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New demographic forecasts prompt a closer look at marketing to seniors

May 7, 2014

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Photo of participant in New York City's Pride parade from SAGE, Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders.

Hot off the press from the U.S. Census Bureau, two new reports chronicle the aging of the United States’ population, a trend that can springboard stories on myriad business beats from health care to casinos.

The number of people over age 65 is expected to more than double by 2050, to 83.7 million from around 43 million in 2012, the Census Bureau said in a press release.  While individual businesses may boom, the globally aging population – The Economist says 1.1 billion people will be over age 65 by 2035 – is generally considered burdensome; here’s a localized report from Wisconsin, for example, about the pitfalls of an aging workforce.

The first report, “An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States,” includes projections on a variety of demographics, as well as comparisons with other countries.   The second report, “The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060,” is similar and includes distribution of the Baby Boomer group across various demographics.

The doubling of the older market creates enormous opportunities for businesses; as the Census Bureau itself points out, its business patterns statistics show the health care and social assistance sectors as among the country’s largest. Think about prospective challenges for the restaurant industry (smaller appetites, medical limitations on food choices), the airline and hospitality industries, apparel retailers and myriad other venues that count on the Boomer demographic’s patronage.  How are business strategies shifting to accommodate changing abilities and tastes?   What about products that help bolster an aging body, from nutrition supplements to adult diapers?

Senior housing is a fascinating market; the bureau notes that The Villages, a retirement community in Florida, was the fastest-growing metro area from 2012 to 2013.  Why not take a look at the senior, retirement and assisted-living housing sector in your market?

Here are the Top 10 Trends in Senior Housing for 2014, according to the trade publication Senior Housing News; clearly the industry is worried about the noted lack of retirement savings among Baby Boomers.  Note also the industry struggle between non-profit and for-profit operators.

Retirement complexes are beginning to cater to special-interest groups and other niches from “hippies” to the LGBT community; here’s a similar list from MarketWatch that lists communities for postal workers and one that requires residents to take 450 hours of college classes a year!

seniors working
Boomers redefine retirement. Photo by iStock

“Assisted downsizing” is a growing trend, as estate-sale operators morph into one-stop shopping for seniors or their family member.  They can price and sell goods, pack what’s going to a retirement home or assisted-living center, get a junk service to haul away the rest and even help sell the property.  The National Association of Senior Move Managers is about 10 years old and you might ask local members to talk about the evolution of their services and how demand is growing in your area.

One thing I’ve noticed is that pop culture is starting to “grey” a bit and not only via those ubiquitous TV commercials for senior dating sites.  Flicking through the On-Demand channels one day I spotted an 80s-style slasher flick set in a senior-living facility instead of the traditional camp or sorority house.  (Regret not noting the name of the film.)  And light-mystery novels set among the older crowd are cropping up, like “Retirement can be Murder” which features a walker on the cover.  Just another reminder to keep an eye peeled for how products and services that appealed to young Boomers are being re-tooled to keep pace as Boomers age.

And in addition to the above industries that serve active seniors, you can start looking into the demand for adult day care – a growing niche, according to the market research firm IBISWorld —  and other businesses that serve a more frail population.

And don’t overlook the final industry most of us will patronize; here’s a Motley Fool article about hot stocks in the “death care” industry.   Here’s a National Funeral Directors Association briefing on Trends in Funeral Service that in include personalization, cremation and more advance planning.  A few months ago I interviewed a guy who makes custom urns and he said one hot seller includes several miniature replicas so far-flung family members can each have a bit of loved ones’ ashes.


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