GETTING INSIDE GEN Y

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A chain e-mail has been spreading like wildfire among bewildered Baby Boomers. “Can you believe this?� the subject heading reads. “Just in case you weren't feeling too old today…� What follows are some facts about today's college freshman class. Among them:

  • They do not remember the Cold War and have never feared nuclear war.
  • The expression “You sound like a broken recordâ€? means nothing to them.
  • There's no such thing as a busy signal or no answer at all.

Baby Boomers aren't the only ones struggling to get their collective minds around Generation Y. Companies across the country are trying to understand this next big consumer market: the 71 million children of Baby Boomers who are now beginning to come of age.

Gen Y, also known as Echo Boomers, has been heralded as the next big generation, an enormously powerful group that has the sheer numbers to transform every life stage it enters — just as its parents generation did. Already, even before all the members of this generation have reached adulthood, businesses in nearly every consumer spending category are jockeying for a piece of this market. But with a generation so complex and huge, how can a company communicate effectively with all its members? Will businesses need to market differently to the youngest members of Gen Y than the oldest, considering that this group spans 17 years?

After all, Gen Y's parents, the nation's 78 million Baby Boomers, have proved that the umbrella definition of a generation doesn't always makes sense, says J. Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich, a research firm based in Norwalk, Conn. In a report last year, the company argued that the most effective way to reach Boomers was to separate them into three segments. Yankelovich classified Boomers into three subgroups: Leading Edge (those born between 1946 and 1950), Core (born between 1951 and 1959) and Trailing Boomers (born between 1960 and 1964).

By studying birth patterns from the U.S. Census Bureau, American Demographics found that Gen Y, too, can be looked at in terms of three distinct age groups. Gen Y is usually defined as those born between the years 1977 and 1994; the youngest in this generation is 7 years old this year, the oldest 24. We found that 36 percent of this generation has reached adulthood; this year they will be between the ages of 18 and 24. Another 34 percent are teens, currently 12- to 17-years-old; 30 percent are pre-pubescent “'tweens,� ranging in age from 7 to 11 this year.

“Just like Baby Boomers, Gen Y is a very large generation, so particularly at different life stages, it makes sense to look at them in terms of older and younger groups,� says Susan Mitchell, demographer and author of American Generations. Adds Louis Pol, demographer at the University of Omaha: “It's essential to look at the different formative experiences within a generation — what they've experienced and what they've witnessed growing up.�

Formative experiences are significant in that they help mold specific preferences and beliefs — psychographic tendencies that marketers use in developing messages to target varying groups of people. Yet, formative experiences and the resultant attitudes, sensibilities, hot buttons and cultural reference points can vary for members at either end of the generational spectrum. In carving up Baby Boomers into three subgroups in the 1990s, Yankelovich based the segments on how old Boomers were in 1969, which it considered to be a watershed year in Boomer lore. Arguably, a comparably significant year for Gen Y has not yet occurred — or if it has, historians have yet to put it in perspective.

But the pace of business has changed dramatically since the 1960s, and marketers are especially eager to understand this next generation of consumers. In an attempt to predict what the formative experiences and resulting psychographics may be for Gen Y, American Demographics interviewed a dozen demographers, sociologists and marketing experts about the cultural and historical events that have taken place so far. To help us understand this huge generation, we asked this panel of experts to name some events that have had enough impact to possibly become defining moments for this generation. While this information is less than scientific, these opinions may provide businesses with insight into creating more targeted marketing messages for this generation. According to the experts, here are some recent events that have impacted Gen Y's lives today — events that may shape the attitudes of this generation in the long run:

COLUMBINE

Although school violence actually decreased dramatically during the 1990s and the percentage of high school students carrying a weapon dropped to 19 percent in 1997 from 26 percent in 1991, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the attention paid to school violence has increased exponentially. In particular, the impact of the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., and the subsequent news coverage is likely to affect today's youth in two ways: Gen Ys are not only more careful and watchful about their own personal safety, but they are also more wary of the news media's interpretation of, or intrusion into, their personal sphere.

