Tracking Baby Boomers â€” their consumption patterns, voting preferences and income trajectories â€” has preoccupied demographic forecasters ever since this huge generation came on the scene in postwar America. There is no doubt that the approximately 78 million Boomers, born between 1946 and 1965,* still represent the 800-pound gorilla of demographic market segments. Now in middle age and in their prime earning years, Baby Boomers' economic clout is reaching its peak and, as in the past, the group continues to shatter the precedents set by earlier age groups: Boomers reinvent the lifestyles, consumer patterns and location preferences of each new life stage they enter.
Yet Boomers are no longer the only game in town. The smaller Post-Boomer/Young Adult cohort of approximately 59 million, born between 1966 and 1980, is beginning to flex its economic muscles. Large numbers have now started their own families or companies and are amassing serious disposable income. Moreover, this MTV generation has adopted a somewhat different demographic personality from the more dominant Boomer culture it grew up in â€” choosing instead to be more independent, entrepreneurial and even rebelling a bit in the areas of career and family choices.
New Census 2000 data shows another distinction: an increasing divide in geographic distribution patterns between these two generations. This new â€œspatial generation gapâ€? is manifested in the metropolitan concentration of the two groups, as well as in the regional growth magnets that are now emerging for Young Adults. Boomers and Young Adults are literally moving in separate directions across the country, in ways that marketers need to take into account.
Boomers are in the nesting stage of their lives. Currently in their late 30s to early 50s, they are generally stable, and in their low migration years. Among the leading edge Boomers, ages 45 to 54, only 1.9 percent made a residential move across state lines between 1999 and 2000, according to Census 2000 data.
The fact that Boomers are becoming homebodies, while other segments of the population are moving, means that Boomers are not relocating to many of the nation's new economic â€œhot spotsâ€? that are attracting other segments of the population, such as newly arrived immigrants. Rather, Boomers are returning to more â€œmatureâ€? (and often more pricey) regions of the country that they lived in when they were younger.
These regions are largely found in New England and the eastern seaboard, the upper Midwest, the upper Rocky Mountain west and the Pacific Northwest. (See map, below.) Alaska, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine are home to the largest share of Baby Boomers (more than 32 percent of each state's total population is made up of Boomers), with Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia (surrounding the greater Washington, D.C., area), following close behind, according to Census 2000 findings.
Neighboring states, as well as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, have retained a good share of the Boomer population and many are located in suburban areas where housing prices have escalated out of the reach of most Young Adults.
The metropolitan counties with the largest share of Boomers include Falls Church County, Va., in suburban Washington, D.C.; Marin County, Calif., in suburban San Francisco; and Putnam County, N.Y., in suburban New York. However, about half (38) of the 75 U.S. counties with the largest Boomer shares are located outside of metro areas. Fifteen of these non-metro Boomer counties are in Colorado, while others are situated in western New England and eastern coastal states.
Among metros with the largest Boomer shares are several areas known for attracting â€œyuppieâ€? Baby Boomers in the 1970s and 1980s â€” including some in Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Many of these territories that attracted the Boomers have matured along with their Boomer residents in terms of their cultural attractions and amenities. The housing prices have generally escalated as Boomer incomes rose.
Several other metros not often associated with Boomers, are on the list. Over the past decade, cities such as Denver and Nashville, Tenn., have attracted Boomers to their fast-growing job markets. Metros such as Minneapolis and Colorado Springs, Colo., have retained or enticed Boomers with their cultural or natural attractions.
Clearly Boomers represent a large market segment in most parts of the country, including the fast-growing areas that are attracting Young Adults. (See maps, left and page 24.) However, the Boomer nests are areas in which Boomers still have some dominance in market share, political clout and in the general social and cultural scene. Their influence is likely to persist in these locales, since most are likely to remain during their retirement years.
Young Adult Country
Post-Boomer/Young Adults were born in the late 1960s and 1970s and fell in the 20- to 34-year-old age group in 2000. The states with the greatest share of Young Adults show little overlap with the states having the largest Boomer shares â€” only Atlanta and Denver appear on both lists. (See chart, left.)
Prominent among Young Adult-dominated metros are faster growing Sun Belt areas â€” Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Salt Lake City; Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas â€” as well as those with large populations of recent immigrants â€” such as Salinas, Calif., and Los Angeles. Perhaps most prominent on this list are metros that have large universities, including Midwest locations such as Madison, Wisc.; Lansing-East Lansing, Mich.; and Columbus, Ohio.
Because these Post-Boomers are still in their high-migration years, and the group also includes a significant share of new immigrants, it is more meaningful to examine metro areas that are experiencing the greatest growth in this Post-Boomer population from 1990 through 2000. In fact, five of the eight largest growth magnets for Post-Boomers also made the list of areas with greatest Baby Boomer and Post-Boomer shares. (See charts, below left and page 23.) These five metros are: Austin-San Marcos; Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill; Atlanta; Denver; Boulder-Greeley; and Dallas-Fort Worth.
It is noteworthy that only six of the top 20 Post-Boomer/Young Adult growth magnet metros overlap with the list of metros with large Boomer shares. What distinguishes the former is their ability to attract large numbers of the younger and immigrant populations, who find the Boomer nests either too expensive or not economically attractive in terms of job prospects.
As a consequence, there is a clear generational divide between the regions of the country dominated by Boomers and those attracting Young Adults. Compared with the regions with large Boomer shares, those that are magnets for Young Adults are heavily concentrated in the South and most of the West, with only little presence in the Midwest and East.
The attraction of Post-Boomer/Young Adult singles, families with children and new immigrants to all parts of the growing â€œnewâ€? Sun Belt is bound to shape emerging regional distinctions between the now â€œagingâ€? Boomers and a generation which is much more multicultural, entrepreneurial and Web-savvy than their elders. Even politically, the spatial division of generations draws a discernible line between the somewhat more liberal Boomer Belt states, and regions with Post-Boomer/Young Adults, who came of age during the more conservative Reagan-Bush years. Further Census 2000 results, to be released over the next year, will continue to cast light on this spatial generation gap.
William H. Frey is a demographer and Senior Fellow at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., and on the faculty of the Population Studies Center, University of Michigan. He can be reached at www.frey-demographer.org.
*For the purpose of this article, Baby Boomers are defined as those born between 1946 and 1965. Post-Boomer/Young Adults are defined as those born between 1966 and 1980 (ages 20 to 34 in 2000).
These breakdowns differ from the official American Demographics definitions, which are as follows: Boomers are the 37- to 55-year-olds who were born between 1946 and 1964. They number 78 million and make up 28 percent of the population. Gen Xers are the 25- to 36-year-olds who were born between 1965 and 1976. They number 45 million and make up 16.4 percent of the population.