Life Stages Coming Later, Panelist Says

HARRISON, NY — Relying heavily on author Gail Sheehy, Acxiom's Don Hinman told attendees yesterday at the 2004 Direct Media Mailer Conference & Co-op that adult life-stage patterns had changed in the past 10 years.

Twenty-year-olds are the new adolescents, while Generation-Xers are postponing having children and the midlife crisis now strikes at age 50, not 40. Middle age occurs a little later, Gold Watch retirements — people retiring and switching careers — are increasing, and the golden years are later.

“Age spans are longer [too],” Hinman told the audience.

Group leader for InfoBase products at Acxiom in Little Rock, AR, Hinman said shared experiences equate to shared values and shared behavior.

His co-panelist, Ken Wollenberg, executive vice president and generation manager for SIMS at New York market researcher Simmons, said a generational gap exists that defies traditional marketing approaches.

Consider the various labels marketers typically slap on generations. The depleting World War II generation largely was born in the teens, followed by the silent group, Vietnam babies, baby boomers, generations X and Y and finally, the millennials — those conceived in the 1970s and early '80s.

But marketing today is much more complicated than just applied by age, Wollenberg said.

“It's more than just knowing the name of a generation,” he said. “It's about trying to understand their behavior.”

Marketers should understand each generation's purchase behavior, media exposure, product consumption and opinions and attitudes. They should get a sense of differences that exist.

Take shopping.

Consumers ages 18-29 — millennials, in other words — like the thrill of shopping and are approval-seeking in their choices. Generation-Xers prefer browsing and going online. Baby boomers shop by need, check the labels and buy brands. Those older than 60 are the most brand loyal, preferring goods made in the United States.

In food, millennials like fast food, as do Generation-Xers. But baby boomers tend to prepare food for themselves, and the oldest lot are inclined to fine dining.

Their politics, too, differ. As consumers age, they tend to become more conservative.

But in a twist, Generation-Xers are also defying yet another convention of one generation improving on the other.

According to fellow panelist and Direct magazine senior writer Richard Levey, this is the first generation where doing better than the parents is not a given. Competitive pressures of today's economy doubtless are to blame.

Also, baby boomers and Generation-Yers are showing signs of behavior not typically characteristic of them, the 36-year-old Levey said.

“My sandbox is getting increasingly crowded by these two generations,” he said.

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