First, Columbine brought the issue of school safety and gun violence directly to families' front doors. In a 2000 Newsweek poll of 509 parents of teens and 306 teens nationwide, teens' top fear was violence in society: 59 percent of teens say they worry about it a lot. Among parents, the poll showed that 55 percent worried about their teenagers' safety on the street and 37 percent worried about their safety at school. Concern among college students is also quite high. According to the spring 2001 Student Monitor report, based on a national survey of 1,200 undergraduates, 19 percent of college seniors think violence is the most important domestic issue; 26 percent of freshman agree, ranking violence — alongside drugs — higher than any other issue, including AIDS and education.

Tim Coffey, CEO and Chairman of the Wonder Group, a Cincinnati-based youth marketing firm, says that Columbine showed how fears have changed for this generation. Whereas for Boomers and Gen Xers, threats came from beyond our shores in terms of communism and nuclear annihilation, today it's more local. “There's more of a threat from within. It's in my school, my house,� Coffey says. “And that has created a bit more risk-averseness with kids. The size of the backyard, psychologically, is a lot smaller than it was before. Yesterday's kids ventured from one yard to the next to play after dark. They rarely do that anymore.�

Second, Columbine not only made kids more fearful within their communities, it's made teens more mistrustful of the media. “I would say that even more important than the event itself was the way in which it was handled,� says Michael Wood, vice president of the Northbrook, Ill.-based market research firm, Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU). “It's made teens today very skeptical of the news and has led them to really question the news. I think they felt like the media exploited the situation and handled it as a media opportunity.� In their 2000 report, “A Psychographic Analysis of Generation Y College Students,� Marquette University advertising researchers Joyce Wolburg and Jim Pokrywczynksi found Gen Ys to be alienated from and wary of the mainstream media, in large part because they felt their views had been misrepresented on important issues. In a 2001 Northwestern Mutual poll of 2,001 college seniors, “Generation 2001,� conducted by Harris Interactive, a mere 4 percent gave the the people running the press and media an “A.�

MTV

Having recently celebrated its 20 th anniversary, MTV is almost as old as Gen Y itself. For most Gen Ys, MTV is as natural and ubiquitous as the Big Three Networks were for the generations before them. After all, even most Gen Xers didn't have cable TV in their households until they were in their early teens. Not only does this fundamentally change the way this generation thinks about music (remember when it was about LPs and concert tours?), according to demographer Susan Mitchell, it's created a way of thinking that impacts many aspects of Gen Ys' daily lives.

In a spring 2001 Lifestyle and Media poll of 1,200 college students, MTV was by far the favorite cable channel, with 39 percent of students calling it their top choice. The influence of MTV on all kinds of media, especially those created by or targeted to this younger demographic has been dramatic. Mitchell thinks that MTV and video games have created a propensity toward a type of visual style that speaks specifically and effectively to Gen Ys: loud graphics, rapid edits, moving cameras, etc. “That MTV style of editing is impossible for adults to follow,� she says. “But I suspect that there's some difference in today's kids' hard wiring now because they've had this rich, rapid visual growing up.�

Mitchell says the impact of MTV visuals extends beyond marketing and advertising messages in the media — into the classroom and workplace. She cites as an example an employer who told her he had to turn to a video game format for training purposes because his new Gen Y employees didn't respond to a traditional training manual or lecture method. Others think that the MTV video style leads to shorter attention spans, stimulation overload, chronic boredom, and even attention deficit disorder. In Next: Trends for the Near Future, Ira Matathia and Marian Salzman point out that for Generation 2001, such “millennial afflictions� are widely thought to be “symptoms of an Information Age in which kids are weaned on computers, consumer electronics and the high-octane programming of MTV.�

CELEBRITY SCANDALS (MONICA, OJ, ETC.)

The 1990s were racked by major scandals that made national spectacles of formerly unimpeachable heroic figures — an African American football hero/spokesman and the U.S. president. According to William Strauss, co-author of Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, these scandals have deeply influenced Gen Y values, which are different from, and in many ways more conservative than, those of their Boomer parents.

