Echo Boomers Were Born Between 1982 And
Dec 26, 2004 7:15 pm
If you've ever wondered why corporate America,
Hollywood, Madison Avenue and the media all seem obsessed with the
youth culture, the answer is simple.
The largest generation
of young people since the '60s is beginning to come of age. They're
called "echo boomers" because they're the genetic offspring and
demographic echo of their parents, the baby boomers.
between 1982 and 1995, there are nearly 80 million of them, and
they're already having a huge impact on entire segments of the
economy. And as the population ages, they will be become the next
dominant generation of Americans.
Who are they? What do they
want? As Correspondent Steve Kroft reported in October, you'll be
The oldest are barely out of college, and the
youngest are still in grade school.
And whether you call
them "echo boomers," "Generation Y" or "millenials," they already
make up nearly one-third of the U.S. population, and already spend
$170 billion a year of their own and their parents' money.
Almost none of it is spent on boring things like mortgages
and medication. And the world is falling all over itself trying sell
What brands do they love? Sony, Patagonia, Gap,
Only a small percentage are eligible to
vote, yet they are already one of the must studied generations in
history -- by sociologists, demographers, and marketing consultants
like Jane Buckingham of the Intelligence Group.
uses focus groups to gather information for clients such as NBC,
Chanel, Nike and Levi Strauss.
Echo boomers are a reflection
of the sweeping changes in American life over the past 20 years.
They are the first to grow up with computers at home, in a
500-channel TV universe. They are multi-taskers with cell phones,
music downloads, and Instant Messaging on the Internet. They are
totally plugged- in citizens of a worldwide community.
Summers of Columbia University and Andie Gissing from Middlebury
College in Vermont are college seniors and editors of their college
newspapers. They are both in touch with the echo boomer ethos.
"I would say that my generation tends to be very
overachieving, over-managed," says Summers. "Very pressured."
"I would agree with that," adds Gissing. "A lot of people
work hard or want to do well, I guess."
And it's no wonder
they feel that way. From when they were toddlers, they have been
belted into car seats, and driven off to some form of organized
group activity. After graduating from "Gymboree" and "Mommy and Me,"
they have been shuttled to play dates and soccer practice, with
barely a day off, by parents who've felt their kids needed
structure, and a sense of mission.
Dr. Mel Levine, a
professor at the University of North Carolina, is one of the
best-known pediatricians in the country. He says it's had as much to
do with shaping this generation as technology.
been heavily programmed. The kids who have had soccer Monday, Kung
Fu Tuesday, religious classes Wednesday, clarinet lessons Thursday.
Whose whole lives have really been based on what some adult tells
them to do," says Levine.
"This is a generation that has
long aimed to please. They've wanted to please their parents, their
friends, their teachers, their college admissions officers."
It's a generation in which rules seem to have replaced
rebellion, convention is winning out over individualism, and values
are very traditional.
They are also the most diverse
generation ever: 35 percent are non-white, and the most tolerant,
believing everyone should be part of the community.
Historian Neil Howe, along with co-author William Strauss,
has made a career studying different generations. Howe says all the
research on echo boomers always reflects the same thing: They are
much different than their self-absorbed, egocentric baby boomer
"Nothing could be more anti-boom than being a good
team player, right? Fitting in. Worrying less about leadership than
follower-ship," says Howe. "If you go into a public school today,
teamwork is stressed everywhere. Team teaching, team grading,
collaborative sports, community service, service learning, student
juries. I mean, the list goes on and on."
Howe thinks they
are more like their grandparents, the great World War II generation
-- more interested in building things up than tearing them down.
"When you ask kids, 'What do you most hope to achieve
there?' Where they used to say, 'I wanna be No. 1. I wanna be the
best,' increasingly they're saying, 'I wanna be an effective member
of the team. I wanna do everything that's required of me,'" says
And you can already see some results. Violent crime
among teenagers is down 60 to 70 percent. The use of tobacco and
alcohol are at all-time lows. So is teen pregnancy. Five out of 10
echo boomers say they trust the government, and virtually all of
them trust mom and dad.
Through sheer numbers, they're
beginning to change society. They have affected school construction,
college enrollments, product development, and media content. And
according to Buckingham, they are changing the way things are sold,
from clothing to cars, because mass marketing doesn't always reach
"They're not watching the traditional networks as much
because they have so many choices. They're playing on the Internet.
They're playing videogames," says Buckingham. "They're out and about
shopping a lot. So, the traditional 30-second commercial isn't
always working the way it was."
