What do Larry the roofer (age 45), Michele the nutritionist (age 50) and Tim a bank vice-president (age 60) have in common? Larry is a blue-collar worker with a high school diploma; Michele is an upper middle-class woman with an MA degree; and Tim has a PhD in business. Yet they are classified as boomers and marketers treat boomers as a monolithic group. However, they have different worldviews, different options and wildly different incomes.
Myth: Baby boomers are all yuppies who are full of expectations about their potential and power. Reality: Diversity is their outstanding characteristic. For example, we must take account of the changes in the historical reality from early (those born between 1946 and 1954) to later (those born 1955 and 1964). The early group experienced a period of prosperity; the later faced recessions, gas shortages, etc.
Myth: Boomers exercise and work out-they are fit. Reality: Former Baltimore Sun reporter Linell Smith pointed to some perplexing facts: although many boomers are working out, 40 percent of boomer women are obese.
Myth: Boomers have lost money during this economic downturn but they have some considerable disposable income for travel and entertainment. Reality: a quarter of them earn less than $35,000 a year.
So to understand this mythical baby boomer, we need to know factors such as the boomers place in historical time, his/her social class and educational level, the personal, idiosyncratic challenges the person experienced, number of children, family size, and values. In a recent newspaper report about boomers, it looks like they love to spend money, buy cars, hang glide. Larry is busy making ends meet. He has not had a new car in years. Tim, on the other hand, leases a car and gets a new one every two or three years. Larry and his family go out for dinner about once a month. Tim probably stays home once or twice a month.
We need to move away from categories like boomers and start thinking about individuals.
Nancy K. Schlossberg
Author of two books on retirement: Retire Smart, Retire Happy and Revitalizing Retirement