While public opinion polls showed Boomers to be more tolerant of former President Clinton's misbehavior, teenagers thought Clinton was a hypocrite who dishonored his office, Strauss says. “That's the impact of the Clinton scandals. They liked the things he said, but not how he upheld his own words. They were much more judgmental of Clinton than the public at large.�

The net effect: extensive media coverage of celebrity scandals during the 1990s further demystified celebrities as heroes, says Michael Wood of TRU. “Today's teens no longer have an unquestioning admiration for public figures,� he says. “The scandals with athletes and celebrities have made teens realize that though these people are leaders, they're also very human. It's broken down the facade that existed between celebrities and regular people, which I think makes them much more realistic about who they look up to.� The Northwestern Mutual poll of college seniors proves the point. According to the survey, 57 percent cited a parent as the person they admired and respected the most; an additional 8 percent named a grandparent.

Wood sees the impact of celebrity scandals playing out in the long run in terms of an increasing emphasis on privacy among today's youth. “I think the media coverage of these celebrities' personal lives has made teens today much more conscious of their own privacy and has heightened their concerns about protecting their information. They do not like the idea of companies collecting information and knowing things about them.� This may have started to play out already — at least in terms of online behavior. In the spring 2001 Lifestyle and Media poll, four out of 10 said they were extremely or very concerned about the safety and security of transmitting personal information online; only 8 percent were not at all concerned.

DIVERSITY

Today's kids live in a world where diversity prevails. Not only is society increasingly multicultural, but kids today are used to a range of global viewpoints, an array of nontraditional family types and different sexual alignments from an early age.

“Look at The Real World — there's always a gay teen on there,� says Wood. While in the Gen X ‘80s, homophobia in high school was rampant, many high schools today have lesbian and gay clubs. “A lesbian was named prom king in one high school this year,� Wood says. “Then there was a big story about a high school football player who brought his boyfriend to the prom.� Public opinion polls bear out this growing tolerance. In a June 2000 Medill News Service poll of 1,008 18- to 24-year-olds, 66 percent favored allowing gays into the military and only 25 percent opposed the measure outright.

“I would say the single biggest influence on this generation has been the increasing diversity of America,� says Yankelovich's J. Walker Smith. “It's changed their sense of what they have permission to do, where they look for cultural styles, their whole sense of possibility. Because it's not just ethnic and linguistic diversity — it's different household types. It's a global mix and match of cultures. Marketers who don't speak that language should go to their high school yearbook and flip through them page by page next to a child's yearbook today to see the transformation.�

Gen Y attitudes reflect an interest in and acceptance of diversity in all areas of life — in the private realm as well as in the public arena. Several major polls have shown young people have a broader definition of what constitutes a family; they tend to be more tolerant of cohabitation, single parenting and extended families. The spring 2001 Lifestyle and Media Monitor study reveals that half of today's college students believe we will have a black president in the next 20 years and 58 percent think there will be a female president.

THE ELECTION CRISIS

The presidential election crisis of 2000 will not only go down in history, it is also likely to influence the next generation of voters in several ways. William Strauss believes the election will have a long-term impact on today's youth. “I think it's going to make them vote more,� says Strauss. “They say they're going to vote more than Gen Xers. Some of them are already starting to register.� Indeed, the spring 2001 Student Monitor study of college students found that a majority has strong feelings about the need for political reform.

Strauss sees Gen Y's reaction to the election crisis as illustrating generational differences. “One teenager I know said to me, ‘This just goes to show what happens when two Baby Boomers who took drugs when they were young run against each other in an election.’� The 2001 Northwestern Mutual poll of college seniors found that 44 percent are very concerned about the political leadership in this country. Compare this with other issues that fall low on their radar, such as nuclear war at 19 percent, and terrorism at 16 percent. In addition, a meager 3 percent gave the people running the election process an “A.� This was the lowest rating among America's social and political institutions.

