But the boomers, aged 42-60 in 2006, are only about one-quarter of the U.S. population. Another one-quarter of Americans are aged 18-34, and the world these young adults live in is fundamentally different.
You can almost think of it as two Americas. On one side is the aging suburban culture of the baby boom. On the other is a younger global culture that will replace it.
The boomers' values were formed in a bygone era when information was limited and the U.S. was defined by its borders. Only about one in nine Americans in their 50s is foreign-born. Until recently, very few boomers needed to have regular contact with people in other countries, and most of them still don't.
But several social shifts happened in the 1990s that remade the U.S. consumer. The first and most important shift was demographic. A wave of immigration that began in the 1980s increased in the '90s, and about 1 million people a year arrive in the U.S. legally. (By comparison, about 4 million babies are born here each year.) Somewhere between 7 million and 10 million more people are here illegally. Most of these recent immigrants are young people. That's why one in five adults aged 25-34 is foreign-born.
The impact of recent immigrants to the U.S. is magnified by their youth. A lot of them do double duty for population growth because they have children shortly after arriving here. In 2003, women of Mexican ancestry living in the U.S. bore an average of three children during their lifetimes, and women from Central and South America had 2.7.
The lifetime childbearing of black, Asian and Anglo women in the U.S. hovers around the "replacement level" of 2.1. This is why only 57% of babies born in the U.S. in 2003 were non-Hispanic whites. A decade ago, 62% were.
In the baby-boom America-aged 42-60-only one-quarter of the population is black, Hispanic, Asian or in another minority group. But the baby-boom America is fading.
Demographers use the term "majority minority" to describe a state where more than half the population belongs to a group other than non-Hispanic whites. California, Texas, Hawaii and New Mexico are already majority-minority states. Nine other states are well on their way to becoming majority minority.
As long as immigration and fertility trends continue, the increasingly influential minority groups will move through the life cycle during the first half of the 21st century just as the baby boom did during the last half of the 20th. And the trends are likely to continue because the alternative-cutting the flow of immigrants-would cause severe labor problems.
The next America is borrowing what it wants from the baby boomers and leaving the rest behind. One thing it will leave behind is the 20th century idea of race.
The 2000 Census allowed Americans to list more than one racial background for the first time, and 6.8 million people did, including 4% of children. Hispanic isn't an official racial category in Census statistics, and most Hispanics tell the Census Bureau they're white. But 6.3% of Hispanics said they had at least two racial backgrounds, compared with 1.9% of non-Hispanics.
Look for the number of multiracial Americans to increase rapidly as immigration and fertility differences drive the new polyglot culture. You can get an early look at it in Glendale, a Southern California city of 200,000 where 10% of residents say they have at least two racial backgrounds.
TELECOM, TRADE ADVANCES
If you asked the average pundit to list the most important events of the last 15 years, he or she would probably talk about political events such as the demise of the Soviet Union, the spread of democracy and the new role of the U.S. as the world's only superpower. But advances in telecommunications and global trade mattered more in the lives of U.S. consumers.
Not long ago, immigrants to the U.S. severed most of their connections to family and homeland when they left. But these days, a young Chinese mother in San Francisco who has a colicky baby can call her mother in Shanghai for advice anytime she needs it. And somewhere in the Midwest, an all-American music fan can learn about a hot new version of "Rock the Casbah" by North African rai artist Rachid Taha on a blog, then go directly to Mr. Taha's Web site to buy it.
If you have high-speed online access, you don't need to leave the house to buy travel, entertainment or any form of information. In fact, that rule also applies to any tangible object you value highly enough that you'll pay an extra shipping charge for it. The global bazaar of advertising and marketing is just beginning.
Baby boomers buy items online, of course, but that isn't the point. The point is that young American consumers are creating an interconnected world because their fondest desire is instant access to any product or person anywhere. National borders and free-trade agreements still matter, of course, but free trade also happens quietly, whenever a small business owner in Chattanooga clicks the "order" button on a Web site based in Bangalore.
If the nation is admitting 1 million new immigrants a year, why is there still a backlog of 3 million applications for U.S. immigration? It's because the U.S. has built a society the rest of the world wants.
What recent immigrants know, and what boomers often forget, is that America is more than just a country. It's an idea.
Brad Edmondson is currently VP of ePodunk.com and a former editor of American Demographics.
AMERICANS’ USE OF TIME
How an average American divvies up a 24-hour day.
Sleeping & personal care1 9.34 hours
Leisure & sports2 5.18
Household activities3 1.80
Eating and drinking 1.24
Caring for household members 0.56
Volunteering, civic groups, religion 0.32
Caring for non-household members 0.27
Phone calls, mail, e-mail 0.18
2004 data for average day in the year for consumers aged 15+. Some numbers would be higher if data were reviewed more narrowly; average time for workers working on a weekday was 7.9 hours. 1. Sleeping, bathing, dressing, health-related self care and "personal or private activities." 2. Sports, exercise,recreation; socializing and communicating; watching TV; reading; relaxing or thinking; playing computer, board or card games; using a computer or the Internet for personal interest; playing or listening to music; attending arts, cultural, sporting and entertainment events. 3. Housework, cooking, yard work, petcare, vehicle maintenance, home repair.
More info: bls.gov/tus
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics