Baby Boomers and Their Parents: Surprising Findings about Their Lifestyles, Mindsets, and Well‐being

George R. Cook (Simon Graduate School of Business, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 21 March 2008




Cook, G.R. (2008), "Baby Boomers and Their Parents: Surprising Findings about Their Lifestyles, Mindsets, and Well‐being", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 130-132.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Much has been written over the past several years about baby boomers and their behaviors, lifestyles, needs, and wants, but this particular publication does a very complete job of comparing the baby boomers and their parents in terms of lifestyles, mindset, and well‐being. Not surprisingly, there are several similarities but perhaps more differences than one might suspect. These differences need to be well understood by those producers of goods and services targeted at both groups since the underlying purchase motives and objectives can be different. Successful target marketing requires that we understand each of these differences precisely and on an ongoing basis, as they do change over time.

The book is paperback and consists of nine very digestible chapters with excellent examples and a very healthy inclusion of facts and figures based on the authors' vast research over the past several years. Chapter headings include: “An overview: two generations”; “What's on their minds as they age”; “Physical and emotional well‐being”; “Lifestyles”; “Financial affairs”; “What they have, what they use”; “Buying habits”; “Planning for longevity and how businesses can profit by making their mature customers happier”. I will provide a summary of the key points in each chapter and then end the review with a brief summary of the book.

In Chapter One, the authors discuss their findings from extensive research of the baby boomers and their parents in terms of several of the generational differences between the two groups. A brief summary of each of the chapters to follow is provided to the reader with regard to the various areas where differences exists as well as similarities between the baby boomers and their parents. An introduction to each of the above‐listed chapters of the book alerts the reader as to what follows.

Chapter Two discusses what is on the minds of the two groups as they age, and aging is something that most people are not, in fact, prepared for. In fact, we do not necessarily look forward to it, and the baby boomers are no exception. We all tend to think of ourselves as actually younger than our real chronological age. We feel younger, think younger and act younger most of the time. Baby boomers, more so than their parents, are, in fact, preoccupied with trying to find ways to extend their younger days. They are concerned with diet, exercise, health in general, financial well being, work and retirement planning, and staying positive in the aging process reality. As companies continue to downsize and push early retirement for many of their employees (and the baby boomers are already there or fast approaching this critical point in life), the pressure mounts with regard to financial security in the later years. Certainly, working at some level during retirement for the baby boomers is a very likely event. Their parents, in general, did not face this possibility to such a degree as their children will. Inside of each of these concerns on the part of the baby boomers exist a multitude of opportunities for companies who understand how to meet these needs.

Chapter Three talks about physical and emotional well‐being in terms of both current and possible future states and what both groups are willing to do to preserve a wellness state in both areas. While physical state tends to be more factual and perhaps understandable, one's emotional and/or mental state is oftentimes more challenging and difficult to cope with. Obesity, in particular, is much more prevalent among the Baby Boomers than among their parents, and this, combined with the natural aging process, has greatly accelerated the prevalence and possibility of diabetes. Baby boomer and their parents have unhealthy eating habits. Boomers tend to consumer more alcoholic beverages and smoke more than their parents. The parents are more likely to have regular physical checkups than their children as well.

Good emotional health is certainly an important aspect of one's overall health, as indicated by our authors as they discuss in this third chapter three important dimensions of a person's emotional health: stress, depression and self‐esteem. Stress is examined in terms of two different levels or types of stress – chronic and acute. Chronic stress or ongoing stress is caused by a personal lifestyle and social experiences for the individual, while acute stress is often due to “unexpected” events such as accidents or natural disasters. Causal examples of each are described in detail. Depression and stress tend to go hand in hand, with the end result being generally a high (usually negative) impact on our overall health, emotional well‐being and quality of life. Also discussed here is the mental state of mind for both optimists and pessimists and how each view themselves and the world around them.

Chapter Four provides us with an excellent discussion of people's lifestyles and, in particular, how the baby boomers and their parent view the subject. Many activities will bring about changes to our lifestyles, and of course, we engage in many of these activities to actually bring about change in our lifestyles. Activities and events such as living arrangements, working after retirement, continued learning, travel, and special event attendance are all examples of activities that we seek out to change our lifestyle or that in which we simply and casually engage, with the end result bringing about some level of change in our lifestyle. Needless to say, there are many business opportunities here for the firm that desires to provide or address such activities. Most people look forward to travel in their retirement years, and the increase in passport applications has skyrocketed in recent years. Baby boomers' outlook on savings and spending differs greatly from their parents with their quests for luxury products.

