You Are Probably A Geezer

I was going to say “Boomer” instead of Geezer, but that’s actually wrong. Boomers are ultra geezers.

I got taken to task a few days ago by a guy on an RV forum for a grumpy post I did in which I described the participants as grumpy old farts. That might sound like some strange kind of recursion, since I am, indeed, a grumpy old fart being grumped at by an old fart, about calling old farts grumpy old farts. I was going to reply, but instead, I used it as a springboard to ruminate on how odd the USA really is, and how quickly everything slides away from us. I spent a fair amount of my career in marketing, and one thing you must do in marketing is to know your audience. When I look at how people market most things today I realize how little the 40 to 50-year-old folks who run businesses today actually know their markets.

As a marketer, I’m fairly certain that people posting on RV forums are old farts.

  • A. Forum.
  • B. RV
  • C. Endless conversations about grumpy old fart topics.

I rest my case. But anyway, here’s the real issue. Millennials are soon-to-be geezers–more or less. You might think of them as 16-year-old kids, but the reality is that Millennials–those born between 1981 and 1996 are 25 to 40 years old. They represent 22% of the US population. Those of us hippie boomers who said you can’t trust anyone over 30, meaning you can’t trust people in power should probably be aware of that. Gen X, born between 1965 and 1980 is 41 to 56 years old and represents 20% of the population. Remember when Gen Xers were the shiftless punk kids? Gen Z, the newest generation, those born between 1997 and 2015 are 6 to 24 years old and are 21% of the population. They are the largest population group other than boomers, and the boomers are checking out. We boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, we’re 57 to 75 years old and we’re 22% percent of the population.

So get this, boomer–a significant portion of the youngest current generation (no one has bothered to name the new under 6 cohorts yet), who will outnumber us in a few years, can sit in a bar and buy a drink today. In combination, GenZ and Millennials will outnumber boomers and gen X in the next election. Gen X is the smallest generation group. They might inherit the wealth, and a lot of the beliefs and attitudes of the Boomers, but they won’t inherit their political or economic power.

When I reflect on that I realize how screwed I would be as a marketer today. It’s a damned good thing I’m retired. My thoughts on the younger generation come from watching Walter Cronkite, and he’s been off the air for more than 40 years and dead for more than ten. My ideas about what it would take to effectively market to them are hopelessly dated guesswork, and I suspect that Gen X is even more out of touch than an uber-geezer like I am. I look at political, economic, and social attitude surveys and I see why the political parties are playing the games they are. The old guard is going to lose–seriously lose, long before they kick the bucket. Their attitudes are incompatible with Gen Z and Millennials. The solipsistic willingness to ignore social and racial divides is unlikely to persist in two generations that are 47 percent non-white and growing non-whiter vs. the 70 percent of Baby Boomers that are white.

There’s a very strange segmentation here that didn’t become apparent to me until I started paying a little more attention. Here’s how it breaks down.

Boomers are extremely traditional. They have money, their average net worth is about a million bucks, but they’re hoarding it, looking at 20 more years of life without a paycheck. Yeah, ok, you’re special, but the rest of them watch television, listen to the radio, read magazines and newspapers. 90% of baby boomers have a Facebook account. They still carry cash and they prefer face-to-face transactions.

Gen-X is very much like Boomers. They also still read newspapers and magazines, listen to the radio, and watch TV. They are all on Facebook and they spend a lot of time on it. They’re neck-deep in debt–mostly mortgage, and that’s where their net worth mostly is–about $300K on average.

Millennials are nothing like Gen-X or Boomers. They watch TV, but it’s almost all streaming. All other media is on mobile devices though they still use computers. They’re leaving Facebook for other social networks. They are buried in college debt. About 45 percent are non-white.

Gen Z is a lot like Millennials but they’ve had a smartphone for most of their life. They inhabit a connected world and the smartphone is the core. They are averse to debt and willing to forego major purchases like buying houses, getting married, or buying cars. They prefer access over ownership–Millennials and gen Z ride in an Uber driven by a Gen-Xer doing gigs to cover their house payment. 48 percent of Gen Z is non-white.

So here we are, four generations that segment more like two. Let’s call them gen geezer and gen upstarts. Generation Geezer, those clinging to power on the way out, are traditional, get their news and views of the world from media that is controlled by a wealthy elite. The majority of the people in power are white male. They count their wealth and security in physical property.

Gen Upstarts is connected, gets their news and views from the smartphone that’s all too often in their hand, can’t afford physical representations of wealth but can access the benefits of a wealthy nation. The percentage of immigrants in the Gen – Z/Millennial mix is actually declining. Not because of Trump’s pathetic wall, but because the great recession slowed immigration hugely. The non-white segment is better educated than in previous generations, simply because more of them were born in the USA.

While these are clumsy generalizations, I find them helpful. They don’t provide an actual understanding of the political, cultural, and economic trends but they do at least offer a starting point for digging deeper.

Here are some examples:

Why is the Republican party so willing to risk backlash about their efforts to suppress voting?

Why is college debt forgiveness such a divisive issue?

Why is authoritarian populism attractive to both the right and left extremes?

Why do companies like Nike focus so strongly on race, gender, and economic issues?

Why is Hard Kambucha a thing?

How did marketing influencers get so powerful?

What makes a video go viral?

Why are geezers so grumpy?

And we’re back to the recursive beginning, as every recursion should eventually be.


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