If baby boomers have one defining characteristic, it is how little their age has defined their interests, priorities and life objectives. So noted Matt Thornhill, a speaker at the Million Dollar Round Table’s Boomertirement Industry Summit, held here last month.
“It’s hard to know just by their age where boomers are in life,” said Thornhill, who is president and founder of The Boomer Project, a Richmond, Va.-based market research and consulting firm. “When talking to boomers, advisors need to take age out of the equation and determine what stage they’re at in life.”
Boomers, he said, are “stretching out” the definition of middle age. Unlike the GI generation that preceded them, most boomers do not lead “linear lives” (i.e., wherein one progresses methodically and predictably from schooling to marriage, then child-rearing or lifetime employment and, subsequently, retirement.)
“It used to be that if I knew how old you were, I knew where you were on life’s path,” said Thornhill. “Boomers are all over the map. Many have gone to school, gotten married, divorced, remarried, returned to school or started a business after a period of employment.
“When we asked boomers to define ‘over the hill,’ they’d say ‘what hill?’ or ‘it’s all relative’ or ‘it’s 15 or 20 years beyond my age,’” he added. “The leading edge of boomers is a long way from looking backwards. They still have things to do.”
Thornhill observed that many marketers err in assuming that boomers who look and feel younger than their years also maintain a more youthful perspective on a psychological level. In fact, boomers as a group are more “inner-directed” than they were in years past. To illustrate, Thornhill noted that a 26 year-old will buy a BMW as a badge of prestige to showcase to family, co-workers and friends. The 56-year boomer, by contrast, buys the vehicle not to impress others, but to reinforce an image one has of oneself.
Also distinguishing boomers from their parents, Thornhill said, is their greater desire for personal gratification. Whereas their parents tended to take a more conservative approach to money and finances because of the hardships they experienced during the Great Depression and the Second World War, boomers’ formative years were characterized by economic prosperity and an explosion in consumer buying. As a result, they feel a greater sense of entitlement and optimism than their elders, and they’re more driven to get ahead.