Skip to Main Content

Strategic Business Insights (SBI) logo

Trends Newsletter September 2022

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact us.

Boomers and Zoomers: Agents of Change

What do (Older) Baby Boomers (Boomers) and Generation Z (Zoomers) have in common? Both experience formative years (ages 14 to 24) during disruptive transformation. Both generations are agents of change. In order to understand more fully the behaviors and attitudes shaping today's consumerscape, it helps to step back. A historical review of marketplace changes provides contextual insights. (As always, financial profiles are featured in this month's Stories.)

Older Boomers' (age 69 to 74) formative years were the 1960s and 70s. The 1960s are acknowledged as "one of the most tumultuous and divisive decades in world history." Born post WWII, when the middle-class was expanding, Boomers railed against the country's ills that violated the sanitized version of American history they'd been taught. Many rejected their parents' patriarchal social values. Trailblazing women became role models for generations of girls. Civil rights and women's liberation movements, antiwar protests and politically motivated assassinations of progressive leaders dominated the headlines. New legislation was passed to right some of society's wrongs. The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. Boomers' responded with: peace and love, protests and riots. Songs, We Shall Overcome galvanized marches; I Am Woman Hear Me Roar empowered women; and You've got a Friend soothed the loneliness of emerging adulthood. The Beatles took America by storm. Woodstock, disco and smoking (illegal) weed provided escapism.

Generation Z (Zoomers) under age 25 are being influenced by the events of the 2010s and 20s. Futurist David Houle writes, "The 2020s will be the most disruptive decade in history"... with more change than in any 30–50-year period of the past. Zoomers push back against the society Boomers have created: climate change, violence, and post-capitalism. Textbook content and school curricula are being censored. The government is under threat. Expected life events such as marriage, family, and home-ownership are no longer givens. The middle class is hard to define; there are "haves," "have nots," and "have yachts." Civil rights and women's rights remain rallying points. Some constitutional rights are not enforced or are already struck down (Roe v. Wade). Student murders have traumatized them; Covid lockdowns have left many two years behind in education. Climate-related disasters portend the coming end of the world. Trust in leaders, institutions, and media are at historic lows. The 24/7 barrage of sad and disturbing news online has repercussions in the physical world. Zoomers respond with: isolation, addiction, anxiety, catastrophizing and suicides. Some are targets of hate crimes against minorities. Gaming is one of the few escapes. Friends (like everything else) are found online. Weed is legal; rap is mainstream; breakdancing is added to the 2024 Paris Olympics as a competitive sport.

Boomers walked to school, played outside unsupervised and biked as far as they were physically able. Popularity stimulated friendships and sociability. Education encouraged work preparedness for a manufacturing economy: shop (the trades), home economics, secretarial, and academic courses were offered. Academics were designed to prepare boys for college and white-collar careers. Wanting independence, and their own money, many girls chose college only to face discrimination, low wages and sexual harassment in the workplace. Girls were often derided for attending college to obtain a Mrs. not a BA or BS degree. Some boys went to college simply to avoid the draft.

Zoomers' K12 classrooms are designed to encourage collaborative learning—a more girl- than boy-friendly environment. An emphasis on STEM courses shift education from producing manufacturing (physical) workers to science and technology (highly-skilled) workers. High school graduation rates and college entrants for boys have been waning for several years; more women than men are now enrolled in college. Cost, time, and questions of value cause declining college enrollments. Even though Zoomers are the most diverse cohort in history, young people often splinter into subgroups determined by interest or activity. There is dwindling interest in team sports and a shift to individual activities online. The resulting absence of social capital (the networks of personal relationships that enable effective function in society), will constrain economic mobility.

Boomers: The 60s and 70s were the Information Age—when information grew at a rate difficult to handle manually. Retirement funding moved from employer-provided pensions to new products such as IRAs and 401(k) plans. Women could finally get a credit card without a co-signer. Union influence that stabilized wages was quashed by big business. Discoveries and innovations included: Internet-working research leading to the ARPANET (precursor to the internet) and the first published papers about artificial intelligence. Space travel became a reality when Apollo 11 landed men on the moon.

Zoomers: By the 2010s and early 20s, personal information is a commodity and a source of identity theft and fraud; social media play no small role. Screen-time addiction exposes users to cyber-bullying, body-shaming, scamming, being "gamed," side-hustle opportunities, "influencers," and a 24/7 barrage of sad and disturbing news. As an antidote, Zoomers often find mundane experiences "satisfying." Young people must fund retirement at the same time they pay-off student loans. More than 1,200 communications satellites now circle Earth. Scientists and technologists produce unimaginable advances: the elusive God Particle and black-hole formulations are discovered; CRISPR edits life's DNA. The James Webb telescope transmits deep-space photos to Earth.

What does this mean for financial institutions? Zoomers live in a world of intense pressure. Your future depends on how quickly you understand and anticipate the Zoomer market. Just being online isn't enough. You need to develop products served up with Zoomer appeal and do so quickly. New competitors emerge almost daily. Windows of opportunity and response times are contracting, and will continue to do so.

There's a lot we know today about where financial services are headed. To learn more about Zoomers, call now to chat. Keep the conversations going by subscribing to the MacroMonitor's new 2023–24 study about the country's youngest households.