They are the most
sophisticated generation ever when it comes to media. They create
their own Web sites, make their own CDs and DVDs, and are cynical of
packaged messages. They take their cues from each other. A
well-placed product on one of their pop idols, like Paris Hilton or
Ashton Kutcher, can launch a brand of $40 T-shirts and trucker hats.
But they also shop at vintage clothing shops.
employs the services of some 1500 young people scattered around the
country, and relies on their regular reports on what's hot and
what's not to keep her and her clients ahead of the latest trends.
"One of the things with this generation is word of mouth.
Buzz is more important today than it's ever been," says Buckingham.
"And that can get started on the Internet. That can get started just
through friends. And it's very hard for a marketer to tap into that
unless it's really a product that they like."
already betting hundreds of millions of dollars to try to create
that buzz, in launching a car division aimed exclusively at echo
"They've affected clothing. They've affected
beverage. And now, they're just about to affect the car business,"
says Jim Farley, head of Toyota's Scion division.
quietly peddling its new $15,000 cars, with air conditioning and
power windows, by sponsoring events like street basketball/break
dance festivals, where they always have cars on hand for people to
look at and sometimes even test drive.
"People kind of just
stumble on our product, and it's cool that way," says Farley. That's
what the company wants. "This is like regular car companies are on
TV. This is our regular activity. This is how we expose our cars to
Seventy percent of Scion's promotion is being
spent on those events. Only 30 percent is spent on traditional
advertising, and much of that is on the Internet, where echo boomers
can fill out a Scion order form, customize their car with 40
different options, and drop off the form at the dealership without
ever hearing a sales pitch.
It's early yet, but Farley says
Scion is meeting its sales projections: "I think how we've looked at
it is that we can't afford not to do this."
have their own television network, the WB, and their own stores,
with multimedia presentations and disc jockeys to lure them in the
door. It's a generation used to being catered to.
more protected," says Howe. "They regard themselves as collectively
special, because of the time in which they were raised."
do they consider themselves special?
"Because they came
along at a time when we started re-valuing kids. During the '60s and
'70s, the frontier of reproductive medicine was contraception," says
Howe. "During the '80s and beyond, it's been fertility and scouring
the world to find orphan kids that we can adopt. ...The culture
looked down on kids. Now it wants kids; it celebrates them."
Echo boomers are the most watched-over generation in
history. Most have never ridden a bike without a helmet, ridden in a
car without a seat belt, or eaten in a cafeteria that serves peanut
"Sometimes, they don't know what to do if they're
just left outside and you say, 'Well, just do something by yourself
for a while,'" says Howe. "They'll look around stunned. You know,
'What are we supposed to do now?'"
They're hovered over by
what college administrators call "helicopter parents." Protected and
polished, they are trophy children in every sense of the word.
"Everyone is above average in our generation," says Summers.
"Everybody gets a trophy at the end of the year. It's
something you're used to," adds Gissing. "And you have the rows of
trophies lined up on your windowsill, or whatever."
feel as if they're holding onto a piece of Baccarat crystal or
something that could somehow shatter at any point," says Levine.
"And so parents really have a sense their kids are fragile. And
parents therefore are protecting them, inflating their egos.
Massaging them, fighting their battles for them."
who is considered one of the foremost authorities in the country on
how children learn, is now researching a book on young people
entering their 20s. He is concerned that groupthink is stifling
initiative. And because they have always been rewarded for
participation, not achievement, they don't have a strong sense what
they are good at and what they're not.
For instance, when a
young person shows up for work at his or her first job, what do they
expect and what are they finding?
"They expect to be
immediate heroes and heroines. They expect a lot of feedback on a
daily basis. They expect grade inflation, they expect to be told
what a wonderful job they're doing," says Levine.
expect] that they're gonna be allowed to rise to the top quickly.
That they're gonna get all the credit they need for everything they
do. And boy, are they naive. Totally naive, in terms of what's
really gonna happen."
Levine says that is not the only part
of their cultural conditioning that's going to require an adjustment
in the workplace.
"I talked to the CEO of a major
corporation recently and I said, 'What characterizes your youngest
employees nowadays?'" says Levine. "And he said, 'There's one major
thing.' He said, 'They can't think long-range. Everything has to be
immediate, like a video game. And they have a lot of trouble sort of
doing things in a stepwise fashion, delaying gratification. Really
reflecting as they go along.' I think that's new."
calls the phenomenon visual motor ecstasy, where any cultural
accoutrement that doesn't produce instant satisfaction is boring. As
echo boomers grow up, they'll have to learn that life is not just a
series of headlines and highlight reels.
But this may be
something that, for now, echo boomers can deal with.
you call your generation?" Buckingham asked Scott, one of her focus
"Perfect," he says,