Category Archives: Generations


Because betting on Social Security is like standing on 15 when the house has an ace showing.

The Government Accountability Office’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances has revealed a rather frightening statistic: About half the U.S. population age 55 or older has no retirement savings.

The GAO report found that 48 percent of households age 55 or older have some retirement savings; 23 percent have a defined benefit plan – which typically provides a monthly payment for life — but no retirement savings; and 29 percent have no defined benefit plan or retirement savings.

What will that 29 percent live on? It’s likely that they’re counting on Social Security, which is a major gamble.

About half of U.S. households age 65 or older currently rely on Social Security for most of their income. According to a Social Security Administration report cited by Forbes, nine of 10 people age 65 or older receive some Social Security benefit.

That 65-and-up age group will grow over 50 percent between 2015 and 2030 as the Baby Boomers retire, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections.

And as Forbes notes, Social Security has been operating on billion-dollar deficits since 2010. According to Reuters, the program may fall short of fully funding disability benefits as early as next year, and unless legislative remedies are forthcoming its trust fund will be exhausted by 2033, leaving it able to cover only about three-fourths of its obligations.

Studies cited in the GAO report generally found that between one-third and two-thirds of workers were already at risk of falling short of maintaining their pre-retirement standard of living in retirement.

And that may be OK for some, to a point. Pre-retirement standards for many would have included raising kids and putting them through college. They likely included mortgages that, if they stayed put long enough, may be paid off by retirement. Expenses, in general, may be reduced.

But the math doesn’t lie. Add a looming 25 percent across-the-board reduction in benefits, and that’s more of a kick in the gut than a tightening of the belt.

Even if you’ve only got a decade or less of good working years left, take advantage of 401(k) or whatever retirement instruments you have at your disposal while you can. Because betting on Social Security is like standing on 15 when the house has an ace showing.


You Can’t Judge Every Individual By His Generation

We live in a digital age, so it only stands to reason that Millennials will be quicker to adapt and integrate new technologies into their everyday lives than Baby Boomers and Generation Xers.

The folks at Millward Brown Digital set out to test that theory, but instead found something far more elemental: You can’t judge every individual by his or her generation.

A survey conducted by the company found that while Millennials are the first generation to really embrace mobile shopping, they – like their Gen X parents and Baby Boomer grandparents – still fall back on the trusty old PC for much of their online shopping.

The key, the study found, is differentiating between categories – the time people take in researching and purchasing certain kinds of items and the importance of the task. Not everyone likes buying a car the same way they buy an MP3, whether they’re 27 or 57.

Other findings in the study fall under well-understood lines – more Millennials use Netflix and YouTube. More Baby Boomers still watch network TV. We’re comfortable with what we grew up with.

But the fact that you can’t paint all Millennials – or those of us in older generations — with the same brush is reassuring. We use generational labels in an effort to understand groups of people by the characteristics of the time in which they grew up. Baby Boomers grew up with the threat of nuclear annihilation. Generation X latchkey kids learned to fend for themselves. Millennials have never known a world without the Internet.

But we are all still individuals within these broadly defined subsets. Not every Gen Xer was a latchkey kid. Not every Millennial is technologically savvy.

So what does the study tell marketers? Don’t assume buying habits are inherently based on age. There are other factors at play here. How consumers interact with what you’re selling is just as important as how old or how technologically plugged in they are.


Is Generation Z bigotry-proof?

Youthful idealism. Every generation has been accused of it, but a recent commentary by Bloomsberg View contributor Leonid Bershidsky suggests that for Generation Z (or iGeneration – born after 2000) this may be a lasting state. He writes “Gen Z may be different in being genuinely bigotry-proof. It may be the first generation for which diversity is a natural concept that will not be ruined by anything older people do or say.”

This is not the main point in Bershidsky’s article, but it is what stood out when I heard him read it. Considering the younger generations’ views on gender equality, marriage equality, immigration, legalization of marijuana, and more, there is certainly something to be said for the idea of a more liberal, interconnected, and accepting generation. From a legal perspective, Generation Z is far removed from the women’s liberation and civil rights movements – their mom’s have always been free to vote and make professional choices, and while racial tensions still exist in America, the concept of separate but equal is a footnote in their history books. When you explain to an elementary school student that less than 50 years ago their friends would not have been allowed to attend the same school or sit with them at lunch, they will look at you like you lost your marbles. But is that the same as being bigotry proof? I don’t know.

What I do know is that while technology has made the world smaller and it has also made a sense of belonging even more critical. And when individuals need to belong to something they often do so by turning away from something else. Generation Z is clearly more accepting of differences that caused substantial legal and social unrest in the past. The question is will that sense of acceptance become a piece of their generational DNA or will the differentiation simply shift to something new? Today’s youth may not be separating themselves by gender or color, but while they become more diverse as a whole, there seems to be a sense of isolation occurring, perhaps as a result of living in the virtual world so extensively.


The Boomer List: The stories of a generation

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, PBS has a new documentary film, The Boomer List, which provides a look at life from the perspective of 19 famous Boomers. I had a chance to watch it and I think it is worth the 1:22 of your time.

The film doesn’t have a specific point other than that there are common threads and vast differences in the people who make up the Baby Boomer generation. The stories told by the 19 individuals, each born in one of the 19 years that make up the Boomer generation, are shared out of order and with no seeming narrative thread.  They are not trying to convince, but they do tell a story.

Considering that the youngest Baby Boomers are only a few years from retirement, perhaps the most valuable business benefit of this film is the clear demonstration of how a wide variety of individuals can share similar values even when telling very personal stories. This isn’t news, but it is easy to forget.  The Boomer List is a great reminder.

