Baby Boomers Vs Millennials – what’s the deal anyway?


Baby boomers and millennials. Wherever we see them in the media, they seem to be at odds. But who actually are each generation and what do they want? And how are the stereotypes of them affecting the way we market to them?

Who are Baby Boomers?

Baby boomers often take the place of the unrelenting, serious and looming figure in the makeup of our society. In fact, they’re the ones who kickstarted this whole generation game, to begin with. The ‘boom of births’ just after the second world war (20% more babies were born in 1946 than 1945 and 4 million babies were born each year until 1964) not only gave them their name, but also signalled a change of the status quo.

Taking up about 40% of the population, the baby boomers also came of age when the commercial boom was well underway. Industry was no longer threatened by the impending doom of war and blessed with their new economic freedom, the OG (original generation) invested in property and goods. They were also more than happy to comply with the materialistic way of life that became all the rage, thanks to the golden age of advertising that dominated the 60s.

Nowadays their earning potential seems to be their main stereotype, which makes sense. They are still, on large, the wealthiest generation in history. They are supposedly ‘hoarding’ the wealth and living well into their retirement, leaving the younger generations to fend for themselves in an over saturated market. They’re seen as grumpy old folk, who don’t seem to understand that owning a second home for holidaying is actually crippling for their grandchildren, who in their eyes are just ‘too lazy’ to earn enough to buy a house.

But despite being the biggest earners, they still have a hippie history, being pioneers of the movement. Advocates of ‘free love’ and recreational drug use in the 70s, the baby boomer generation were marchers and protesters in the civil rights and anti-war movements, listeners of Rock’n’Roll and rebels with a cause.

But that electric past seems to have evaporated with age. On the whole they’re seen as technophobes who despise social media, vote on the right and are way too set in their ways to listen to anyone under 30. But how true is all of this?

Who are millennials?

Nicknamed millennials because they were largely growing up during the millennium era, this generation are digital natives. They grew up without fear of technology – with a passion and understanding for it. The youngest of the generation (and their Gen Z cousins who are considered to be born in and after 2000) have never known a world without easy access to the internet.

Classified as avocado brunching narcissists, millennials not only like tech, they live and work by it. They work in startups instead of corporates, prefer digital marketing instead of traditional advertising and look to innovate new intuitive tech rather than spend time on menial tasks.

Contrary to boomers, millennials, despite growing up being told that they could ‘do anything’ found that to be far from the truth. Despite being the scapegoats of frivolous spending and hounded for their desire for instant gratification, a quick google search for ‘millennials’ and ‘economy’ will bring up a fair few reads on just how ‘screwed’ the generation is when it comes to cash. Born into an already overpopulated world, millennials gracing adulthood were met with a lack of jobs, mounting university debt, rapidly rising house prices and a recession – not the most welcoming environment.

No wonder the millennials are the ‘neverland’ generation: the kids that don’t want to grow up. Plagued with ‘Peter Pan syndrome’ millennials are stuck in their teenage years. They don’t want to get married and have children, or at least do so much later in life, they’re less likely to own typical ‘adult’ things like cars or a home and stay in an intern or volunteering roles for much longer than generations previous. But considering all these things are much less available to them, it makes sense.

In fact, the idea of company loyalty is almost lost. They find themselves flitting between roles and staying in, shall we say, ‘less serious’ job roles for longer because the c-suite positions are already occupied. And if you’re living this way, why not stay in a teenage state of mind?

Considering I’m a millennial myself with a stable job I barely consider myself an adult – let alone one who will have any chance of buying a house in the next five years. When my mum was my age she was living in her second bought property, that she bought for £20,000 working as a waitress. She was getting good tips, but unless someone decided to tip me a £50,000 deposit at my last bartending job this would be nothing more than a pipe dream.

So millennials and baby boomers are wildly different, we can see that. But while this generational war is waging, we seem to have forgotten that there’s actually quite a large gap between 1965 where the ‘boom’ period cuts off and the late 80s when the millennial point begins.

What about the forgotten Gen X?

Poor gen X, often mistaken for baby boomers or young enough to slide into the millennial bracket, the ‘lost generation’ as they’re often known like to work hard and play hard. Characterising the term ‘yuppie’ in the 80s they’re full of strong, independent people, or at least they like to think so.

Currently, in their 40s and 50s, gen X basically carry positive traits of both of the boomers and millennials, but with seemingly no negatives. They created the internet that the boomers don’t quite understand and the millennials can’t live without.

They’re creative, they listened to punk, grunge and techno, they were owning the nineties when the millennials were still being born into it, and who now feel largely nostalgic for it. They’re industrious and managed to get on the housing market whilst it was still fairly open. When it comes to serious, political matters they’re progressive and open-minded, but not ‘snowflakes’ like so many millennials are considered to be.

But are we all really that different?

Whilst gen X seem to enjoy their balanced, non-threatening presence in our society, the battle between boomers and millennials is still going strong. And there are two major arguments that always come to the fore: money and politics.

Whilst millennials are often victimised in the media by older generations for throwing money on gadgets and frivolous lifestyle choices, they themselves blame baby boomers for hogging the housing market. It’s a vicious cycle.

Considering it was possible to buy a house for about £9000 in 1973 and the average house prices are now around £200,000, of course, economic stability is a big issue. If you take earning potential into account, in the 1970s buying a home would cost around 4 times the average salary, whereas nowadays the average home price is over 7 times the average salary – and the unequal inflation is set to rise more. Most millennials have come to terms with the fact that they might never be able to buy a house, and they largely blame boomers for this fact.

Attitudes to advertising and marketing between the two are also drastically different. Whilst boomers grew up with the real Don Drapers’ treated like gods amongst men, millennials and the youth of today are increasingly sceptical about how much truth there is in advertising. Even though baby boomers are still the ones with the most spending power, brands need to have an authentic, moral message when it comes to selling to the youth. Whilst the hippie movement that occupied the 70s did occur, it was largely a counterculture. However, there arguably now more of a mainstream shift towards a more altruistic, liberal way of life.

But are we actually letting these labels define us way too much? And are they even good for us? Who actually knows. Whilst the stats don’t lie when it comes to economics and political leanings – 75% of young people voted to remain in the Brexit referendum compared to 35% of those 65 and over – are they actually representative of the public as a whole? Are baby boomers actually that set in their ways? And is the shift to more authentic, socially responsible marketing a generational shift or a more reflective of society in general?

This post is part of a series in conjunction with Curated’s panel discussion on ‘Why Are We So Obsessed With Generational Marketing?’ that we held in April. You can read the recap of the event here.

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