consumer attitudes and behavior over the course of their lives. …