The baby boom generation are nostalgic for their youth and are attempting to ‘have their time again’, according to a new report called Eternal Youths. The report is based on detailed attitudinal research conducted for Demosin partnership with Centrica, the principal funder, and Saga Group.
The research provides evidence that baby boomers see their wealth and leisure as an opportunity to do in style things that they may not have been able to afford in their youth. One telling detail in the report is the fact that the average age of Harley Davidson motorbike owners has increased from 38 to 46 in a decade.
Participants in the focus group research also reported that they enjoyed advertising that used old pop music, in part because it was something their children didn’t understand. The revival of the Volkswagen camper van – with hippie styling and 21st century luxury car specification – is another example of the way brands are tapping into this desire by baby boomers to relive their youth.
Other trends also relate to this desire to have their time again. For instance, grandparents lavish considerable amounts of time and money on their grandchildren in a way that suggests they may be making up for moments missed when their own children were growing up. The baby boomers who took part in the focus groups saw retirement as more of a time for adventurous travel, even wanting to imitate the ‘gap year’ teenager by travelling to unusual places.
“Baby boomers seem to be intent on having their time again,” say James HarkinandJulia Huber, co-authors of Eternal Youths. “For some this may mean being able finally to afford the cool brands of their youth that they never had the money to buy when they were young. For others it may be that they were so busy with careers that they missed out on their children growing up.”
Last year Demos identified ‘the new old’as a generation determined to avoid aging in conventional ways. This new research shows in much greater detail attitudes to issues ranging from consumer advertising through to death.
The Demos research illuminates how many baby boomers are already using their purchasing power to dominate popular culture. Youth culture and popular culture, our research suggests, has expanded its age range and now increasingly extends to encompass people in their forties. As young people are increasingly crowded out by the legions of youthful baby boomers, our research suggests that the idea of a distinctively ‘youth culture’ may be over.
But baby boomers determination not to go gently into old age also has its disadvantages. Our research concludes that the blind spot of baby boomers is their refusal to come to terms with the natural process of growing old.
“It is a paradox of our ageing society that many of us seems increasingly obsessed with the idea of youth,” the researchers conclude. “If baby boomers are to be at ease with themselves, they need a stronger story about the benefits of ageing. Rather than regressing to into youth, our ageing society could reclaim some of the benefits of growing older: wisdom, finesse and accumulated experience.”
Key findings from the research include:
- The baby boom generation hates to be patronised and may even resent being identified as ‘baby boomers’. They like practical information and humour in marketing communications;
- Baby boomers tend to distrust authority and public institutions, but also seem to have higher expectations of public services;
- Many respondents said they feared loss of independence in old age, and some said they would like to control their own death.
Notes to editors
- is published by Demos in partnership with Centrica and the Saga Group on Thursday 15 July 2004.
- Demos is an independent think tank with an interest in long-term social trends, including changing patterns of family life and ageing. Last year it published The New Old: Why the baby boomers won’t be pensioned off.
- Centrica is a leading supplier of energy and other essential services, whose businesses include British Gas, the AA and One.Tel.
- The Saga Group provides services to people 50 and over. Its businesses include publishing, radio and holidays.