Trendspotting: Boomers Are Rediscovering Themselves Spiritually

04/16/18 03:00PM EDT

NEWSWIRE: 4/16/18

  • One in five Boomers say they’ve increased their religious activities in recent years. The generation that redefined spirituality as young adults appears to be returning to the church to find meaning in their later years. (Longitudinal Study of Generations)
    • NH: Boomers have always prioritized the search for "meaning" in life (according to surveys extending back decades) and the quest to reinvent religion in ways they could take seriously (the subject of a wonderful book by Wade Roof and Bruce Greer, A Generation of Seekers). From Hari Krishna and New Age communes to born-again Christianity, Boomers came of age moving youth in the direction of spirituality at the same time their parents were becoming more secular. Today, the trends are reversed. Over the past fifteen years, youth (as it is redefined by Millennials) has become distinctly less spiritual, while seniors (as this age bracket is redefined by Boomers) have become more so. The USC study acknowledges that a turn back to religion with increasing age is partly a phase-of-life phenomenon: Past age 65, we are more aware of life's fragility; we are less focused on new worldly accomplishments; and we have more free time. Even so, the authors point out that the Boomer shift is larger than normal. That Boomers in old age would acquire a reputation, among younger generations, as unusually gifted in spiritual insight and religious depth (for better or worse) is a prediction Bill Strauss and I made in our very first book, Generations (1991).
  • Smucker has announced plans to acquire Ainsworth Pet Nutrition for $1.7 billion, and is reportedly looking to unload its baking brands (including Pillsbury). Given that consumers are spending more than ever on pet care and less on big CPG brands, the company is wise to shift away from the carb-laden middle aisles and toward the pet section. (MediaPost)
    • NH: This is a smart move by Smucker, which is gradually moving out of low-margin, low-growth CPG foods and moving into higher-margin, higher-growth areas like pet food, coffee, and snacks. As we have pointed out before (see: "The Next Big Thing: Pet Care: The Four-Legged Bull Market"), the "pet care" industry enjoys a whole slew of demographic and generational tailwinds that are likely to make it a winner for years to come. While General Mills may be trying to move in the same direction, it paid a fortune ($8 billion) a couple of months ago for Blue Buffalo Pet Products and has yet to develop much expertise in this area. Smucker paid a fair price--its stock rose after the announcement--and they have already established a large presence in the pet market.
  • Millennial-geared trivia apps like HQ Trivia are rapidly winning over their intended audience. These apps hit on several aspects of the Millennial mindset, including inclusivity (the game starts off with a few softballs that everyone gets right) and sociability (the winners split the prize money). (Cassandra Report)
    • NH: The amazing success of HQ Trivia is attracting wannabe competitors like QuizBiz and The Q. Is it really any surprise that a generation of young people that has taken so many exams since grade school and has nearly bankrupted itself in pursuit of the best college education would not also be a sucker for test-me-for-smartness quiz shows? The sense of real-time community shows up not just on the app itself, but also in the giddy clubhouse efforts to produce a winner (see this YouTube video). A further devilish twist: Persuading a friend to try the game can earn you a one-time "cheat code."
  • An analysis by demographer Lyman Stone finds that nearly all of the decline in U.S. fertility since 2001 can be explained by the lower married composition of the population. Because most babies are born to married women, the rising average age of marriage in the United States has put a major strain on fertility. (Institute for Family Studies)
    • NH: The analysis is correct as far as it goes. But the conclusion is overstated. The authors' central calculation rests on the assumption that married women, at any given age, have the same likelihood of giving birth regardless of when or why they got married. In reality, most women and men have some target notion of how many children they want--and once they reach that target, married or not, they stop having children. No doubt, as survey data cited in this article points out, never-marrying or late-marrying women are much more likely not to reach this target. So later marriage certainly plays some role in declining fertility. But it doesn't play the same dominant role that this calculation suggests.
  • Contributor John Tamny digs up a short essay published in 1899 that accuses America’s youth of being weak and foolish. The essay (whose subjects went on to father the G.I. Generation) proves that generational warfare is as old as time itself. (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: Yes, I've heard this "Take a Letter to Garcia" essay cited many times by managers who roll their eyes at today's young workers--as no doubt this manager did in 1899. The intrepid young hero in this story was a member of the Missionary Generation--which, as it grew older, had some memorable put-downs of the subsequent Lost Generation for their supposed “mental rickets and curvature of the soul,” of their “culte du moi,” and for having growing up “painfully commercialized even in their school days.” All these charges and more emerged from a famous correspondence between Cornelia Comer and Randolph Bourne, published in The Atlantic in 1911. (See this essay I coauthored in The Atlantic about it in 1992.)
  • In 2017, 165 craft breweries closed their doors—more than any year in the past decade. To some extent, an eventual demand slowdown was inevitable for the high-growth craft market—but independent breweries have also been hurt by Big Beer’s efforts to buy its way into the market. (The Washington Post)
  • Columnist Alana Romain lists the ways in which Gen-X and Millennial dads are alike and different. Her analysis is spot on: Both sets of dads tend to take a more active role in parenting than previous generations, while Millennial dads are more likely to take parental leave and to trust Google for parenting advice. (Romper)
  • Consumer groups are filing a complaint with the FTC, claiming that YouTube has collected and profited from young children’s personal information. Silicon Valley has struggled to keep tabs on the skyrocketing number of children who use tech platforms built for adults. (The New York Times)
    • NH: More tech-lash, this time hitting YouTube. Anyone who has small children knows they gravitate to Barbie and fidget spinner and unboxing clips, which are found not on YouTube Kids (Google's poorly reviewed excuse for "kids" programming), but on regular YouTube. Almost certainly, data from these encounters are being to sold to kids' retailers--or at least that is the plausible contention of 20 consumer groups. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), enforced by the FTC, bans any retention of online information from children under age 13 without express parental permission. More money on fines, on lawyers, and on "human" site reviewers. And more uncertainty for investors, who wonder where this is heading.
  • Four out of five Americans between the ages of 50 and 80 support the legalization of medical marijuana. However, despite the fact that Boomers spearheaded the cannabis counterculture of the ‘70s, many are skeptical of marijuana’s health benefits and very few actually use the drug for medicinal purposes. (Entrepreneur)
  • On Equal Pay Day, Vanity Fair examined the state of gender parity at work—and came away with some interesting observations. While Millennial women have significantly narrowed the pay gap compared to previous generations, gender inequality in the workplace remains an issue, a fact which most Millennial women (65%) attribute to sexism. (Vanity Fair)


      The Instagrammable Workplace. Offices are getting a makeover. BuzzFeed workplaces, for instance, feature “selfie spots” where employees can pose against fun backdrops. Adobe highlights its company heritage at its redesigned San Francisco headquarters, which includes “time capsule” rooms each dedicated to a groundbreaking moment in Adobe history. What’s going on? Sharability is one factor: In an era of Instagram, Twitter hashtags, and social media influencers, creating online buzz is a necessity. Co-working startup WeWork even incorporates this digital sensibility into its design process: Each WeWork location is designed specifically to reflect its surrounding city, which company creative director Jeremiah Britton says leads to a lot of Instagram posts. Firms are also trying to breed a team mentality and a sense of company culture that is often absent in a telecommute-heavy workplace. In the words of design professional Kurt Vander Schuur, “Putting in a conference table and eight chairs, as much as I would like to say it works, that is not going to motivate me to go to an office.”

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