Never before in the history of this nation have so many men entered the 60+ life stage. A Boomer male turns 60 about every 15 seconds. This inexorable march to 60+ will continue until 2024, and then this generation’s longevity dash continues onward toward the eighth, ninth, and tenth decades of life. Someday, millions of Boomer men will survive beyond the average life expectancy achieved by their grandfathers and fathers.
Demography by itself does not fully predict the future course for this generation. The idiosyncratic Boomer value set, inspired by the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960’s and 1970’s, adds dimension to future scenarios. Here are four significant influences:
Being Boomer Male and Feminism
Many recall early encounters with feminism during their teen years: perhaps a polite request not to open the door for a young woman passing by, or a more vociferous denunciation by being called a “male chauvinist pig.”
The experiences of feminism often served to confuse Boomer men; they wanted to please their female counterparts but did not necessarily wish to relinquish some of the privileges and territory of maleness as their fathers and grandfathers had defined it. Boomer men sometimes feel caught between opposing values about sexual roles: those celebrating full equality between the sexes, and those that honor the special privileges of manhood such as classic corporate and institutional power.
Many privileges under onslaught today spring from ancient religious traditions and time-honored customs when men practiced rituals of initiation, preferred separation from females during specific periods and seasons, and developed their own language nuances and culture.
Patriarchic traditions are under siege today in the cultural narratives expressed through books and movies. For example, an article in The Atlantic described how role reversals are impacting Boomer men, once-upon-a-time large and in-charge of romantic relationships:
“Up in the Air, a movie set against the backdrop of recession-era layoffs, hammers home its point about the shattered ego of the American man. A character played by George Clooney is called too old to be attractive by his younger female colleague and is later rejected by an older woman whom he falls in love with after she sleeps with him—and who turns out to be married. George Clooney! If the sexiest man alive can get twice rejected (and sexually played) in a movie, what hope is there for anyone else? The message to American men is summarized by the title of a recent offering from the romantic-comedy mill: She’s Out of My League.”
It seems that Boomer men, out of choice in youth and out of necessity in middle age, have embraced the precepts and implications of feminism. Will women in the future embrace the possibilities of maleness as it finds new expressions in elderhood?
Boomer Men versus Health and Wellness
Baby Boomer men are dichotomous with respect to health & fitness. They grew up in a time when the adult population was largely ignorant of today’s diet and health maxims. For example, I recall consuming a steady diet of high-fat foods, prepared and presented by my well-meaning mother. My mother’s refrigerator was always stocked with cheeses, bacon, whole milk, bologna, and sundry cheese casserole leftovers.
On the contrary, this generation also discovered outdoor sports and jogging in their twenties, influenced an explosion in the fitness facilities industry throughout their thirties and forties, and escorted many diet and weight-loss fads to popular and economic prominence. Thus, when it comes to health and wellness, this is a bifurcated generation. About 40 percent are overweight or obese; a smaller but nevertheless significant percentage is dedicated to maintaining fitness, with accelerating commitment to workout regimens. An entire new category of master athletes has become prominent in the last few years.
Marketing to Boomer Men as Healing
Boomer men are moving into a period of their lives representing unprecedented opportunities for growth, service, community, and fraternity. Along this path, dangers lurk: irrelevance, anger, depression, lack of appropriate role models, obesity, and a general dearth of purpose. The impact can lead some men to make abrupt and unwise changes, from quitting a job to leaving a marriage.
What might be the source for these challenges of male aging? According to Jed Diamond, PhD, author of Male Menopause and The Irritable Male Syndrome, acting out by older males involves much more than external stresses.
“Often a man’s restlessness and irritability come from the pull of his inner world, not a pull from outside. He may think he needs to leave his family, have an affair, change jobs, run away from home, leave the country. The real longing may be to fulfill his soul’s calling.”
These potential illnesses of the body and soul need healing, and this is the service that many companies in the future can provide. Marketing can be restorative when insights gleaned positively change the way men think about themselves as husbands, partners, fathers, grandfathers, and mentors. Just as marketers have been instrumental in teaching women about breast cancer, so can marketers take a leadership role in helping men understand their own needs and positive ways to address what they want through the choices they make as consumers.
Marketers can teach environmental awareness, the special role of fathers in the nation’s future, and how men and women can co-evolve, wherein both sexes share equally in the American dream.
The most powerful marketing premise of the next ten years will be healing. In healing the nation’s aging men, those insightful and courageous companies will also heal many ills besetting the nation and the globe. Along this fruitful path, enlightened companies will also experience the economic and psychological rewards of making a substantive difference, while elevating late-life manhood to a status worthy of esteem and aspiration by younger generations.
Toward Relevance and Reinvention
Although late middle age has been traditionally associated with predictability, quiescence, and gradual withdrawal from mainstream society, Boomer men are poised to shatter these stereotypical expectations, challenging, for example, barriers to employment for those over age 50 or 60. The softer side of maturity is a quest for reinvention and self-actualization. Boomer men have spent decades focused on their responsibilities as employers, employees, fathers, husbands, partners, and business and civic leaders.
The stage of life after 60 presents renewed opportunities to reach for greater idealism and relevance in life. It’s a time to discover life anew, and this perpetually seeking cohort will pursue later life with questions, a search for meaning, and by finding ways to bring life into perspective while leaving behind meaningful contributions to society. These Boomer quests will include new ways to create a more sustainable economy, ways to mitigate poverty and attendant diseases, and ways to build greater influence for the nation’s thousands of nonprofit organizations.
Excerpted from Generation Reinvention: How Boomers Today Are Changing Business, Marketing, Aging and the Future.