Before the election, Gen Ys seemed cynical about their impact on the political landscape. In the Medill News Service poll, 68 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds said they had an important but unheard voice. Yet the crisis may change their perception of the importance of voting: only 53 percent agreed before the election that their vote would make a difference. After the debacle, that view shifted dramatically. In the spring 2001 Monitor report, 85 percent of college students said we need a uniform and consistent method to count votes. And 81 percent agreed with the statement, “My vote matters.�

TALK SHOWS/REALITY TV

For Gen Y, anybody can be a star. We can all have our 15 minutes of fame. Everyone deserves to have their say. According to New York-based market research firm, the Zandl Group, “There's a sense that everyone can be a star. It's very populist. Talk shows, reality TV and the Internet have created a mindset in which every voice gets an equal hearing.�

Where does this belief come from? According to TRU's Wood, in an Oprah-infused culture, everyone's voice deserves to be heard. And with so many different points of view out there, not only in the public arena as articulated in TV shows, but also on the Internet, teens today are less likely to believe there's one right answer. Wood says the talk show mentality has even affected the way in which today's teenagers learn. “What's changed the whole classroom atmosphere are shows like Jerry Springer,� he explains. “They think it's OK to be disruptive and to challenge what's being said. There's this ‘prove it to me’ mentality. And teachers and everyone in the school environment are struggling right now with figuring out how to teach to that mentality.�

For young people, getting heard, having your say, and becoming well known are not only easy, they seem natural. You can create your own Web site, make a movie with your own webcam or digital camera; post your thoughts, pictures and writings online; even be on television. Part of the draw of reality TV shows like The Real World, Survivor and Temptation Island, is that “real people� can become stars. The Northwestern Mutual poll found that college seniors' ideal careers centered around fame: 19 percent dreamed of being a movie actor, 15 percent a professional athlete, and 13 percent president of the United States.

Another result of the talk show/reality transformation of television programming (as well as the convergence of TV, the Internet and the use of the remote control), is that for this generation, TV has become a more interactive, rather than passive, experience. In their psychographic portrait of Gen Y, advertising professors Joyce Wolburg and Jim Pokrywczynksi describe today's 18- to 24-year-olds as being “active channel surfers� who have “personalized technology as it developed.�

GEN Y'S WOODSTOCK?

For Boomers, the war was in Vietnam, for Gen Y it's in Kosovo. The Clinton impeachment replaces Watergate as the government debacle of the decade.

THE TOP TEN FORMATIVE EXPERIENCES OF THE BABY BOOMERS EVENTS THAT MADE THE BIGGEST IMPRESSION ON THE HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF 2000
1. Women in the workplace 1. Columbine
2. Sexual revolutions of the Pill and AIDS 2. War in Kosovo
3. Economic expansion of the '60s and early '70s 3. Oklahoma City bombing
4. The Space Race 4. Princess Di's death
5. Rock ‘n’ roll 5. Clinton impeachment trial
6. The Vietnam War 6. OJ Simpson trial
7. The oil crisis of the '70s 7. Rodney King riots
8. The stock market boom and bust of the '80s 8. Lewinsky scandal
9. Watergate 9. Fall of Berlin Wall
10. Disney 10. McGwire-Sosa homer derby
Source: Yankelovich Source: Class of 2000 Survey (1999). Virginia statewide poll of 655 members of class of 2000, conducted for Neil Howe and William Strauss

VOICES OF THE ECHO BOOM

THE FIRST WAVE: GEN Y ADULTS, AGES 18 TO 24

  • “My earliest memories of American history was the Challenger crash when I was in second grade. And the 1984 Olympics with Mary Lou Retton.â€?
  • “I didn't start using the Internet until 11th or 12th grade. The VCR was the most influential invention during my lifetime. Huge. Every day I tape something, it's a part of my daily life.â€?

    — Caroline McClowskey, 22, writer, Milton, Mass.
  • “I envy the activists of the ‘60s for having the ability to unify. My generation looks out and sees a country mired in big problems and we don't know where to begin. We don't have one thing to rally around like Vietnam or segregation. So we don't have the same urge or impetus to coalesce as a generation.â€?
  • “I remember the whole OJ Simpson thing. I thought the trial was very frustrating-a lot of money and attention spent for no real reason. It was a circus.â€?

    — Caitlin Casey, 20, Harvard junior, Washington, D.C.
  • “My first recollection of American history is the first Bush being inaugurated. I don't remember Reagan in office and I don't remember Challenger. I remember the Gulf War, but it didn't seem important at the time; it didn't really affect America that much. I definitely remember the L.A. riots though-that seemed kind of frightening-people in an uproar, fighting in the streets.â€?
  • “When were CDs invented? I don't remember using records. I guess CDs were the invention that had the biggest impact on me, probably more than the Internet.â€?

