Futurists don't spend much time pondering 2010-that's like, tomorrow, for heaven's sake. At the Advertising Research Foundation's annual conference in March, three leading thinkers presented their scenarios of American consumers in 2025. They weren't simply gazing into a crystal ball, either. Each identified key demographic and technological factors that fed their visions of the future.
We won't be shopping in 21-aisle supermarkets in 2025, predicts Gary Wright, corporate demographer for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati. The growth of e-commerce and the rapid speed of the Internet will lead to on-line ordering of lower-priced, nonperishable products, everything from peanut butter to coffee filters. Retailers will become "bundlers," combining these orders into large packages of goods for each household and delivering them efficiently to their doorsteps. As a result, we'll see mergers between retailing and home-delivery giants-think Wal-MartExpress, a powerful combo of Wal-Mart and Federal Express. Consumers won't waste precious time searching for the best-priced bundle. Online information agents will do it for them, comparing prices among competitors. Forget cutting coupons and waiting for discounts on particular products; in 2025, the price of the bundle will be all that matters.
Smart information agents also play a role in the world imagined by Ryan Mathews, futurist at First Matter LLC in Detroit. Computers will essentially be as smart as humans by 2025, he contends, and consumers will use them to exchange information with on-screen electronic agents that ferret out the best deals online. Thanks to embedded-chip technology in the pantry, products on the CHR (continuous household replenishment) list-like paper towels and pet food-will sense when they're running low and reorder themselves automatically. If the information agent finds a comparable but cheaper substitute for a CHR product, the item will be switched instantly.
Expect baby boomers to make a lasting impact in 2025 and beyond, says Chris Ertel, demographer-in-residence at Global Business Network in Emeryville, California. Biomedical advances, he suggests, will help push the average life expectancy for women to 90 and men to 85-a gain of more than a decade in just 25 years. Projections from the U.S. Census support his thesis: In 2025, 3.2 million Americans are expected to blow out 90 or more candles on their birthday cake. That's a 106 percent increase from today's 90-plus population.
As more people get used to living longer, the word "commitment" will take on new meaning in one's personal life and at the office, Ertel adds. Ten-year commitments, whether for a job or a marriage, will offer the best of both w orlds: a life with variety and stability, breadth and depth. Serial monogamy, anyone?
An "age diversity" movement will grip corporate America by 2025, fueled by labor force changes during the 2000s and 2010s. The labor force, Ertel forecasts, will shift into an "hourglass" shape, with the huge aging-boomer generation on one end and the huge echo-boomer generation (the boomers' own kids) on the other. The oldest boomers turn 79 in 2025; in all, the Census projects there will be 64.1 million baby boomers aged 61 to 79, a 90 percent increase in the size of this population from today. Currently, 61- to 79-year-olds make up 12 percent of the population; in 2025, they'll comprise 19 percent. Roughly 75 million echo boomers will be 31- to 48-years-old in 2025, making up 22 percent of the total population.
Both groups will wage age-related fights at work, says Ertel-boomers railing against age discrimination, young echo boomers clamoring for management jobs. Ultimately, they'll all press for the same thing: more flexibility to accommodate work and family, learning and leisure. They'll be heard, too. Companies will start to see "age diversity" as important as racial or ethnic diversity, critical to staying in touch with all of their customers. And a federal tax exemption for personal education expenses, regardless of age or income, will encourage lifetime learning.
Indeed, the aging of the population during the next 25 years may also lead to more multigenerational families living under the same roof. Mathews predicts that taking in one's own elderly parents will be a law by 2025. As people live longer, a 35-year-old woman in 2025 may end up caring for her mother longer than her mother cared for her when she was growing up. And it will be a mother-daughter relationship, Mathews stresses. Women will continue to outlive men, and widowed mothers will still prefer to move in with their daughters than their sons.