The Silent Generation

Why businesses should take notice of the over 65s.

We would all be wise to learn more about those numbers. In Asia, Singapore has one of the fastest growing elderly populations in the developed world; China’s age pyramid is skewed – as a result of the one child policy – and its dependency ratio is alarming. In the West, the US has some 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 per day, fewer babies are being born; more people are dropping out of the workforce, and fewer are coming in.

Ten million people in the UK are over 65 years old. The latest projections are for 5½ million more elderly people in 20 years’ time and the number will have nearly doubled to around 19 million by 2050.

The number of very old people grows even faster. There are currently three million people aged more than 80 years and this is projected to almost double by 2030, and reach eight million by 2050. While one-in-six of the UK population is currently aged 65 and over, by 2050 one in-four will be.

“Our economies are changing and so are the segments with the buying power.”

The Silver Tsunami
The silver tsunami provides us with a fantastic opportunity to engage with those who are still spending, who still have assets and own their homes. Sadly though, so often our marketing and advertising campaigns are built on myths and preconceptions, as are our service and product development efforts.

Media buying is not up to speed – the creative output is focused on stereotypes. We spend so much time listening to and understanding the GenY and the millenials, and so little time getting under the skin of the third and fourth age

In the UK, the annual household spend by those aged 65 and over, was some £109bn in 2010, up from £102bn in 2009. Of that market, 39% feel that businesses have little interest in the
consumer needs of the older.

Businesses would do well to smarten up to that and start recognising that those over 65 have the means to spend and will move to providers who best meet their needs. And you would be surprised by the behaviours they display.

Understanding generational differences

Our needs change as we move through our life. Unfortunately, broad generalisations are done for older consumers, and less regard is given to the fact that we can today expect many years, decades even, of great, continued, active living when we turn 65.

We still enjoy learning, socialising, travelling, buying, consuming. We just turned 65. That is all. And when we turn 70 or 75, 80 our needs have shifted again. But most likely, we are still in relatively good health and living independently.

Distinguishing third from a fourth age in the human life came to the fore in the 1980s when researchers in the fields of demography, biodemography, gerontology, and sociology recognized that average life expectancy in western societies had increased and that the oldest subgroup of the population over age 60 was growing rapidly in absolute numbers.

The definition of subgroups of the elderly population was one attempt to specify factors linked to the heterogeneity of the older population in terms of social participation, mortality,
morbidity, and service needs.

Research into generational differences in attitudes and behaviours is based on either analysis of trends to locate boundaries, or identification of generation cohorts based on historical and external events that bring these together.

Segmenting and understanding characteristics, attitudes and behaviours of those 65 and more should be a key input into your service and product development, innovation and customer servicing design.

“The elderly embrace technology in a way that goes against the stereotype – and they have the time, the connections and the money to make you sit up and take notice.”

In a recent study of pre-purchase decision-making, we found, somewhat surprisingly, that the silent generation (those born between the Great Depression and WWII) are active in using digital media, and turn to aggregators for reviews to inform their purchasing decisions in financial products.

They are better informed than younger generations, they have time to look for, and compare information, and they will socialise their decisions and viewpoints amongst friends.

Older people own 80 per cent of the private wealth of the UK, with over-65 year olds controlling £460 billion in unmortgaged equity alone – enough money to fund the NHS for ten years. You’d be a fool to ignore them, or to make your business decisions based on an ‘idea’ or a ‘feel’ of what the aged need and want.