'Echo-Boom' May Keep U.S. Booming

By Alch, Mark L. | The World and I, February 2001 | Go to article overview

'Echo-Boom' May Keep U.S. Booming


Alch, Mark L., The World and I


First came the baby boom generation. Then, the product of a sharp decline in birthrate, came the "baby bust" generation, also known as Generation X.

Fear arose among society watchers of all stripes that the "baby bust" would bust the U.S. economy. The speculation was that the life savings of the baby boom generation (77 million people born between 1946 and 1964) would be jeopardized by the small number of Generation Xers (44 million born between 1965 and 1976) who would replace the boomers.

Observers worried that housing, financial investment markets, and Social Security would be negatively affected, leading to a wrenching recession. Everything in the economy, they said, would be implicated-- from buying replacement homes to filling in for workers retiring in the years 2008 to 2034, keeping university enrollments at the current level, and bolstering a potentially defaulting Social Security Administration.

The economic landscape, however, does not look as bleak as some predictors of a future financial Armageddon have prophesied. The generation following Generation X has been dubbed Generation Y, or the echo-boom (young people and adolescents born between 1977 and 1997). As the echo-boomers enter the workforce, they will easily replace the baby boom generation, since they are 80 million strong, the largest generation ever.

Well-informed and media-savvy, echo-boomers display a strong work ethic and have grown up understanding the new digital economy. They are comfortable with changes brought about by the new technology and e- commerce now coming into its own on the Internet. More than any previous generation, they are becoming conversant with a communications revolution transforming business, education, health care, entertainment, government, and every other institution in our society.

The echo-boom generation does not appear to be a group of self- indulgent, gratification-seeking, irresponsible shoppers. Their values suggest they are strong advocates of social responsibility. Like their parents, the baby boom generation, they care about the world, the environment, poverty, and global issues. As a group, they are powerful in terms of aggregate spending.

POTENT FORCE

According to Teenage Research Unlimited, a Northbrook, Illinois--based market research company, echo-boomer children had $141 billion in direct purchasing power in 1998, up from $122 billion the previous year and more than their parents ever had at their age. This averaged out to $84 per week--$23 more than 1991's weekly outlay. Those coming of age have about $500 billion in indirect purchasing power--by influencing their parents' buying decisions. Demographers, market analysts, and researchers realize this new group will dominate marketing and advertising in the twenty-first century.

Having grown up with technology in school and at home, they are infinitely comfortable with it. A revolution in telecommunications has made instant global interaction possible. Members of the new generation now can choose from 500 channels of television on satellite connections and over 120 channels on cable, whereas their boomer parents remember when only NBC, CBS, ABC, and a few local affiliates were on the air.

Due to the large cyberknowledge gap between the generations, echo- boomers will have far more power in terms of influence than any previous generation. Taking the advances of the past 20 years for granted, they are creating a new culture of work, judging by trends apparent among the oldest Gen Yers. This will lead to a new independence in the workforce, where many future workers will become entrepreneurs.

In 1998, the oldest members of the newest generation completed college and began entering the workforce. Don Tapscott, in his widely received book Growing Up Digital, states that the residential real estate market "will remain relatively flat for some time as the wave of N-Geners [echo-boomers] takes a couple of decades to enter the work force and begin to have the purchasing power to buy homes. …

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