Helen Edwards on Branding: The Generational Divide

Article excerpt

Tension between the retired and working populations will make branding for all age groups difficult.

Average male life expectancy in the UK is 77. So once Tom, Dick or Harish hits the current state pension age of 65, how many years, on average, are left on the clock? The answer is almost 18. How come?

Life expectancy figures measured from birth must take into account unfortunate infant deaths, accidents in younger years and those who succumb to killer diseases in middle age. Once you isolate a cohort that has already made it into later life, future average lifespan is no longer dampened down by the fates of unlucky ones. For men aged 65 right now, average life expectancy rises to just under 83.

So the government's move to raise the male state pension age to 66, starting in 2016, impinges on about 6% of average lifespan remaining. Seems reasonable, doesn't it?

However, unions, charities and many in their late 50s think otherwise. Their banners rail against the unfairness of a law that will make people 'work until they drop'. Typically, though, people in their sixth and seventh decades don't drop. They keep on going, which means someone has to keep on paying for their retirements. Who?

The answer is the younger generations, through their tax contributions. These cohorts are already smaller than that of the Boomers heading into their sunset years, which means that the few will have to prop up the many. Those in their 20s, 30s and 40s now, male or female, also face the probability that their own state-funded retirements will be delayed until 70 or later. They will contribute into the system for longer, yet enjoy fewer years of taking back. It's not hard to guess their reaction to the protest placards.

For marketers, there may be some interesting implications of longer working lives - the need for innovation in work technology, for example, to accommodate the realities of advancing years. A more insidious change, though, could result from the reaction of the younger generations to the weight of their economic responsibilities and the noise of their elders squealing about a little extra work.

A 'war between the generations', mooted by Times columnist Anatole Kaletsky, is putting it too strongly; the younger cohort will be too worn down to fight it, and in political battles find themselves outnumbered by a generation with more voting clout.

Smouldering resentment is the more likely mood, as hard-pressed taxpayers in their 20s to 40s fund the expansive leisure years of a lucky generation that missed World War II and led a life described by US writer Anthony DeCurtis as a 'six-decade party'. …