Academic journal article Generations

The Changing Psychology of the Older Consumer: The Myth of Aging Boomers' Differences from Their Parents

Academic journal article Generations

The Changing Psychology of the Older Consumer: The Myth of Aging Boomers' Differences from Their Parents

Article excerpt

Much is heard about how aging baby boomers -the cohort born between 1946 and 1965-are strikingly different from their parents at comparable ages. But that claim obscures commonalities between boomers and their parents that have strategic and tactical importance to anyone serving or marketing to older populations.

Those commonalities have been clearly identified in adult-development research, which indicates that people generally follow the same path of development, and experience the same basic needs along the way, from one generation to the next. Thus, it can be said that at every age, boomers' basic needs have been and will continue to be the same as those of their parents at comparable ages. Further, boomers' worldviews have evolved and will continue evolving in the same fashion that their parents experienced.

To fully appreciate the meaning and significance of this proposition, two definitions are required: First, the term basic needs refers to those represented in the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow's (1968) Hierarchy of Basic Human Needs, which fall into die following categories: physiological needs; needs related to safety and security; needs related to love and belonging; the need for esteem -selfesteem and the esteem of others; and needs related to self-actualization.

The term worldview refers to how a person cognitively connects to the external world -that is, the lens through which a person sees the world. For example, children and teens tend to see the world through the lens of fantasy, young adults through a lens of romance and heroics, people in midlife through a lens of realism, and older people through a lens of irony. Thus the term worldvmv refers not to beliefs, but to a person's cognitive perspective on the world.

Behavioral profiles drawn by researchers whose focus is consumer trends have lately reflected a decided midlife bias because the largest generational cohort-baby boomers-is now in midlife. Thus, the consumer trends that the research shows to be predominant reflect the basic needs and worldviews generally ascribed to people in midlife.

Remarkable congruence now exists between the profiles that consumer trends analysts draw of consumer behavior and the profiles that developmental psychologists draw of people in midlife. An example of this congruence can be seen by comparing recent reports in the Yankelovich Monitor (2001), a consumer trends publication, with what Maslow said about the behavior of people in advanced states of psychological maturation.

The Monitor describes current consumers as acting more paradoxical, wanting less "stuff;" reprioritizing their lives, being more self-reliant, and seeking more balance in their lives. Maslow wrote in Toward a Psychology of Being (1968) that at higher stages of maturation people reflect "polarities and oppositions" in their behavior (the Monitor's "more paradoxical"); strive to simplify their lives ("less 'stuff"); experience changes in values ("reprioritizing"); become more autonomous ("more self-reliant"), and avoid extremes ("seeking balance").

Little recognized is the influence boomers' midlife behavior is having on the behavior of consumers in other age groups, including most notably young adults and adolescents, through die effects of something called the collective culture's psychological center of gravity-or PCG.

THE PCG HYPOTHESIS

During the 19905, some 50 million boomers entered middle age, a time when people generally begin thinking more deeply about the meaning of their lives and their cosmic connections. Also during the 19905, many articles described an unprecedented blossoming of interest in spirituality among younger age groups, including teens. A spiritual renaissance took root, reflecting a broad cultural shift toward the more nurturing, feminine ethos that adult development specialists say commonly emerges in midlife. Time devoted a 1997 cover story to rising spirituality in young people's music, proclaiming, "Macho music is out. …

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