Fade to Gray? Boomers Are Back

After decades of youth-focused culture, older people are finding themselves in demand both as consumers and workers.

Pity the boomer, the butt of many jokes, shuffled to the exits at age 65, and expected to be heard from only in postcards from Florida.

But the combination of a pandemic, inflation, and a war has led to a surprising shift in the demographic dynamics of 2022, with consumer and workforce power now tipping back toward boomers. Indeed, experts say this once-maligned group happens to own some of the most sought-after job skills on the market, along with exceedingly strong purchase power. Americans over age 70 now own 27 percent of all US wealth. And as companies take note, in some cases bending over backwards to woo the group, boomers are elated. “Personally, I am just loving the revenge against my kids,” says David Vied, global sector leader for medical devices and diagnostics at Korn Ferry. “It’s our time now, right?”

Pursuing the boomer demographic is not without risks. There is a reason that development efforts have long focused on workers and customers with four to five decades ahead of them. But after years of a myopic focus on millennials, two simultaneous changes have revived the market power of the older generation: first, facing the dramatic labor shortage, many firms have discovered they can hire retirees for short-term roles, as contractors or part-time workers. This can be a boon for companies: they can retain some of their highest-skilled employees for much lower overall costs, with the benefit of knowledge transfer to younger employees. “Our number of conversations about direct working relationships with boomers and younger workers has gone way up,” says Vied.

Second, the pandemic housing and stock markets have made boomers digitally literate and ballooned their wealth. Today 37 percent of people over age 65 use mobile pay apps, and 39 percent use telemedicine (up from 3 percent pre-pandemic). “There’s a big misconception that boomers don’t know tech,” says Zach Peikon, principal in the Marketing Officers practice at Korn Ferry. “Boomers certainly didn’t grow up with it, but they’ve definitely learned it.”

This is particularly true in online ordering, says Sheila O’Grady, leader of the restaurant sector at Korn Ferry, where digital ordering has risen eightfold since 2015. “Boomers in particular have really fast-forwarded their own digital capabilities during the pandemic,” she says. “Their spending power is just tremendous.”

Experts say marketers, long trained to focus on youth, cannot ignore this. Ann Vogl, senior client partner in the Marketing Officers practice at Korn Ferry, suggests that companies look at their data to see which boomer audiences provide the most opportunity. The age group is particularly keen for travel and new experiences, she says, especially after missing out during the years of the pandemic. “If you’re not looking at boomers,” she says. “you’re missing out.”