    — David Plattsmier, 18, high school senior, Fort Worth, Texas

THE SECOND WAVE: GEN Y TEENS, AGES 12 TO 17

  • “The Berlin Wall came down when I was only 6 years old, but I remember the Gulf War pretty clearly. I was completely under the impression that we were going to save the Kuwaitis. But I was annoyed because my parents watched CNN every night and I just wanted to watch baseball.â€?
  • “I think the most important invention during my lifetime was the cell phone. I just got one for Christmas. I got like 7,000 calls a day because I have the easiest number to remember of all my friends. Everyone calls to find out what's going on.â€?

    — Tanner Rouse, 17, high school senior, Phoenixville, Pa.
  • “With my parents' generation, you had to save money because nobody had money. But our generation always finds a way to spend money. Even if we don't need something. Even if we don't have money to spend.â€?
  • “I loved The Phantom Menace. I saw the other Star Wars movies on video but they weren't that good. Technologically, they just weren't there yet.â€?

    — Bill Callahan, 16, high school junior, Huntingdon Valley, Pa.
  • “I wish I had been more aware of the Gulf War at the time. I've never been around for a real war. Some people don't count the Gulf War as a real war, but I do. I'm interested in what happens to your state of mind during wartime. World War II and the Vietnam War totally fascinate me.â€?
  • “Kids are exposed to more adult things earlier. In the media, on the street, everywhere. People aren't as secret anymore about what they do; they're not as discreet. So kids today are much more aware of what's going on in the world.â€?

    — Peter Cohen, 15, high school sophomore, New York City

THE THIRD WAVE: GEN Y KIDS, AGES 7 TO 11

  • “I think the best invention during my lifetime was the scooter.â€?
  • “Clinton is the earliest president I can remember.â€?

    — Chris Callahan, 10, fifth-grader, Huntington Valley, Pa.
  • “I don't remember Clinton. Bush is the president now.â€?
  • “My parents say to me, ‘You know, we didn't even have computers when we were your age.’â€?

    — Anna Orens, 8, third-grader, Fort Bragg, Calif.
  • “I have my own iMac. My dad says to me, ‘You're so lucky. We didn't have iMacs when I was little.’ I don't use the Internet at home because my Dad thinks I'm not old enough yet.â€?
  • “I don't know if they were invented when I was born or before, but I think scooters are the best invention during my lifetime.â€?

    — Samantha French, 7, third-grader, New York City

FORMATIVE EXPERIENCES SHAPING GENERATION Y

TALKIN' 'BOUT MY GENERATION

WHAT WAS HAPPENING:

