Book Offers Snapshot of Our Nation's Generations

When it comes to business, the size of the generation means the size of the market. With baby boomers at the peak of their earnings, one demographer says marketers are having trouble catering to the generation that will succeed them. Pat Hernandez explains.

The U.S. census record of the number of live births over a 100-year span reveals five distinct generations. Yet, when it comes to specific consumers, some marketers forget to do the math of demand and supply.

“We age. We age and we move. There’s a time continuum and we move. Right now, the baby boomers, the roughly 80 million of them, are moving through time, and right behind them is a Grand Canyon.”

Marketing consultant and forecaster Ken Gronbach says some companies like Honda, Levi Strauss and Wal-Mart are clinging to what worked in the past.

“Sam Walton built his business on the baby boomers. He followed them. And the more mature the baby boomer market got, the better it was for Wal-Mart because, Wal-Mart’s philosophy in business is called ‘cheap and deep’. That means simply, that they don’t need to carry a big selection. They only need to carry what the mature market has already decided they want. They carry it in depth, they get it very very cheap, because they can make well in advance in China, and things go along swimmingly — until the baby boomers — that mature market that’s been controlling everything, ages out of the age where they need anymore stuff.”

He says one generation could soon replace the immigrant work force.

“Now that Generation X is 24-43, they’re moving out of the entry level labor market. You’re seeing fewer of them at McDonald’s and the new generation that we have right on their heels is bigger than the baby boomers. Now, this our own home grown, English-speaking, born-here labor force. They’re filling up all the entry level jobs and displacing the immigrants and minorities.”

Gronbach says the generational shift could determine who occupies the White House.

“The Republicans never anticipated this fight, or this division that came along between Obama and Clinton, because that divided the Democratic party. Now, the Republicans actually have a chance. I mean, McCain can actually win this.”

But when it comes to the man that represents change.

“I don’t think Obama’s gonna win because I don’t think enough bigots are dead yet. If you look back at the level of bigotry that was present in the 50s and 60s, a lot of those people are very much alive and vote at the rate of 80% of their potential. I don’t think they’re going to elect a young black man to be president of the free world, I just don’t think they’re gonna do it. I’m not expressing any personal bias, I’m just telling you from a demographical stand point, I don’t think Obama is electable.”

Ken Gronbach is the author of The Age Curve: How To Profit from the Coming Demographic Storm.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.