December 30, 1995 in Features

Screaming Into 50 ‘Midyouth’ Will Replace ‘Midlife’ As Baby Boomers Hit Half-Century Mark

John Barry Miami Herald
 

Add 76 million baby boomers who begin turning 50 on New Year’s Day to 72 million boomer offspring just entering their teens, and the dismaying total equals: 148 MILLION TEENAGERS.

Beginning Jan. 1, boomers hit the half-century wall at a rate of one every 7-1/2 seconds. Might that giant generational pileup portend 76 million new bingo players? Or 76 million senior-discount diners at Denny’s?

No, more likely it portends the surreal - 76 million knobby-kneed, silver-ponytailed in-line skaters. All of them getting down with their bad selves.

The ‘50s used to be called midlife. But boomers, always preferring half full to half empty, have a more mathematically generous term for it: “midyouth.” It will be a buzzword in the marketplace for decades - from midyouth fashions to midyouth music to midyouth cosmetics.

Not by mere coincidence have the makers of alpha hydroxy acids, the derivatives of anti-wrinkle creams, reported sales of $300 million these past three years.

“To the boomers, turning 50 means nothing,” says Cheryl Russell, contributing editor to American Demographics magazine and author of “The Master Trend - How the Baby Boom Generation is Remaking America.” “It means nothing because the boomer generation will never give up its youth. They’re still looking to have fun.”

Which suggests that well into their pacemaker and support-hose years, boomers will still be absorbed with themselves, with their music, their fashions, vacations, foods, bodies, emotions and sex lives. For each, the inner child stubbornly remains 16.

“Are the rest of us going to be forced to listen to Eagles music for another 20 years?” asks Walker Smith, 40, managing partner of the Yankelovich Partners consumer research firm. “I’m afraid so.”

In fact, some studies raise the specter of boomers becoming more excessively boomer than ever. The Trends Research Institute foresees a “new hippie movement” looming in the next millennium.

“Entering the most productive stage of their adult lives, members of the baby boom generation will initiate a three-decade wave of societal change based on the tenets of the ‘60s consciousness,” the institute predicts.

“The change this time will be broader, more influential and more organized than in the past. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, boomers may have been passionate about their beliefs but they were not in a position to carry them out. Now they’ll be increasingly ‘on the inside’ and in places of power.”

(What beliefs boomers subscribe to are a little fuzzy since boomer allegiances have bounced from Kennedy to Reagan to Clinton. Most of the Chicago Seven eventually wore business suits.)

Modern Maturity magazine, the publication of the American Association of Retired Persons, has assumed a more hopeful posture. The magazine has redesigned itself with the idea of co-opting boomers into the mature ranks by sprinkling its pages with boomer-friendly cultural references.

Among the new features: a “Big Five-Oh” column, which spotlights such boomer luminaries as Goldie Hawn and Neil Young. There also is a reference to marijuana brownies.

“The magazine will have to change its name, too, because the very word ‘maturity’ makes baby boomers want to gag,” says Russell.

Why so much hostility for the M-word?

“The very concept of maturity defines an older generation that boomers were entirely unlike - their parents,” says Russell. “It raises a lot of old conflicts.

“Their parents expected them to settle down and put their noses to the grindstone. But the boomers’ defining characteristic was a desire for personal fulfillment and individualism.”

She predicts that any marketing campaign geared to the “mature” boomer will be disastrous.

“But the marketplace will continue to follow the boomers,” adds Yankelovich’s Smith. “By sheer numbers, they remain the low-hanging fruit.”

Still, demographics experts note some surprising and a few constructive aspects to boomers turning 50, even if they kick and scream every step of the way.

The transition may, for example, spell the end of high-pressure telemarketing.

“That industry primarily targets an older generation that is less sophisticated and more trusting than the rest of the population,” says Russell.

“They won’t reach boomers by the same techniques. It’s a racket on the way out.”

Also likely to expire: senior discounts. Not that boomers are too proud to cop a cheap breakfast. It’s just that “the boomer generation is too large,” Russell says. “You’d have to discount the whole market.”

Boomers also are expected to explore what for them is an untested concept - saving for the future - but less due to any late-blooming sense of responsibility than the fact that their personal security has been shaken to the roots in recent years.

“Savings are not a boomer value,” says Yankelovich’s Smith. “They grew up learning how to spend.

“But they’ve been highly stressed by the economy, by downsizing and layoffs, and they’re a lot less optimistic about the future.”

So financial analysts find that many boomers in their peak earning years are choosing mutual funds over second homes.

But one thing (for better or worse, depending on your opinion of “Louie, Louie”) is not expected to change: boomer music.

“There have actually been some studies which link music to hormones,” Russell says. “You become fixated on the music that is playing when you’re 14 and these hormonal surges are going through your body.

“I guess that means we’re stuck with the Beatles.”

xxxx LOOK FOR NEW TRENDS IN FULFILLMENT As we’ve learned from the past five decades, from personal fulfillment and individualism do fads and trends spring. In their “midyouth,” boomers are expected to launch a few more, says Cheryl Russell of American Demographics: Divorces. The proportion of Americans who admit to ever having an extramarital affair peaks in the 45-49 age group. “Boomers are looking for ways to escape the tedium. I’d expect to see a lot of divorces once the kids are raised.” Travel. Above all else, boomers yearn for adventure. Now millions of them have the wealth to go after it. “They’re going to be seeking out exotic destinations. And as they wind out their careers, they’ll have more time. The travel industry will boom.” The matriarchs. “The fierce, newfound energy of independent baby-boom women in their 50s will turn markets upside down. For years, boomer women have been suppressing their individualistic natures as they raised children, often single-handedly. With their children grown, they can satisfy their pent-up demand to think about - and spend on - themselves again.” Intergenerational peace. “There’s less conflict between boomers and their children than between boomers and their parents. Boomers and children are interested in the same thing: individualism.” (One possible source of conflict: Who gets the Harley on Saturday night?) John Barry Miami Herald

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