Business in the 21st Century

Inc.' s ad hoc demographic experts predict the future

Get your local demographer to name the trends that will be most important to business in the decade ahead, and you'll hear the same answers you read in the newsweeklies. For example, increasing ethnic diversity in both low-skilled and professional ranks; growing income inequality that breeds a bipolar marketplace; and, of course, the middle-aging of baby boomers, with the attendant hullabaloo about mortality, family transitions, and leisure-centered lifestyles. ("The future is Florida," says one analyst, "but not just yet.")

That you've heard all of it before doesn't mean you should dismiss it, however. "What's important isn't always new," says Gary Wright, corporate demographer at Procter & Gamble.

OK. But while giving the effects of the baby boom and other Ã"bertrends their due, what about the overlooked demographic shifts--the coming niche markets, the abrupt swerves of consumer appetites--that entrepreneurs are famous for being first to exploit? What future trends is the mainstream missing?

We asked some of the nation's leading demographic analysts to tell us.

Q: What are the most overlooked demographic trends that will affect businesses in the next 5 to 10 years?

Demographic analyst Trend #1 Trend #2
Gary Wright, Procter & Gamble Backyard trends. Businesses serving local markets should eye local demographics; they may not mirror national trends, and competitors will miss them. Underserved niches. Local and emerging consumer groups, such as gays and lesbians, continue to enter the mainstream in many cities.
Bill Serow, Florida State University Aging of the elderly. Growth of the smaller southern and western states.
Cheryl Russell, New Strategist Publications "Midyouth" market. Now entering their fifties, self-indulgent, demanding, and fun-loving boomers are demonstrating that the youth market is a state of mind. Women in charge. As children of boomers grow up and leave home, women will embrace work with a passion never seen before. As their incomes peak, women in their fifties will become a potent force in the marketplace.
Peter Morrison, RAND Extreme longevity. The elderly will live much longer lives--outliving their retirement savings. Heightened awareness about multiracial Americans. This will be a result of intermarriage.
William Frey, University of Michigan Demographic Balkanization. Examples include sprawling, multilingual immigrant ports of entry (Los Angeles, New York, Texas, southern Florida); economic magnets (metros in the south Atlantic and western states, excluding California) for middle-class domestic relocators seeking more suburban family lifestyles; and economically declining Rustbelt and Farmbelt regions. Resilience of Generation X-ers. Raised on computers, their self-reliance has prepared them to cope with economic uncertainty better than their parents could.
Published on: May 15, 1997