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The Greatest (Spending) Generation

Baby Boomers Spend the Most on ... Everything

By Published on . 5

First off, if you read this blog and haven't read our entire consumer issue, you're really missing out. Great stories on how to reach just about every demographic segment you want: tweens, millennials, singles, affluents and more. But Beth Snyder Bulik's great piece on how boomers use tech got us digging in the new Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest consumer expenditure data. Beth writes that boomers spend the most on technology.

That's certainly true.

But it's worth pointing out that baby boomers spend the most on, well, everything. Granted, we are talking about household-level data (what the BLS calls "consumer units") so there are certainly members of other generations living in boomer-lead households. But the boomers are so overwhelming a force in the economy, buying goods for both themselves and others, that their spending dwarfs other generations' by sheer force of dollars in every segment that the BLS tracks.

In fact the boomers often double the spend of other generations.

There's a quote attributed to James W. Frick, "Don't tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I'll tell you what they are." So let's see what the BLS thinks is important to the generations.

Younger millennials -- who only make up 7% of households -- spend the most on clothes (5% of total income). Every age group spends more on women's clothes than men's -- often by about a 2 to 1 ratio. Gen-Xers spend the most on entertainment (5.8% of total income). Older millennials spend the most on audio and visual equipment (2.2%) but that only slightly edges out most other age groups.

Boomers spend about 48% of their income on housing and transportation, which is a pretty healthy percentage, although some argue it needs to go down even further to allow enough room for spending on other sectors that can help rebuild our economy. It's about 5% less than the millennial households. Every age group has seen the balance between those sectors tip since 2000 as housing costs have gone up across the board while transportation spending has dropped. If you just look at the older boomers (55-64) and younger millennials (under 25) there is a 8.2% gap in spending on the big three segments of home, transportation and food. It's partially off set by the much larger share of income that goes to health care for older boomers and pre-boomers (up to 12.9% for those over age 65). But the gap means even more when you consider that the boomers make a lot more money.

All of this is just a heap of updated evidence that the boomers are probably worth more of your marketing attention. Feel free to disagree in the comments below.

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