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Editor's Note: Anyone who has read his work can attest that Hedgeye demography guru Neil Howe is one of the brightest bulbs out there. In the brief bullets below, the man who coined the term "millennials" cuts through recent news headline noise and shares some observations on topics people are talking about across America.

A Demographic Theory Explaining the Rise of Rock Icon Tom Petty - tompetty

Gen-X contributor Reuben Levy memorializes Tom Petty, whose death he says is a huge loss for Generation X. A Boomer by birth, Petty’s relatable brand of down-on-your-luck rock and roll made him an icon for countless hardscrabble Xers as well. (The Z Review)

  • Neil Howe: In Millennials and the Pop Culture, we offer a timeline describing how each generation interacts with the pop culture. After its first cohort reaches age 20, a generation typically enters a three-decade curve: In the first decade, it listens to pop music performed by the previous generation; in the second decade, it listens to its own music; and in the third decade, it performs music for the next generation. For Gen Xers, its first decade was the 1980s. And most of the music (from glam rock and new wave to punk and early hip hop) young Xers listened back then to was performed by Boomers--including Madonna, Van Halen, Blondie, Michael Jackson, Sting, and (yes) Tom Petty. (The only interesting exception was thrash metal, which was performed by very young Xers, heading bands like Metallica and Anthrax.) Flash forward to the 1990s, when Xers were mainly playing for each other (gangsta rap, grunge, etc.). And then to the 2000s, when they performed for Millennials. Today, btw, it's Millennials playing for Millennials.

A Demographic Theory Explaining the Rise of Rock Icon Tom Petty - selfie112

Boomer Columnist Jim Camden comments on a recent study showing that his generation has always been more polarized than Millennials. While Camden originally assumed that the Internet has fostered political polarization, he comes to the (correct) conclusion that “cranky old people are responsible for polarization.” (The Columbian)

  • NH: Several studies have come to this conclusion. Perhaps the most thorough, the NBER article cited in Camden's op-ed, was performed on nine separate measures of political polarization. It comes to the same conclusion as the others, that polarization is positively correlated with age and negatively correlated with time spent on the Internet or social media. 

A Demographic Theory Explaining the Rise of Rock Icon Tom Petty - marriage

Contributor Mark Regnerus believes that the primary driver behind declining marriage rates among young adults is the “cheapening” of sex. While it’s true that it has become easier (and more socially acceptable) than ever to find a sexual partner without getting married, this explanation is a nonstarter, since Millennials have also been bringing down rates of sexual activity. (The Wall Street Journal)

  • NH: Given the 1,400+ comments on this story, it's safe to assume that readers have strong feelings on this question. It's also safe to assume that the basic argument--"cheap" sex undermines marriage--has been around a long time, going all the way back to widespread use of contraceptive pills and the coming of age of young Boomers back in the late 1960s. If the argument does have merit, it sure takes a long time to play itself out. Regnerus does acknowledge an alternative explanation, that sinking wages and educational attainment of men relative to women have rendered them less "marriagable," but he dismisses that argument too lightly. In fact, David Autor et al. recently published a much-discussed study demonstrating that falling marriage rates are directly correlated year by year (across 722 commuting zones) to falling male wage rates and a falling manufacturing employment share.

A Demographic Theory Explaining the Rise of Rock Icon Tom Petty - target store

A new Target-Pinterest partnership will enable consumers to snap a picture of any item in the real world and be sent a list of comparable Target products. The service is an example of the type of added value that today’s retailers must provide in an age of commoditization and mobile shopping. (TechCrunch)

  • NH: Millennials, who came of age surrounded by dumb screens, used text (e.g., Googling) to search for things. Homelanders, who will come of age surrounded by ambient intelligence, will use images (driven by AI engines) to search for things. The biggest decline in day-to-day, real-world literacy may not have happened yet. It may be yet to come.


A Demographic Theory Explaining the Rise of Rock Icon Tom Petty - market brief