GEN Y ADULTS BORN 1977-1983 AGE 18-24

GEN Y TEENS BORN 1984-1989 AGE 12-17

GEN Y KIDS BORN 1990-1994 AGE 7-11

WHEN THEY WERE BORN 1977-1983 1984-1989 1990-1994
Around the World Pope John Paul II ordained; Iranian revolution and hostage crisis; Soviets invade Afghanistan Lockerbie; Tiananmen Square; Berlin Wall falls; U.S. invades Panama; Chernobyl Cold War officially over; Warsaw Pact dissolved; Germany reunited; apartheid repealed
In the States President Carter pardons Vietnam draft dodgers; Three Mile Island; Reagan shot 1987 stock crash; Bush/Quayle beat Dukakis/Bentsen; Oliver North testifies and is convicted Bush pardons Iran-Contra convicts; Clinton/Gore elected; World Trade Center bombed; Nixon dies; L.A. earthquake
Culturally Star Wars; Saturday Night Fever; Raiders of the Lost Ark; Grease; Animal House; Roots miniseries; Billy Joel wins Grammy; Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and William Styron best-sellers Rain Man; Back to the Future; Beverly Hills Cop; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; Fatal Attraction; Toni Morrison's Beloved; Madonna's “Like a Virgin� tour; Thirtysomething debuts Jurassic Park; Home Alone 2; Dances with Wolves; Pretty Woman; Nirvana hits big and Kurt Cobain kills himself; Dr. Seuss dies; Woodstock 94 concert; Friends debuts
Socially Elvis, Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Norman Rockwell and John Lennon die; Kramer vs. Kramer; Ordinary People; 10% unemployment; affirmative action affirmed; Michael and Jennifer most popular names U.S. first officially observes Martin Luther King day; life expectancy passes 75 years; homelessness crisis; Andy Warhol dies; Michael and Jessica most popular names Jim Henson dies; Pee-Wee Herman arrested; “Don't Ask; Don't Tell� policy instituted; Michael Jackson accused of sexual harassment; first black woman elected to Senate; Michael and Ashley most popular names
In Science/Technology/Business CNN and MTV launch; Pac-man; dawn of AIDS; first IBM PC; NutraSweet; artificial heart implant; Mount St. Helens erupts; Walkmans introduced Prozac debuts; CDs start to outsell vinyl; Apple Mac with mouse debuts; Bell phone system broken up Gopher Internet interface; CDs outsell cassettes; tuberculosis resurfaces; human cells cloned; Microsoft sales hit $1 billion
WHEN THEY ENTERED GRADE SCHOOL 1982-1988 1989-1994 1995-1999
Around the World Falklands; Grenada attack; Princess Grace and Brezhnev die Gorbachev becomes president; Deng Xiaoping resigns; Persian Gulf invasion; Mandela freed Panama Canal turned over; bailout of Mexico; Rwanda massacre; Rabin assassinated
In the States Challenger explodes; “Star Wars� bill nixed; Iran-Contra; Bork borked Bush inaugurated; NAFTA approved; Clinton accused of sexual harassment Columbine shooting; Oklahoma City bombing; Clinton impeached; Unabomber arrested
Culturally E.T.; Tootsie; The Big Chill; Ghostbusters; Return of the Jedi; Michael Jackson's “Thriller;� Cats opens; The Cosby Show debuts; Cabbage Patch kids Home Alone; Batman; The Lion King; Aladdin; Lucille Ball, Frank Capra, Fellini and Greta Garbo die; The Simpsons debuts; Beanie Babies Titanic; The Sixth Sense; Toy Story; Babe; Jerry Garcia, Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald die; TV ratings system debuts; Harry Potter fever; Pokémon; Tamagochi and Teletubbies
Socially ERA fails; crack hits U.S.; Band Aid; Rock Hudson dies; Oprah syndicated nationwide; Sally Ride Robert Bly's Iron John; Anita Hill accuses Clarence Thomas; L.A. riots; Woody-Mia-Soon Yi triangle; Jackie O dies WWW becomes ubiquitous with 150 million Americans online; Million Man March; Pope John Paul II visits U.S.; OJ Simpson acquitted; welfare reform
In Science/Technology/Business CDs introduced; Microsoft Windows debuts; dawn of desktop publishing; New Coke; Nintendo debuts; PC Magazine launches First WWW server; Hubble launched; Earth summit in Rio; home video games sales reach 40 million; Apple II discontinued; Isaac Asimov dies PlayStation introduced; Dolly the sheep cloned; Melissa virus; Hale-Bopp comet
WHEN THEY ENTERED JUNIOR HIGH 1989-1995 1996-2001 2002-2006
Around the World Ayatollah denounces Salman Rushdie; U.S.S.R. collapses; Thatcher resigns; E.U. formed Netanyahu elected; Madeleine Albright first female U.S. secretary of state; Hong Kong returned to China; The Euro debuts
In the States Exxon Valdez; Clean Air Act; OJ Simpson arrest and trial Timothy McVeigh sentenced to death; Monica Lewinsky scandal
Culturally Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Forrest Gump; Philadelphia; Schindler's List; Seinfeld and ER debut; Howard Cosell and Mickey Mantle die Independence Day; Mission: Impossible; The Ice Storm; The Full Monty; Philip Roth, Rick Moody and Frank McCourt best-sellers
Socially R.D. Laing, Bette Davis and Laurence Olivier die; flag burning banned; Backlash published; NC-17 rating debuts; Waco siege; River Phoenix overdoses Americans go online in vast numbers; Matthew Shepard and James Byrd murders; JFK Jr. dies; Ellen DeGeneres comes out
In Science/Technology/Business “Virtual reality� debuts; White House Web site built; approval of first genetically engineered food; Sega and Power Macs debut Carl Sagan dies; mad cow disease breaks out; Mars exploration; Viagra approved; John Glenn revisits space
Source: American Demographics

BOOM, ECHO BOOM

In a certain way, Gen Ys may not be so different from their parents' generation after all.

