Sheryl Connelly has a great job. She's a futurist for Ford Motor Co. -- global consumer trends and futuring manager to be exact.
"My insights are drawn from things outside the automotive industry," she says. "I liken it to standing on the moon and looking down at earth."
The aging of baby boomers is one of the things that Connelly is studying closely these days. She is particularly interested in how the boomers' worldviews have changed as they've gotten older and look forward to retirement. "Baby boomers were raised during a period of economic prosperity. They gave rise to the Company Man -- an employee who worked for the same company and had an implied contract: He would give everything in return for financial security."
"Greed is good"
In 1987, just as the oldest boomers were turning 40 and hitting their midlife strides, the movie "Wall Street" was released and Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko set the tone for his generation when he announced, "Greed is good," Connelly says.
For another couple of decades that philosophy held sway, she believes, not only among boomers but also among other segments of the population, influenced by the sheer numbers of boomers, who still comprise about 25 percent of the population. Everything got bigger and more ostentatious.
Been there, done that
Then in 2007, the economic bubble burst. Boomers reacted to this economic meltdown by "downsizing, but not downgrading," Connelly says. "The most important trend that boomers are driving now is a determination to streamline and simplify."
In terms of retirement planning, Connelly says that after years of living complex lives, boomers are moving in a different direction. "They're saying, 'Been there, done that. I'm ready to make life easier.'"
From the automotive perspective, she says boomers have adopted a "smaller is more sophisticated," mentality. For instance, among boomers, ages 55 to 64, sales of the small sport utility vehicle or SUV Ford Escape are up 81 percent since 2009. Of these, 46 percent are premium models sold to buyers age 56 or older. These cars may look boxy on the outside, but they come loaded with technology and amenities.
Looking out for the less fortunate
These days, "Displays of wealth are increasingly seen as impolite," Connelly says. "Buying something small and energy-efficient projects to the world that you are a global citizen, aware of the plight of the less fortunate."
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