Baby Boomer Age Wave Theory

What Is the Baby Boomer Age Wave Theory?

The baby boomer age wave theory is a theory regarding the economic impact of demographic trends developed by psychologist and gerontologist Ken Dychtwald and also popularized by investment manager Harry Dent.

Based on this theory, Dent predicted that the economy would enter a sustained period of decline once the baby-boom generation passed the age of their peak consumer spending and moved toward retirement and that U.S. and European markets would likely peak between 2008 and 2012, the period when most baby boomers reached age 50.

Key Takeaways

  • Ken Dychtwald's baby boomer age wave theory argues that the aging of the baby boomer generation has had, is having, and will continue to have a transformative effect on society and the economy. 
  • Extending Dychtwald's idea, investor Harry Dent further predicted that the economy would enter a sustained period of decline as the baby boomers passed their peak spending years.
  • According to Dent, U.S. and European markets would likely peak between 2008 and 2012, the period when Baby Boomers hit 50.

Understanding the Baby Boomer Age Wave Theory

"Baby boomer" is a term typically used to describe any person born between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s. After the end of WWII, birth rates spiked across the globe. During this period, 72.5 million babies were born in the U.S. alone, a phenomenon known as the baby boom. Because of the huge size and purchasing power of baby boomers, this generation tended to have a big impact on economies.

As of 2020, baby boomers make up the second-largest generation of the United States, at 21.45% of the population. The largest generation is the millennial generation, making up 21.93% of the population.

In his 1989 book, Age Wave: The Challenges and Opportunities of an Aging America, Ken Dychtwald observed population and cultural shifts, grouping them into three major demographic forces:

  • The Baby Boom: An increase in fertility rates in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia in the mid-20th century.
  • Elongated Longevity: Life expectancy increased significantly during the 20th century due to advances in medicine, nutrition, and public health.
  • The Birth Dearth: Following the baby boom, fertility rates dropped sharply, and many parts of the world are now experiencing sub-replacement fertility rates.

Dychtwald's theory suggests that due to the size and tendencies of the baby-boom generation, this population has the power to transform consumer trends and life stages. Significant market shifts across a range of industries are associated with the age wave, including the impact on the manufacture and sales of suburban homes, fast food, gym equipment, toys, minivans, and SUVs.

Noting the impact of the baby boomers, Dychtwald claims that their aging will likely result in a shift in consumer activity from youth-focused products toward products and services catering to the old. Eventually, he warns that the age wave will put a strain on the economy as the baby boomers draw a pension and experience health issues.

In 2006, Dychtwald also predicted a massive slowdown in workforce growth, arguing the generations that followed the baby boomers would fail to replicate the quantity of labor provided by the vast number of people born in the 19 years after World War II.

Following Dychtwald, investor Harry Dent has made predictions since the 1980s, building on the age wave concept to warn that an economic peak in U.S. and European markets would occur between 2008 and 2012 as the last members of the baby-boom generation reached 50—the age he believes consumer spending habits peak.

According to the Dent method, after age 50, boomers reside in smaller households, have less to purchase, and gradually pare back on spending.

Economists and cultural critics continue to debate the validity of the baby boomer age wave theory and its effects. However, one thing most of them appear to agree on is that the baby-boomer generation has had a clear and significant impact on economic and cultural trends, both in the U.S. and around the world.

As the baby boom population continues to move into retirement age, economists expect to see a decrease in overall consumption and increase in demand for services such as caretaking, estate and retirement planning, as well as products for the elderly. This shift will likely, in turn, impact interest rates, inflation, real estate, stock prices, innovation trends, and other economic factors.

What Are the 6 Generations of a Population?

Currently, the six generations of the human population are the greatest generation (born between 1901 and 1924), the silent generation (born between 1928 and 1945), baby boom generation (born between 1946 and 1964), Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980), the millennial generation (born between 1981 and 1996), and Generation Y (born between 1997 to the present).

What Is the Baby Boomer Generation Known For?

The baby boomer generation is known for being one of the largest generations to have existed, as well as one with extreme longevity. It is known for generating income through traditional means in the workforce, as well as consuming taxes of younger generations through Social Security as it gets older.

Which Is the Smartest Generation?

The millennials are considered to be the smartest generation given their extensive educational background as well as their access to information through the Internet as they were coming of age.

Article Sources
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  1. Harry S. Dent. "The Next Great Bubble Boom: How to Profit from the Greatest Boom in History: 2005-2009." Simon and Schuster, 2004. Accessed Oct. 13, 2021.

  2. U.S. Census Bureau. "The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060," Page 2. Accessed Oct. 13, 2021.

  3. Statista. "Population Distribution in the United States in 2020, by Generation." Accessed Oct. 13, 2021.

  4. Ken Dychtwald, Joe Flower. "Age Wave: The Challenges and Opportunities of an Aging America." J.P. Tarcher, 1989. Accessed Oct. 13, 2021.

  5. Ken Dychtwald, Tamara J. Erickson, Robert Morison. "Workforce Crisis: How to Beat the Coming Shortage of Skills And Talent," Harvard Business Press, 2006. Accessed Oct. 13, 2021.

  6. Parents. "A Year-by-Year Guide to the Different Generations and Their Personalities." Accessed Oct. 13, 2021.