What we can take from our Future of Generations research

The Future of Generations project was launched to get a deeper insight into lives across generations and the perceptions people have of different ages. It involved online community tasks, a 3,000 respondent online survey and mobile ethnography. The research captured a picture of what life is like across ages, in turn exposing how false some perceptions were. By assessing everyday communication, spending and leisure practices, as well as everyday sentiment and preference across generations, we uncovered what really matters to people of all ages, allowing us to better understand wider social and cultural trends and bust some age-related myths in the process.

Myth 1 – Teens are narcissistic and rude.

As our research showed, some negative behavioural traits, like being ‘narcissistic’, a ‘follower’ and ‘materialistic’, are associated with younger generations, alongside being ‘digitally connected’ and ‘adventurous’. However, younger people are not as self-involved as this stereotype might suggest: 70% of teenagers indicated they were concerned about social issues in the world, compared to 54% of the general population. Only 4 in 10 of the population describe teens as polite, yet 97% of Millennials see themselves as polite. Being more orientated towards materialism over experience is also unfounded, as they are more likely than other generations to show love for brands which support social causes. The rise in the experience economy is also attributed to the changing expectations of younger generations, where a need for meaningful experience is sought after, rather than material gain (Source: LSN).

Myth 2 – Teens have little influence in household purchases.

Another important finding concerning younger generations is that they are key influencers in the purchase decision-making process. We found that teenagers are significant influencers across a range of different categories, particularly fashion, technology and food. They may even have an input in car purchasing decisions as one in five indicated they were involved. Thus, their attitudes and preferences should also be considered when planning how to attract older generations and parents, who are often making a joint purchase decision with younger family members.

Myth 3 – The mid-life crisis involves buying fast cars, travelling the world and spending the kid’s inheritance.

While younger generations might be labelled impolite and self-serving, those a bit older are thought to be frivolous and irresponsible as they hit ‘the mid-life crisis’. Yet this apparent crisis of identity does not always mean splashing out, fast cars and extravagant holidays. Instead of such retail therapy, we found people at this life stage tend to seek respite through health and wellness therapy. They attempt to tweak their lifestyles for the better, and not necessarily through material goods, but healthier habits. While at this stage people rate themselves as the least happy of all generations, often because of the life events that are more likely to take place at this time (being made redundant, divorcing or children leaving home), this does not mean they fall into a reckless spending spree. To remain looking young (important for 56% of 40-43-year-olds) they are more likely to turn to fitness and health-related activities than materially related ones (after 16-19yr olds, 40-43yr olds are the biggest users of the app Myfitnesspal).

Myth 4 –Older generations are lonely, isolated and unsociable.

Our Future of Generations research has also thrown into light the biases that older generations are subject to. A significant insight is the level of socialising engaged in by older generations and their high level of happiness. Those 65 and over are the happiest of all generations, with 57% of them rating their happiness between 8 and 10 on a ten point scale (vs 42% for the total population) and 57% of those 71 and over rate their happiness at over 8 out of 10. Older generations still socialise, people! In fact, 75% of those over 65 socialise with their friends once a week or more, even more than they do with their children (65%).

Myth 5 – Younger generations are much more networked and bigger influencers than the older generation.

Another insight concerns the power of older generations to influence. We learn a lot from older family members and friends, often valuing their opinion and expertise, so why should brands be any different? After all, 84% of young generations argue they can learn from older generations. While young people remain important influencers, there are certain areas where older people have significant swaying power, 24% of those influencing financial decisions are aged 60+, 25% of those influencing energy decisions are aged 60+ and 22% of those influencing travel decisions are aged 60+ (Source: Keller Fay).

From this, we can start to re-think how older generations influence younger ones. And lastly, if young people are ‘digitally connected’, older people aren’t, right? Wrong! They may have a wealth of experience under their belt, but that does not mean they are not still learning, developing and experimenting with new things. Older generations are more tech savvy than we give them credit for. As age increases so does the value of face-to-face interaction, however online communication remains incredibly important. 54% of those aged 46-64 and 51% of those 65+ socialise with friends online. In fact, for the 65+ that participated in our research, socialising with their children online (49%) was more common than socialising with them offline (44%).Older people are not only more influential than we think, they are digitally capable and connected.

 Life Stages, not Age

As well as busting these age-related myths, our Future of Generations research brings some additional insights to consider – one of them being the importance of life stages. We found that evaluating people based on the life events they have gone through, or are experiencing, provided another layer to the generational story. Data from the project uncovered the various emotional triggers that occur alongside various life events (when we move house, change jobs or have children) that can have a huge impact on how people feel about their place in the market, in turn affecting their spending habits and motivations for buying. Organising key audiences according to their life stages may be a way of making targeting more effective, as someone’s age is no longer a clear indicator of their life stage, and there may be huge variation within an age group like ‘Millennials’.

So what can we take from this?

Our research demonstrates that while cross-generational differences exist in society, most of these are perceived. They rest on conventional thought and old stereotypes that, if you look a little deeper, do not ring true. So while age remains a fundamental factor when thinking about targeting an audience, it is important to remember the nuances that exist within age groups (that, may in fact, be more distinct than those that exist between age groups). With these nuances in mind, we can better understand how a brand resonates with someone because of who they are and their social context, and not just their age. Thus, getting a granular picture of the people who make up a particular generation can lower the risk of creating alienating marketing campaigns. Ultimately, when thinking about older generations, do not underestimate them, empower them and you empower your brand. Equally, for younger generations, harness their social consciousness and need for experience before thinking of the qualities of a product, and they will hold you higher in their estimation.

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Alice Mackenzie

Alice has joined the Insight team after graduating in Anthropology. Her interest in human behaviour makes her extremely inquisitive and determined to learn the “why” behind the action.

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