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Bus and Motor Coach Library

Understanding the Boomer Generation – Part 2

Author – Lisa Nelson (2003)

This Series, the second of three installments, is sourced from National Tour Association’s  (NTA) Current Assessment Report 2002 (CAR), and authored by Lisa Nelson, NTA Director of Research and Education.

In Part One, we examined the "Boomer" generation and found that there is such a spread in age and attitudinal differences among this generation, that it must be further dissected into what are known as "cohorts" or sub-divisions of this generation.

We learned that we can divide this group into two primary cohorts, "leading edge" Boomers, and "trailing edge" Boomers.  As defined in the first article, leading-edge Boomers were born between 1946 and 1954, and currently are in the age group of 49-57.  The trailing-edge Boomers, born between 1955 and 1965, now range from age 38 to 48.

Because of the lengthy time span between the oldest and youngest members of this generation, cohort marketing provides a much more efficient way of targeting boomers and tailoring a message to meet their specific needs.  When one divides the generation into these two cohorts, it is easy to see why identical marketing messages just won't work.

A Different World
Trailing-edge Boomers have very little in common with their leading-edge companions.  In fact, many trailing-edge Boomers are the sons and daughters of leading-edge parents!  The younger boomers remember the 60's but were not really a part of the protests and rebellion of that era.  They were teenagers in the 70's and were leaving college and entering the work force in the 80's.  Instead of "flower power" these boomers were growing up under the skepticism that was Watergate and the oil crisis.  Howdy Doody was canceled before most trailing-edge Boomers were even born; they don't remember JFK's assassination; the Vietnam War was over before they reached draft age; and there was not a Davy Crockett coonskin cap to be found.
A psychographic that separates the trailing-edge Boomer from their leading-edge cohort is their relationship with violence.  These boomers grew up in a world where national news expanded to 30-minutes from 15, bringing with it the visual violence of the world into their living rooms, in color, every night.  This exposure to violence at such an early age helped formulate the way this cohort views the world.  The oldest of the trailing-edge Boomers were getting their driving licenses during the gas rationing of the oil crisis, having a world conflict taint the traditional rite of passage.

As Walker Smith of Yankelovich Partners stated, "the trailing-edge (of Boomers) were the first to experience a lack of confidence.  Unlike earlier Boomers who grew up in a 50's America where anything seemed possible, later Boomers found a world where the sense of entitlement began to break down."  There are such stark differences in these two cohorts that it is nearly impossible to lump them into one generational group.

That Lonely Feeling
A majority of the marketing focus on Boomers has been targeted to the leading-edge or older Boomers, with an emphasis on the question of how the influx of these millions of people into retirement age will affect the world.  But, the reality is that, of the 75-million Baby Boomers, nearly 20-million are younger and are feeling left out.

The younger Boomers feel the ramifications of the leading-edge Boomers in any number of ways.  While marketing campaigns targeted to Boomers as a whole focus on the older set by invoking memories of the 60's and the Beatles that is not the only areas in which trailing-edge Boomers are feeling shortchanged.
According to USA Today, in 1980, when the oldest Boomers were 25 to 34 years of age, they earned an average equivalent of $30,884 in today's dollars.  A decade later, when trailing-edge Boomers were in that age bracket, they earned an average of $23,652 - nearly 23 percent less.  Additionally, in 1982, 57% of leading-edge Boomers in their early-to-mid 30's owned a home.  Among trailing-edge Boomers of the same age in 1995, home ownership had decreased to 53%.  Although older boomers have been victims of corporate downsizing in recent years, they still come out ahead when compared to their younger counterparts.  Cheryl Russell, editor of The Boomer Report stated, "The older Boomers were the first to get all the jobs.  They had a fairly easy time getting into colleges, to buy cheap housing, to move up the corporate ladder.  Things have always gone their way.  The younger half has had to struggle with overcrowded everything.  They're more worried about the future."  Younger Boomers have the belief that they'll always be waiting their turn.

A Little is Enough
Just a few years difference in age can drastically change the way a person views the future.  An outstanding example of this is a married couple.  The husband, let's call him Steve, is 44 and his wife, Elizabeth, is 37. 

Both trailing-edge boomers with a relatively small age difference, Steve wants to increase their savings for retirement while Elizabeth, only seven years younger, is worried about paying for their son's braces.  While he is focused on a future centered on retirement she is thinking about college tuition.

The Baby Boomer generation consists of grandparents, great grandparents, singles, divorcees, and newlyweds just starting a family.  To pigeonhole 75-million people and develop business strategies based on that information simply cannot be accomplished with this generation - it is far too diverse.

The successful marketer will understand the differences between a generation and a cohort, and capitalize on that understanding to reach the many different Boomers at their various stages of life.

Some Consumer Travel Patterns and Preferences

 -  Baby boomers recorded the highest travel volume in the U.S. in 1999, accounting for some 259.4 million trips.  Among all age groups, boomers are the most likely to stay in a hotel or motel (60 percent), to travel for business (35 percent) and to fly (26 percent).  Boomers also have the highest incidence of secondary mode rental car use (9 percent), and the highest average spending on a trip ($460).  Thirteen percent spend more than $1,000 per trip.

 -  While a Travel Industry Association (TIA) study showed Boomers with the highest average spending on a trip among all age groups, the American Express Leisure Travel Index, released in May 2001, shows that Boomers actually spend less on extended vacations than other age groups.  According to the index, travelers ages 35 to 54 had an average extended travel budget of $1,745, compared to $2,201 for travelers ages 18 to 34 and $3,047 for those 55 and older.

 -  Those in the 35-to-54 age group also took fewer extended vacations (an average of 1.4) per year than did travelers ages 18 to 34 (averages 1.5) and those 55 and older (average 2).  Traveler's ages 35 to 54 took an average of 2.9 long weekends compared to 3.3 for those 18 to 34 but only 2.8 for those 55 and over.

 -  The American Express Leisure Travel Index also revealed the Caribbean as the most popular international destination for travelers ages 35 to 54 (32 percent) followed by Europe (29 percent) and Mexico (22 percent).  In comparison, Europe was the most popular international destination for those ages 18 to 34 as well as those 55 and older.

 -  Boomers born between 1946 and 1955 made up 21.7 percent of the U.S. population in 1997 but represented nearly 25 percent of those attending classic music performances.  Leading-edge boomers are also over-represented in other fine arts audiences: they accounted for 24.5 percent of art museum visitors and 26.7 percent of ballet attendees.  Trailing-edge boomers, on the other hand, are underrepresented as fine art enthusiasts.  Although they make up the largest share of the adult population, at 23.5 percent, they account for just 16 percent of classical music patrons, less than 12 percent of opera attendees, and 21 percent of theater audiences.

 -  Continuing Trends include a growth in "adventure" travel.  Also increasing trending toward "educational" related travel, as well as increased popularity in cultural and heritage tourism.  An emerging trend is experiential travel - unusual experiences such as working on a barge, active involvement in archeological sites, or similar and oftentimes work related travel/adventure activities.