The unruly 68s as seniors and consumers

Marianne Levinsen, M.Sc. Political Science, futurist / 21. dec 2017

They’ve been instrumental in shaping Danish society as we know it today in a lot of ways, with the welfare state and its social benefits and equal access to the healthcare system. In addition they helped introduce rights for workers in the workplace, work environment and safety organization.

Finally the women of the generation paved the way for Danish women in the job market, and they had to sacrifice a lot for their jobs and education.

As a generation they’ve left their marks as students, families and as employees on society and systems and now they’ll without a doubt significantly challenge our perception of senior life, needs and self-understanding. They’ll do this in two areas.

The first area is on the consumer side, where we’re facing a spending spree amongst the 68-generation. Previous generations of seniors have typically reduced their spending and needs, but that’s not the type of life the 68s want for themselves.

Their upbringing wasn’t at all marked by the spending and opportunity that children and youths have today. But when they take stock of their lives today, they can conclude that everything turned out quite well. They’re significantly better educated than their parent’s generation. Financially, most of them have experienced a steady rise with more and more funds for housing, spending and travels. Many have also been public employees with good pensions or with these in their futures to sweeten their lives as pensioners.

In addition to this is that the generation with its usual luck and political success was saved from losing its early retirement funds, while the younger generations have to work on into their 60s. People born before 1954 can receive early retirement for up to 5 years under the same conditions as before the reform and then pension from age 65. So they have plenty of time and a good economy to sweeten their presumably long, active lives as seniors.

In regards to inheritance, most expect to break with the tradition that there has to be one for the generation after them. As many express it, “we don’t expect to leave anything, but to enjoy life and use the money for travels and experiences for as long as we can”. Or as a 68er out on an exercise run told me, when I was walking in the woods, “well I gotta keep in shape, or I won’t have enough time to spend my money”.

Technologically speaking, they’re digital immigrants who grew up with radio, later TV and phone, but who have started to adopt many new, user-friendly digital options. They’re already super-consumers online. The 50+ age group, for example, represent more than 61% of retail sales online. Net-torvet from Coop is one of the preferred sites for the 50+ and 60+.

In the stores they prefer the competent and interesting person, and are willing to spend a lot of money if they find them. For women, money is usually spent on clothes and crèmes etc, while men spend on new machines and technology. Both have in common that they want and expect to spend a lot of money on experiences in a broad sense. That’s concerts, restaurants, short and long vacations both at home and abroad and trips focusing on experiencing culture and nature.

Similarly we’ll see a willingness to invest in furniture, toilets and a lot of other gadgets and technology that can help them continue to have active lives at home despite any infirmities that come with age.

They think sustainability and restraint are incredibly important for the survival of the world and its resources, but someone else should deal with those issues. That’s because they expect and feel that after a long work life, they are entitled to spending a lot of money on the things that they want.

Since the generation is large and well-off in many European countries, there are currently many businesses that have started developing intelligent furniture, travels, services and experiences especially directed toward their wishes and needs. They do that because the earning potential in the 68-generation is huge, not only in Denmark but in all of Europe.

The second area we’ll see changes in is the perception and definition of the seniors of the future, the perception of them as people who quietly retire and lets younger generations take over and decide on the structure of society as well as new definitions of seniors and the understanding of them.

The 68ers won’t even consider this and they reject being offered institution-food in small plastic trays, senior stores, standardized eldercare housing and any other thing seniors have had for many years.

They’ll decide themselves, what it means to be a senior and all the terms like elderly and senior will also be treated the same way soon and they’ll demand that new and more positive terms should be used about that phase of life, which they suddenly think is the most interesting of all the life phases. There’ll likely be a lot of new terms in the years to come.

They’re a very self-conscious generation who will demand that they get a say in shaping approaches, understandings and definitions of being a senior in the future. That’s why public institutions, businesses and organizations will meet a generation of resourceful seniors in earnest, who want to set the agenda for their own lives, approaches and understandings of senior life in Danish society.

68ers will of course still believe that they have the answers to the questions and challenges that society faces. We can expect a lot of activity from this generation on the political scene and a great will to put their wishes on the political agenda. They are after all also a big electoral group, so the politicians will likely listen to them.

The term, “the second teenage phase” as a term for the life phase where you might not be as good looking as in the first, but have time, money and energy to be active and to change organizations and the world, will be rekindled when the 68s enter their many new arenas.

Younger generations will, with some surprise, observe how the generation again seizes the public stage and want to control and decide. Many younger people think it’s important that we (the public sector) continue to help the weakest financially, socially and otherwise. But since it’s a documented fact that many 68ers are well-off, healthy and enjoy a publically paid freedom in their 60s, which the next generation can forget about, the reaction will be that they can pay things themselves, since they have enough money.

Many of the age-related benefits such as discounts on public transport and free vaccines will be reevaluated in coming years. They’re from a time when pensioners and seniors had an entirely different age and income profile than they do today. That’s why we can expect there to be questions asked about the many automatic benefits that follow social security number/age rather than income and resources.

Politicians will still be the unknown factor in the future. For now the 68s have managed to ride on the good wave in all the phases of their life and gotten their wills through, so perhaps they’ll be the last generation with free public transport passes.

Published here 2017.

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