BABY BOOMERS LEADING BOOMERS CORE BOOMERS TRAILING BOOMERS
YEAR BORN 1946-1950 1951-1959 1960-1964
CURRENT AGE 52-55 42-51 37-41
PERCENT OF GROUP 23% 49% 28%
ECHO BOOMERS GEN Y ADULTS GEN Y TEENS GEN Y KIDS
YEAR BORN 1977-1983 1984-1989 1990-1994
CURRENT AGE 18-24 12-17 7-11
PERCENT OF GROUP 36% 34% 30%
Source: Yankelovich Monitor, U.S. Census Bureau, American Demographics

SHOW ME THE MONEY: Divvying Up the Gen Y Spending Pool

THE FIRST WAVE: GEN Y ADULTS, AGES 18 TO 24 (36% OF THE GENERATION)

The biggest distinction between leading Gen Ys and their Gen X predecessors is probably their attitude toward money. Today's leading Gen Ys are optimistic about their earning power. In a March 2001 Northwestern Mutual poll of college seniors, 73 percent said they thought it very likely they would be able to afford the lifestyle they grew up in; and 21 percent said it was somewhat likely. They expect to have money because they want it: Asked in the same poll to choose one thing that would improve their lives forever, most chose “having more money� (26 percent).

At the same time, they like to spend. According to the Northwestern Mutual study, 37 percent currently own three or more credit cards, while only 13 percent claim none. The fall 2000 Lifestyle & Media Student Monitor reports that overall, college students today have a purchasing power of $105 billion, and that 6 out of 10 earn this money through a part-time job. According to Student Monitor's spring 2001 report, the average monthly discretionary spending of full-time undergraduate college students is $179; their average annual personal earnings, $5,140.

THE SECOND WAVE: GEN Y TEENS, AGES 12 TO 17 (34% OF THE GENERATION)

According to Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU), teens spent $155 billion in 2000-$2 billion more than they did in 1999-an increase of 1.3 percent, and the fourth annual increase in a row. (Previous annual growth was in the 9 percent to 18 percent range.) TRU estimates the average teenager's weekly spending at $84, $57 of which is their own money. In large part, they are spending money on clothing: According to Harris Interactive, 75 percent of girls' expenditure and 52 percent of boys' goes toward apparel.

Yet they also have longer-term plans: An astounding 18 percent own stocks or bonds. In a study of 2,030 12- to 19-year-olds nationwide, TRU found that 30 percent of teens are interested in getting their own credit card and of the 18- and 19-year-olds, 42 percent already have cards in their own name. In the meantime, they use a variety of debit cards and pre-loaded cards such as American Express's Cobalt Card.

THE THIRD WAVE: GEN Y KIDS, AGES 7 TO 11 (30% OF THE GENERATION)

'Tweens may have even more spending power. According to the Wonder Group, today's 'tweens spend an average of $4.72 a week of their own money, typically from an allowance. In addition, these 'tweens get a lot of money through cash gifts-mostly from their grandparents. That amounts to $10 billion a year out-of-pocket-with either their own allowances or with money acquired through gifts. In addition, there's the spending they influence, estimated by the Wonder Group at $260 billion annually.

“This is the most influential youth segment,� says Dave Siegel, president of the Wonder Group. “Unlike teens, they still have to rely on their power to influence their parents in order to get the goods and services they want. And today's parents are different from yesterday's. Instead of being the gatekeeper that puts off their kids' nagging, they've become cooperative partners in this endeavor. We call them the ‘4 eyed, 4 legged consumer.’ The 'tween and mom act as one consumer.�

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