You can find the full video of The Boomer List online through your local PBS station.  I particularly enjoyed Samuel L. Jackson, Maria Shriver and Steve Wozniak. Shriver mentions that the Boomers go get ’em attitude had the unintended consequence of creating a “nation in a rush” and her generation now has the chance to take a breath and figure out what they really want their legacy to be. Interesting perspective. Which interviews stood out the most to you?


American Masters: The Boomers List – tune in Tuesday

A departure from my typical blogging, to encourage you to watch the premiere of the PBS documentary “American Masters: The Boomers List” tomorrow night (Sept. 23).  Or at least set your DVR.  The film showcases 19 iconic boomers – one born every year of the generation – and promises to provide an interesting perspective on one of the most talked about generations ever. Then again, getting the Baby Boomers to talk about themselves is never difficult.

View the trailer here and check your local listings for times.

Then come back here and tell me what you thought.


A word about stereotypes

In a recent discussion about generational differences in the workforce an employee was skeptical of the stereotypes being applied to his generation. “I’m a (generation),” he said, “and I’ve never thought like that, and I don’t feel like my peers do either.”

I’m purposely not sharing his generation because, it has happened for years and with every generation. Though, right now, the Millennials are most likely to be singing “but not me” as they are the current focus of the most intense scrutiny. This person, or group of people, exists in every single large workshop. The vocal anomaly who refuses to be put in a box. And he’s not wrong.

Yet the rest of the heads in the room are nodding in recognition of all his peers that fulfill the stereotype. Is it cognitive dissonance?  Emperor’s new clothes? No. He’s simply not like most of his generation. Maybe it’s a parenting influence, maybe he is a “cusper” (born on the cusp of two generations—the birth year groupings are neither official nor scientific), or maybe he wasn’t born in a western society. These, along with birth order, are additional influences that may influence how “like” their generation they actually are.

Norms are averages, and of course they don’t apply to all. But researchers have seen that generational norms are fairly consistent and telling, which is why studying them continues to inspire conversation.


Searching for role models, Millennial women still come up empty

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made big waves with her book, Lean In. But a recent study of Millennials, conducted by Bentley University’s Center for Women in Business, seems to agree with her assertion of an ambition gap among female workers.

According to the study, while nearly 20% of Millennial women seek to emulate women leaders in their companies, another 20% have “no interest in becoming a leader at my current company.”  Of course that leaves a good majority floating somewhere in the middle.

It’s even more interesting when you apply the assumptions these Millennials are making about the women CFOs in general:

  • More than 60% believe women leaders have to hide their femininity to fit in
  • Roughly 50% believe women leaders are less likely to have children AND probably do not have time be as good a mother as they could be

With Millennials’ strong sense of self, and wanting to be accepted for who they are, it’s not surprising that these assumptions would make Millennial women less interested in becoming leaders. The challenge for companies – at least those that want to encourage women leaders – is to create an environment where these assumptions are refuted.


If there’s one thing for certain, it’s not taxes

Don’t tell the Baby Boomers, but despite their numbers and impact on the world, they are not going to live forever. Apparently the most universal of truths is contributing to the latest in Boomer-driven business trends: eco-friendly burials. At least that’s what the Associate Press is telling us.

According to “Eco-friendly burials gain favor among Baby Boomers,” Al Gore’s generation is feeling a little guilty about the environmental legacy they are leaving behind and are increasingly opting to eschew traditional burials for a more “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” approach. Make no mistake, the 40 green cemeteries in the U.S. are not threatening the traditional business, but they are an interesting take on entrepreneurism. This is one more example of the Boomer generation saying “I did it my way.”

This is a trend I would expect to grow – not only because the younger generations, especially Millennials, are even more concerned about the environment than their Boomer parents. They are also more open-minded to non-traditional ideals. Why would burial practices be any different?


Generation why? A naysayers view on generational norms.

Celebrities like to say that they never read reviews, never listen to the critics. Really? I understand not letting tabloids impact your life, but hearing dissenting ideas can often help sharpen your own. That’s why I was intrigued by this article in Canada’s National Post. In it Robert Fulford laments the “absurd alphabetification of society.” And no, spell check doesn’t think that is a word, either.

Fulford explains the history behind the Gen X label, and points out that it has only been recently that generations have been labeled as anything specific – Boomers, Gen X…and Y and Z (or Millennials and iGen, as the latter are also known). And he has a point. However, when it comes to the way that generations interact in the workforce, the workplace itself has changed in recent years. It has only been in the relatively recent past that employees have become so mobile and focused on their own interests, rather than following traditional paths based on family tradition. Differing attitudes and perspectives were more attributed to social status or the type of work one did (industrial, agricultural, etc.). Today those distinctions are undercurrents to generational attributes, which is why business leaders and marketers spend so much time trying to understand each generation.

Fulford’s larger concern—that the very act of labeling a generation has the power to inform its characteristics more than the simple coincidence of close birth years—also has some validity. While I believe that there are clear similarities, or norms, that exist within each generation, those norms are not universal. The individual should always be considered…but the generation can provide context that explains seemingly illogical behavior or attitudes. That context can help improve communication, and improved communication is rarely a bad thing.


Technology and the elderly – a growing market

Older workers sometimes feel displaced by younger workers who are more tech-savvy, having grown up in a mobile-oriented world. But those same aging Boomers are creating business opportunity for technology companies.

As this San Francisco Gate article points out, Boomers want to be using technology to make their lives better and more enjoyable…but they have different challenges with it than the younger generation of developers personally encounter. So savvy tech companies are turning to seniors as consultants in new technology development. It’s not rocket science – companies have been using focus groups to understand their target audiences for years. But what is interesting here is that these are businesses created and led by Xers and Millennials, but focused on serving the technology needs of Boomers. It puts the younger generations in the driver seat in terms of leadership, but the Boomers in control in terms of customer service expectations – the reverse of many work environments today.

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