Hello, everyone.

Last week I wrote about the work of Neil Howe and William Strauss, who researched and analyzed generational behavior in the U.S. since the 16th Century.  (Of course, it wasn’t always the U.S.)  Howe and Strauss postulate that each generation follows one of four distinct patterns of behavior that are shaped by sequential and repeating eras in history.  Based upon these cyclical patterns a business person can predict the future behavior of consumers and employees depending on which generation they are a member of, and what stage of life they occupy.

Over the next twenty years there will be four generations forming our U.S. society:  the Boomers as Elders, Generation Xers in Midlife, the Millennials in Young Adulthood, and Homelanders in Childhood.  Let’s examine what Howe and Strauss say will be the defining characteristics of these generations in the future.

Boomers as Elders

According to Howe and Strauss, Boomers are determined to transform elderhood in some meaningful way.  Just as Boomers defined a new ethic of sex and procreation in their youth, they will define a new ethic of decline and death.  Boomers will continue to attempt to define America’s culture, religion, and values.  “Graying feminists, environmentalists, humanists, and evangelicals will impart a new passion to old enthusiasms as they rail against shopping malls, globalization, bureaucracies, pop culture, and all the other false idols of the modern world.” 

They will continue to be the dominant consumers of all things cultural:  theater, art, rock concerts.  Boomers will continue to “overnight at monasteries, visit wineries, explore biodiverse beaches, and gaze on pristine mountains.”

Number of births in the United States, 1934 to present

Number of births in the United States, 1934 to present

Boomers will favor holistic self-care, natural foods, and alternative healing.  As they age, hospitals may begin to provide natural foods, alternative medicine, and spiritual counseling.  Rather than retiring far from their mid-life homes, Boomers will simply age in place, close to their families.

Boomers will forge an “anti-retirement ethic,” either by choice or necessity.  Boomers have not saved as much as their parents, nor been as well insured by their employers.  Boomers assume that Social Security and Medicare will be reduced, and will expect to work well past typical retirement age.  Demand for high-end goods and services will remain strong but middle and low-end markets will suffer as the gap in the distribution of wealth increases.

Generation X in Midlife

Generation X will enter midlife at a time in America that will take toughness and practicality.  Having had so many choices and taken so many risks in their youth, they will search for greater security in their families and jobs in their midlife.

Generation Xers will evaluate products in terms of their efficiency, convenience, and ability to be individually customized, including houses, cars, and computers.  As business leaders Gen X will push efficiency and innovation.  They will streamline business transactions and remove middlemen such as lawyers, accountants, and brokers.  They will turn their penchant for efficiency toward areas that have been spared until now:  agriculture, health care, education, and public works.

Despite this, Howe and Strauss predict that in personal finances this generation will fare even worse than the Boomers.  Middle-age workers will generally be “modest-wage job hoppers who retain the flexibility to change life directions in a snap.”  They will take pride in their ability to “have a life” and will try to protect their families from economic turmoil.  Extremely protective of their children, they will spend the largest sum in history on the quality of their children’s education.

Millennials in Young Adulthood

According to their study, Howe and Straus expect Millennials to want to correct for the impracticality of Boomers and the risk-taking of Generation X.  “Millennials will develop community norms based on rules, standards, and personal responsibility; every arena will become more mannerly, structured, and civic-minded.”  They will be much closer to their parents than Boomers or Gen X, and “comarketing” to extended families will be an effective marketing strategy. 

Millennials are entering the workplace under tough circumstances:  saddled with large student loans, high housing costs, scarcity of jobs and low entry-level pay. 

Though this generation works superbly if allowed to work in groups, employers report seeing weakness in basic job skills such as punctuality and proper dress.  Millennials are interested in cooperation and organization rather than innovation or initiative.  Clear goals, an ordered work environment, clear lines of authority and team projects will allow them to make maximum contribution to the workplace.  However, if they perceive that they are being treated unfairly in the workplace, this generation of non-stop interaction with peers may revitalize the union movement.

Millennials will continue to expand their use of digital resources with online support groups and virtual communities.

Homelanders in Childhood

Generation Xers as parents are shaping the Homelanders in response to their own unprotected, latchkey childhoods.  They will track their children by mobile digital technology, establish entertainment controls to limit their access, and schools will screen them with psychological software.  They are expected to be “well-behaved and diligent – yet …innocent, risk averse, and emotionally fragile.”

And You

So what does this mean to us as business owners?  Do you see ways you can use these predictions to design your products and services?  Does it shed a clearer light on situations with your employees?

My main interest is the alignment of this theory with astrological principles, which I will develop further in coming posts.  But the work of Howe and Strauss yields a highly interesting framework for thinking about our business futures.