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Generations have more in common now than ever before

In previous years there has been significant attitudinal and behavioral differences between the age groups. Whilst core values, the guiding principles in people's lives, can take years to change COVID-19, has accelerated the sharing of economic, environmental, social and technological values across each demographic. They now have more in common than ever before.

The silent generation (Age 75 and above)

COVID 19 has rapidly accelerated the adoption of digital technology leading to increased digital proficiency and a keener interest in new technology. 81 percent of the over 75s now use a smartphone compared with 61 percent pre COVID-19, 67 percent shop online more than they did previously, and 44 percent have used new technology for the first time. Their use of cash is declining from 68 percent pre COVID-19 to 39 percent now as they increasingly adopt digital payment mechanisms.

Perhaps the most significant change in older generational values has been the rapid rise in concern about economic and social disparity, in fact it now concerns some three quarters of the over 75s compared to 40 percent pre COVID-19. 92 percent are willing to pay more for an ethical retailer or a brand that gives back to society compared with 91 percent of millennials.

Unsurprisingly they are still concerned about their health and safety and the provision of old age care.

Why this matters?

Digital usage and environmental and social awareness are no longer the preserve of Millennials and Generation Z. There is also a higher incidence of traditionally younger life events such as (re)marriage, new jobs, children in this age group. Older people are no longer acting like 'old' people. So, whilst 16 percent of Generation X see marriage as their next life event so do 13 percent of the over 75s, they still have aspirations and life goals that they want to achieve.

This has implications for firms whose marketing efforts are demographically targeted, the rules that applied pre COVID-19 are no longer appropriate, the stereotype of what is means to be old has changed.


Baby Boomers (Age 54-74)

The boomer echo effect- a phenomenon by which the values of the younger generation were changing the values of the preceding generation - has been accelerated and cemented by COVID-19. This generation are behaviorally and attitudinally more like their children than ever before. They are now much keener to use firms who share their values (83 percent) and will pay more for an ethical retailer (84 percent).

They are reducing use of cash, making greater use of ecommerce but are becoming more aware of the risks of online activity, worrying about cybercrime, and sharing their data and developing a mistrust of advertising.

They share worries with the younger generations over the economy, political stability, climate change and have a higher concern over their future finances and are saving more as a protective measure.

Why this matters?

There has been a marked growth amongst Baby Boomers in their desire for personal achievement, realizing personal goals and increased self-confidence, (rising from 25 percent to 41 percent).

This reflects the fact that this generation is increasingly the 'worrying generation'. They are concerned about their financial future, the success of their children and the future of the planet. They will gravitate towards companies and employers who demonstrate that they are taking proactive action to mitigate these concerns.

More of them want to deal with ethical businesses, who are concerned about climate change, economic and social disparity and sustainability. This requires organizations to think about their purpose and the contribution they can make to reducing the anxiety levels of this demographic.


Generation X (Age 37 – 53)

This generation have been exposed to a rapidly changed work environment. They have been forced to work from home, learnt how to home school and adapted to a world of video conferencing for leisure as well as work. Consequently, there is a significant growth in the use of laptops, ecommerce and the use of non-cash payment systems.

This is a group who are more likely to work because they 'have to' as they are juggling work and family commitments. A third are concerned about having to care for an elderly relative and many are seeing their children move out pre or post further education, 1 in 5 are considering remarriage. 75 percent are worried about their children' success and the world they are going into.

They are more concerned than other age groups about old age care, pensions and personal health. All whilst being the most focused age group on personal goals.

Why this matters?

This is a turbulent life stage, where families form and reform, where worrying about the future has to be accommodated alongside worrying about the present. 42 percent are worried about personal and work relationships and 40 percent about the impact of automation. Economically this group is under pressure and seeking financial security.

This is a generation that is striving, both for itself and its children. They want the world to be a better place, a place that is safe politically, environmentally and socially – to fulfil their personal life goals and aspirations for their children.

Organizations have a significant role in how they assist this group through the employment life cycle and help alleviate some of their concerns about future security and economic wellbeing through skills training and personal development.

To connect with Generation X as customers, trust is vital. In particular, they have become extensive users of social media and are strongly influenced by online reviews when making purchasing decisions. Careful management of social media reputation, trust building behavior and sharing their values are therefore essential.


Millennials (Age 17-36)

The distinctive millennial values of wanting to improve the world and being digital natives have been eroded through the rapid adoption of technology across all age groups and a growing and more widespread concern for environmental, economic and social issues. What were traditionally younger life stage events are now spread across the age groups. For example, 32 percent of Millennials are caring for an aging parent, as are 15 percent of Baby Boomers. 42 percent of Millennials are looking to buy their first house but so are 15 percent of the over 75s.

Millennials continue however to be the generation that is most focused on technology for its own sake. 64 percent of Millennials are looking for more advanced technology, virtual and augmented reality, in store digital apps and the use of robotics. They are more willing to share data to achieve a financial or experience benefit, only 14 percent would not share their data.

They are concerned about the economic future, employment and how this influences the achievement of their life goals.

Why this matters?

This is an aspirational generation, they want to own their own home, car and digital devices. They have long-term life goals and seek personal achievement. In a sea of uncertainty, they are looking for a route map for personal growth. 51 percent, more than any other generation, are concerned about accumulating wealth.

Ethical wealth is also very important to this group. Over half are concerned about social causes and 91 percent of millennials are willing to pay more for an ethical retailer or a brand that gives back to society.

Organizations will therefore need to think about how they help this generation navigate through to the achievement of their life goals remembering that their definition of success is not just financial and economic - it incorporates social and environmental factors as well.


Generation Z (Age 7-16)

Whilst it may seem that this generation is besotted with digital technology, and it is true this group do seek the most advanced tech, in a COVID-19 world it is the more traditional aspects of life that are preoccupying them. 92 percent are concerned about the economy, 49 percent their future employment prospects and the impact of automation, 79 percent owning a home and 83 percent a car, 49 percent the opportunities for future success and surprisingly 66 percent are worried about the future success of their children.

Relationships are very important to them and social media an essential component of their lives. Reviews and contacts remain important. Cyber security and safety online have become more of a preoccupation.

Their concerns about climate change and social disparity are now equally shared by the older generations. In line with these groups 80 percent chose companies whose beliefs and values are the same as theirs.

They expect very advanced digital access mechanisms such as voice activation and robot webchat.

Why this matters?

This is a complex generation. A mix of old concerns, new technology and increasingly more widely shared values. They have become more preoccupied with the issues that have affected prior generations such as economics and advancement whilst their pre COVID-19 focus on the environment, climate change and social disparity is now shared to a greater extent by other generations.

Similarly, their aptitude for technology is now shared by older groups who have been forced to adopt digital interactions in response to the pandemic. What distinguishes this group now is that it is becoming more difficult to put a label on them, they have become less distinctive in some ways such as environmental and social concerns and more distinctive in others such as access to new technologies

Employers as well as brands will need to align their communications to this complex mix of priorities.