Over the past 25 years, Ken Dychtwald
has emerged as America's foremost visionary and leading authority
on the business and marketing implications of the aging of the
population. The founder and CEO of Emeryville, California based
Age Wave LLC, he is a psychologist, gerontologist, entrepreneur
and author of nine books including the best-seller Age Wave.
His long-awaited tenth book, Age Power: How the 21st Century
Will Be Ruled by the New Old, was published in September by Tarcher/Putnam.
You have come to be known as the "prophet of the age
wave." Can you explain this unusual demographic phenomenon?
Ken Dychtwald: Throughout history, our nation's growth and development
has been influenced by a variety of social, political and technological
shifts. But underlying all of these changes, demographic dynamics
have always remained relatively constant. There has consistently
been high fertility-meaning there was steady growth in the number
of young people, while at the same time there was high mortality-meaning
that most people died before their 50th birthdays. As a
result, the marketplace for everything from beauty products to
credit cards to travel has been oriented toward the young.
Ken Dychtwald: Yes, and in incredible ways. During
the 20th century, as a result of advances in public health, food
science, pharmacy, surgery, medicine, and, more recently, wellness-oriented
lifestyles, the average life expectancy has skyrocketed from
47 at the beginning of the century to 76 today. In a manner
unprecedented throughout human history, people have begun to
routinely remain healthy and vigorous into their seventies and
eighties, and tomorrow's mature men and women will, in all likelihood,
live even longer.
As a result of this new longevity revolution, the number of older
adults is multiplying while the youthful segments of our society
are declining growth.
By the last day of the 20th century, there will be 76 million
Americans past the age of 50-that's more than twice the population
of Canada. And, believe it or not, 76 million is exactly
the number of total Americans that there were on the first day
of this century, in the year 1900. By 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau
projects that there will be over 115 million adults age 50-plus-a
staggering 50 percent increase.
With so many people remaining healthy longer, it would also
seem that people are growing "old" much later than
they used to. Is this what's happening?
Ken Dychtwald: Exactly. When I first met my literary agent, he
told me that he remembered attending his grandfather's funeral. Although
he was just a young boy, he distinctly recalled people commenting
that his grandfather, who'd died at the age of 62, had lived
a long life and died an "old man." As fate would have
it, his father died at the exact same age, 62. At this funeral
everyone lamented that his father had lived such a short life
and had died so young. Old simply isn't what it used to be.
In your new book Age Power, you propose that we were
in the midst of an unprecedented longevity revolution. I
wonder if you think that we have gone as far as we're going to
go, or are their further breakthroughs ahead?
Ken Dychtwald: Today there are more than 100,000 anti-aging
related research projects underway in numerous disciplines in
all corners of the world: more progress has been made in the
battle against aging in the past decade than in the previous
10,000 years. Anti-aging breakthroughs in nutrition science,
hormone therapy, genetic engineering, bionics and organ cloning
will allow aging boomers to indulge their lifelong obsession
with youth. By the time boomers reach old age, I predict that
old age will have moved back fifteen or twenty years.
this "age wave" unique to the United States?
Ken Dychtwald: No, in fact, all of the modernized nations of
the world are evolving from youthful to mature societies-and
the developing nations will follow suit in the 21st century. For
example, in 1950 the average life expectancy for Japanese women
was 61.4 years, and for men 58. Since then, it has vaulted to
the highest in the world-83 for women and 76 for men. Similarly,
all of the European nations are experiencing declining birth
rates and elevating longevity.
though the numbers of mature men and women are undeniably booming,
it seems that most companies are still reluctant to target this
segment. Why do you think this is and will it change?
Ken Dychtwald: Until recently, marketers paid little attention
to 50+ men and women. There was, after all, little to spark
their interest in a group whose members tended to be financially
disadvantaged, frugal, set in their ways and uninterested in
new products and experiences.
Though still entranced by young consumers, marketers are slowly
coming to realize that they can no longer afford to ignore mature
adults. The main reason has to do with the terrific reversal
of financial fortune that older adults have experienced in recent
decades. They've gone from being the poorest segment of
society to the richest. In fact, today's 50+ men and women
currently earn almost $2 trillion in annual income, and represent
50 percent of all discretionary spending power. Their per capita
discretionary spending is 2.5 times the average of younger households.
Representing 27 percent of the total population and 36 percent
of all adults, today's new mature consumers: control more than
$7 trillion in wealth-70 percent of the total; own 77 percent
of all financial assets; represent 66 percent of all stockholders;
own 80 percent of all money in S&Ls; represent 40 million
credit card users, owning almost half of the credit cards in
the U.S.; and purchase 48 percent of all luxury cars.
How has the relative financial security of mature adults been
effected by the financial boom of the past decade?
Ken Dychtwald: While youthful consumer segments are struggling
to make ends meet during the 1990s, 50+ men and women with income
of $100,000 or more has nearly tripled.
what extent are these new mature consumers willing to spend money
on travel and recreation?
