Age Wave refers to a massive population and cultural shift caused by three converging global demographic forces:
- The baby boom. In the middle of the twentieth century, fertility rates increased significantly in the United States, Canada, Australia, and most of Europe. For example, nearly one-third of Americans—76 million people—were born between 1946 and 1964. This period of increased fertility era occurred between the baby busts of the Depression and World War II and the Vietnam war.
- Elevating longevity. Due to advances in public health, nutrition management and medical advances, life expectancy vaulted during the 20th century. For example, in the United States, life expectancy at birth in 1900 was 47. Today, life expectancy at birth in the United States is 78.
- The birth dearth. The baby boom has been followed by a period of declining fertility rates, so that many parts of the world are now experiencing sub-replacement fertility levels.
According to Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., who first envisioned this demographically-driven transformation and coined the term, the “age wave” has already reshaped social and cultural trends, marketplace opportunities, productivity, and consumption patterns. Because of its enormous size and unique preferences and priorities, the men and women of this generation don’t just populate existing lifestages or consumer trends, they transform them. Some examples of trends and events driven by the age wave include:
- Benjamin Spock's book, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, published during the first year of the baby boom, sold at least one million copies a year for eight straight years.
- 1.5 million cans of baby food were consumed in 1953, almost six times as many as a decade before.
- Enrollment in the Cub Scouts doubled between 1950 and 1955.
- The toy industry increased fifteen-fold in the 1940s and 1950s to meet the needs of rapidly growing numbers of children.
- 83 percent of the total population growth in the United States during the 1950s was in the suburbs as parents of the baby boomers moved out of the cities to raise their larger families.
- In the 1960s, teenagers accounted for 55 percent of all soft drink sales, 53 percent of all movie tickets, and 43 percent of all records sold. Fast food franchisers grew 20 percent a year.
- Sales of home gym equipment rose from $75 million in 1982 to over $1 billion in 1985.
- Minivans and SUVs were created and came to dominate the auto industry in the 1980s and 1990s as baby boomers began raising families.
- The age wave will cause a massive slowdown in workforce growth in the coming years. In the next decade, America's workforce will grow only 4 percent as the boomers begin to retire, down from 12 percent in the current decade and 29 percent in the 1970s when the boomers were entering the workforce.
Dychtwald argues that as the boomer generation continues to mature, life's second half is about to be further transformed, and that in the next several decades, this age wave will shift the epicenter of consumer activity from a focus on youth to the needs, challenges, and aspirations of maturing consumers. Because of the aging of the boomer generation, we are about to see an explosion of maturity-oriented products and services such as: nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, fitness communes, re-careering, philanthropreneuring, career-transition coordinators, smart homes, long-term care and longevity insurance, equity-release, reverse mortgages, college campus-based retirement housing and Internet cemeteries. However, the age wave will also put unprecedented pressure on families, communities and governments as multiplying numbers of older adults strain entitlements, eldercare, healthcare delivery and pensions.
Criticisms All of these anecdotes may not reflect purely demographic changes, but also changes in norms of social present in the period. Especially activities like baby food consumption or Boy Scout attendance. Baby food consumption points to changes in beliefs about childhood nutrition, marketing and increased wealth with which to buy packaged food. Boy Scout attendance is not a stable fraction of the population (all those of a certain age) but rather a reflection of trends in beliefs about proper young male socialization and ideology.
- Dychtwald, Ken. "Age Wave: The Challenges and Opportunities of an Aging America." New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.
- "Panel 2". Archived from the original on 2009-02-15. Retrieved 2009-05-23.
- "The Age Wave," Training & Development Journal, February 1, 1990.
- Jones, Landon. "Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation." New York: Ballantine Books, 1980.
- Dychtwald, Ken, Erickson, Tamara, Morison, Robert. "Workforce Crisis." Harvard Business School Publishing, 2006.
- Dychtwald, Ken. "Age Wave: The Challenges and Opportunities of an Aging America." New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.