In Chapter Five on financial matters, there some significant differences between the baby boomers and their parents. Attitudes toward spending and saving are very different between the two groups in that boomers are predisposed to spend, spend, spend, and readily access available credit, thus ending up with substantial debt, compared with their parents, who are quite the opposite. The parents of baby boomers are much likely to save than their off springs. From an investments point of view, the boomers are more likely to take a higher level of risk than their parents. The authors' studies did indicate that the major portion of both group's assets were in the form of home equity. In terms of future years, the Boomers are counting on using their IRA's or Keough investments in making major purchases, thereby providing business opportunities for financial investment firms with the boomers. Affluent boomers tend to use more stock options or commodity contracts as investments compared with their parents. The older generation tends to use: CDs, savings accounts, real estate, and/or tax free municipal bonds more than their children. The boomers tend to take more risks in investments situations versus playing it safe with bonds, CDs and munis.

What they have and what they use is the central concern of Chapter Six. There is some difference in terms of the value of possessions between the two groups: baby boomers having $100,000 and their parents $75,000 on average. In general, however, the authors found that baby boomers are not as financially well off as their parents. Surprisingly, the net worth of the parents is ten times higher than the net worth of their children! Real estate tends to be the major portion of both groups' overall assets. The American dream of owning a home is fairly similar in both groups – it is an important goal and tends to be a significant portion of the asset base for both groups. Opportunities here abound for real estate sales personnel, home repair firms, and financial institutions, all of whom facilitate ownership of the home and later repairs from time to time on the current residence. Other factors that are important to the boomer are in home convenience; technology devices such as DVDs, VCRs and PCs; and cordless telephones and cable TV, while the parents are more attuned to a security system and less complex, high‐tech devices. Baby boomers in terms of materialism tend to be inclined to own more expensive things for their own personal satisfaction and things that make life more comfortable and enjoyable, compared with the older generation, who view more expensive products as symbols of one's life accomplishments and achievements in life in general.

The buying habits of both groups are discussed by the authors in Chapter Seven. Factors that impact eventual buying decisions are examined for various products and services: restaurants, drug stories/pharmacies, food/grocery stores, department stores, lodging, airlines/cruise lines, financial institutions, insurance companies and hospitals and personal physicians. To a great degree, locational convenience, referrals, recommendations, price deals, personal assistance from establishment personnel, and no‐hassle returns when required are most often mentioned in terms of the decision process by both Boomers and their parents. There are some differences, but they seem to be slight variations in how both groups look at the reasons “why,” as expressed above. With regard to information sources used prior to completing the decision process, the typical sources that we all use are mentioned: TV, radio and print ads, and of course the Internet, which seems to be used more so by the boomers than their parents. A key point here for marketers communicating to both groups is that they must understand the sources that each group use for decision making information and assure that they are “tuned in” to the right channels. Another key point is that the decision making group within the family – in either group – must be fully understood by the marketer of goods and services to each group. It is not safe to assume than in the boomer family, father makes the car buying decision unilaterally for instance or the home purchase or the flat screen TV purchase. Typically there are multiple family members contributing to the decision making process.

The level of dissatisfaction and the voicing of complaints by both groups is also discussed in this chapter, and based on the studies, the older group is more satisfied than the younger Boomer group in terms of various services required (medical, dental, financial, insurance, appliance repair services, etc.). The boomer group is more likely to feel that these types of establishments “take advantage” of the customer than the older group. It was determined that boomers complain more than their elders and that they, in turn, pass along their dissatisfaction levels to other peers.

In chapter eight, we have a discussion of the importance of longevity of life and one's satisfaction therein. Several factors affect longevity, and one of the keys is purpose of/in life and a passion for continuously doing something that one thoroughly enjoys and looks forward to on an everyday basis! These factors may well determine length of life and the overall quality of life as well. In general, the authors found that the boomers parents are happier than the younger generation is. It seems that the boomers are overly concerned about materialistic things and obtaining them and they cannot ever get enough of these items. They are intensely concerned about: retirement, job security, pre occupied with the aging process and in general uncertainly in a world of change. The authors stress that there are four general factors that affect longevity and well being in our latter years: physical and emotional health, positive attitudes, active lifestyles and financial security. Personally, I would indicate a resounding “Yes” to each of these items and their impact on us all later in life. Certainly from my own experiences and talking with older adults frequently, each of these areas have a profound impact in terms of our later well being and emotional stability ! Obviously, there are areas that the marketers of goods and services targeted at the boomers and the older generation need to target.

The last chapter of this interesting book – “How businesses can profit by making their mature customers happier” – contains key messages for businesses and organization that target the mature customer with their own products and services. To be successful here, you must understand thoroughly and on an ongoing basis the needs (and wants) of this consumer group. You must conduct ongoing research with this consumer body as the needs of this group, as well as the younger group's needs. do in fact continue to change over time. You must develop marketing strategies, particularly effective communication strategies, that address your product's and services' features or benefits in their terms and their language and it a setting that they desire and seek in their latter years. In our latter years, there are vast marketing opportunities for companies that provide us with products and services that make our transition into later life easier and more comfortable and enable us to deal with change in the most positive manner possible.

In summary, this is a book well worth reading, particularly if you are in your latter or retirement years and also if you are in a business providing goods and services to either the Boomers and / or their senior parents. There are differences.

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