Ken Dychtwald: Mature men and women are becoming a terrifically
attractive travel segment for four solid reasons. First, they've
got vitality and a desire to engage new experiences. Second,
they have more free time than any other age group. Third,
as we just discussed, they have enormous financial resources. And
fourth, different than their depression generation parents, this
new mature cohort likes to spend money to enjoy themselves. 50+
adults already account for 35% of all domestic travel, 46% of
all vacation and pleasure trips and represent a whopping 80%
of all luxury travel. In fact, men and women over 50 currently
spend 74% more on a typical vacation than 18-49 year olds-$4,794
the travel industry, we have all been tracking the fact that
the oldest baby boomers began turning 50 in 1996. This generation
has been referred to as "a pig moving through a python." How
do you think the aging of the boomers will further transform
Ken Dychtwald: Between 1946 and 1964 the postwar fertility boom
produced 76 million children-nearly one third of the U.S. population.
Similar baby booms occurred in Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia,
and New Zealand, although some were a few years shorter in duration.
The force of this demographic quake has been reverberating through
society's institutions ever since. The massive numbers of
this generation have amplified and intensified the importance
of whatever experiences they've had at each new moment in their
lives. Just as surely as they learned to use a baby bottle,
they learned to read, to play records, to buy cars, to vote,
to rent condos, and to invest in the stock market.
It's also critical to remember that boomers don't just populate
existing lifestages or consumer trends, they transform them.
For example; boomers didn't just eat food-they transformed the
snack, restaurant, and supermarket industries; boomers didn't
just wear clothes-they transformed the fashion industry; they
didn't just buy cars-they transformed the auto industry; they
didn't just date-they transformed sex roles and practices; they
didn't just get married-they transformed relationships and the
institution of the family; they didn't just go to the doctor-they
transformed healthcare; they didn't just use computers-they transformed
technology; and they didn't just invest in stocks-they transformed
the investment marketplace.
What began as a baby boom is now evolving into the largest mature
in history. And as they age, the look, meaning, experience,
and purpose of maturity will be transformed, just as they have
revolutionized all of the other stages of life that they've occupied.
you share some of the key concerns and drivers that travel executives
should pay particular attention to with regard to targeting maturing
Ken Dychtwald: Research conducted by Age Wave's various companies
clearly indicates that as the boomers pass through their middle
years and on to maturity, four key factors will reshape supply
and demand. First, their desire to look, feel and act youthful-regardless
of their actual age.
Second, increasing amounts of discretionary dollars (for some-but
not all) as a result of escalating earning power, inheritances,
and return on investments. Third, entry into new adult lifestages
including empty-nesting, caregiving, grandparenthood, retirement,
widowhood, and rehirement-each with its own challenges and opportunities.
And fourth a psychological shift from acquiring more material
possessions toward a desire to purchase enjoyable and satisfying
experiences. As boomers migrate into maturity, I believe
that their definition of recreation and travel will change with
them, becoming progressively more active, adventurous, mind-expanding
your presentation to the ATME conference in June, you commented
that travel marketers would be better off targeting psychographics
and adult lifestages rather than age. Would you explain this
for our readers?
Ken Dychtwald: Studies have consistently shown that once people
pass their 50th birthdays, they tend to think of themselves as
10-15 years younger than their actual age. And at Age Wave
we have found that most mature adults don't think of themselves
as "acting their age" but rather as involved in a particular
For example, with children launched and homes in many cases paid
for, millions of empty nesters feel entitled to a bit of self-indulgence:
and many now have sufficient discretionary income to pursue their
travel dreams. Empty nesting provides adults more time, flexibility
and spontaneity, a chance to refocus on personal pleasure and
satisfaction, and the challenge of re-orienting the marital relationship
from a focus on the kids to each other. This is a perfect
stage of life for free-spirited and/or romantic travel and recreation.
Another target segment within the 50 plus group that is underserved
are singles. There are approximately 18 million mature single
men and women who are very interested in meeting and making new
friends, discovering new social activities and possibly, hoping
to fall in love again. Travel programs designed for groups or
ones that provide companions would be very appealing for this
As another example, eighty percent of those age 50-plus are grandparents
and over 6 million grandparents vacation with their grandchildren
in a typical month. These kinds of activities provide a
wonderful opportunity to grandparents to spend quality time with
their grandkids while giving their parents a break. However,
only a handful of travel operators have responded
to this new demand for multi-generational recreation.
Of course, for the travel industry, the motherload of adult lifestages
is retirement. One hundred years ago, 85 percent of men 65 and
older worked. Today, that figure has dropped to less than 15
percent. And due to elevating longevity, the average number
of years spent in retirement is now
20. Modern retirees are seeking social interaction, lifelong
learning and new adventures. And because they have the flexibility
to schedule their time as they wish, retirees are able to plan
vacations during off-peak seasons. I should note that many of
today's retirees are particularly attracted to guided tours ,
where meals, hotels and baggage transfers are all handled conveniently.
TMD: Earlier you mentioned that as people
mature, they become less interested in purchasing things and
more attracted to "experiences." This sounds like great
news for the travel industry.
Ken Dychtwald: There are only so many things people can buy before
they have filled up their houses. With maturity, consumers are
more drawn to purchasing "experiences" that provide
pleasure, stimulation, learning and fond memories. And they're
not nearly as constrained by the lack of available time as when
they were younger. While in the past older adults were likely
to be frugal, ailing and conservative, today there is a new group
of mature men and women who are vital, active, financially strong
and looking forward to their remaining decades of life. The coming
of "Age Power" is terrific news for the travel industry.