Chapter 49: I Am Zoomer, Hear Me Roar!
Zoomer money, Zoomer power and the rise of the Zoomer-preneur.
Imagine you’re a traveller from a distant land, and your host tells you about a group of Canadians who have unequalled financial resources, who own the most property, who buy the most products, who pay the most in taxes, who vote the most often in elections at all levels, and who are most active in charities and the funding and patronage of the arts; wouldn’t your natural assumption be that this group would be widely recognized, respected, acknowledged and appreciated? Now imagine that your informant tells you that this same community is, in fact, largely ignored and/or, when noticed at all, is either brushed off as irrelevant or accused of being a selfish and destructive force that will inevitably bankrupt the nation.
I’ve talked about this before: the disconnect between the popular media-driven image of older people today as a drain on the economy and the actual positive economic and cultural influence we exert. But up to now I’ve always talked about it reactively, as a counter argument. In Chapter 18, for instance, I pointed out that contrary to our reputation as “the most selfish generation,” we actually supported arts and culture to a far greater extent than any other Canadian demographic. In Chapter 5, I noted that instead of stealing jobs from younger people, our growing aversion to retirement turns out to be significant for government coffers because of our continued tax payments (already disproportionately large) and to the labour market, which in many of our lifetimes is expected to experience a shortfall of a million jobs. In Chapter 30, I observed that not only would our “Grey Tsunami” not bankrupt the nation, we’d likely be the people who would bail the nation out because of our unprecedented financial resources. But the days of reaction are over. It’s time to be proactive. It’s time to focus on the numbers, which speak for themselves.
Our demarcated Zoomer demographic includes people 45 years old and up. In Canada, this group comprises 15.1 million people, or about 44 per cent of the total population, who happen to control a remarkable 78 per cent of the wealth and account for 57 per cent of all consumer spending.
How many industries and financial sectors does our gang drive? Looking at the numbers.1
- Account for 45 per cent of all households with incomes of $100,000 or more and almost 50 per cent of household incomes of $200,000 or more.
- Buy more new cars (56 per cent) than any other age group, particularly cars costing more than $40,000, which 998,000 of us did on our most recent auto purchase.
- Take more trips, both inside and outside Canada, representing about half of all Canadians who took three or more vacations within Canada in the last 12 months.
- Spend more on travel than any other age group (1.7 million of us spent $4,000 or more on our most recent vacation outside Canada).
- Use credit cards for more purchases per month (65 per cent of all Canadians who spend between $1,000 and $2,500 per month; more than 50 per cent of Canadians who spend $5,000 plus per month).
- Save and invest far more than any other age group (more than 75 per cent of those with savings and securities valued between $100,000 and $1,000,000; and 80 per cent of those with more than $1,000,000).
- Buy more technological and electronic devices than any other age group. In fact, since 2010, people aged 55-64 – a group that’s coming to be known as the Alpha Boomers – have spent more on technology than any other 10-year age span.
- Make up 53 per cent of the 2.5 million Canadians who have offices in their homes.
- Momprise 65 per cent of the 7.5 million Canadians who own mutual funds; 60 per cent of Canadians who have RRSPs and Tax-Free Savings Accounts; and close to 70 per cent of all Canadians who have non-RRSP
investments and own stocks and bonds either in or outside RRSPs.
spend more on furniture, television sets, audio equipment, home improvements and renovations, and men’s and women’s clothing than any other age group.
- Are neck and neck in spending on toys and games with the 35- to 49-year-old group (which includes four years of Zoomerhood).
- Contribute more to charities than any other demographic as well (62.8 per cent of the 13.2 million Canadians who reported donating to a Canadian charitable organization in the past 12 months were Zoomers).
Now, I’m not for a second forgetting that there is a significant segment of our demo who finds themselves in difficult financial straits, who struggle to make ends meet. But, on average, a Zoomer today is far more likely to be dispensing financial help to others (often younger family members) than to be receiving help themselves.
These facts alone should be enough to puncture the image of aging Canadians as complacent retirees, content to collect pension cheques and drive up health costs while the rest of society works to pay for it all. The reality is that in Canada today, a new job that’s just been created is more likely to be filled by someone 60-plus than by any other age category. According to a 2012 TD Economics Observation report, from the time the economic rebound began in 2009, fully one-third of new jobs have been filled by such oldsters even though that group only accounts for eight per cent of the total work force. During the same period, new employment for Canadians over 70 has increased by 37 per cent.
How are older Canadian workers able to pull off the apparent miracle of finding jobs in a climate that’s hostile to older workers? Not, note, by that disproved cliché of stealing employment from young people. They do it because these jobs are often created by the older workers themselves. A 2012 CIBC study found that of the half-million Canadians involved in start-up businesses and new entrepreneurial ventures, “by far the fastest growing segment” was the 50-plus age group. CIBC’s World Markets has predicted that 50 per cent of these entrepreneurs will still be in business in the year 2018. This projection wouldn’t surprise Vivek Wadhwa, vice-president of innovation and research at Singularity University. He and his team have found that twice as many successful American entrepreneurs are over 50 as under 25 and that twice as many are over 60 as under 20. The Silicon Valley myth that all 21st-century innovators are still wet behind the ears is just that: a myth.
Where does all this energy come from on the part of a cohort that’s supposed to be “winding down”? There are two reasons why older Canadians start businesses: they have to or they want to. In the first case, we’re setting out on our own because we’ve lost long-held jobs, need a continuing source of income but have trouble finding employment in the traditional labour market because of age prejudice. In the second, we start up new stuff because although we can afford to retire, we can’t imagine not putting our experience and drive and strengths to something, especially if we’ve always had the dream of being our own boss. It turns out that these third-act start-ups are a widespread new phenomenon throughout older populations in the Western world. Here are two examples, among many.
Wally Blume, 73, spent the majority of his professional life working for someone else in the dairy business, where he might have stayed, he says, if it hadn’t been for his boss coming up with the idea of a new ice-cream flavour – tomato. Blume promptly quit and started his own ice-cream company, Denali Flavors, with a flagship flavour of his own, Moose Tracks (chocolate and peanut butter, with no hint of tomato). Today, Moose Tracks sells $80 million worth of product annually on its own. In some locales, it outsells vanilla.
Then, there’s Carol Gardner, 69. In 1997, while nursing a broken femur and a broken heart (she’d just divorced her husband of 27 years), Gardner, who’d also been laid off from her job as an advertising director and was cash-strapped, got an English bulldog named Zelda. She entered a Christmas card contest held by a pet store to win free dog food for a year and won. The prize inspired her to start a greeting card company called Zelda Wisdom. Gardner started with 24 greeting cards. Within six months, she’d sold more than a million cards. (Sample copy: “Go braless. It pulls the wrinkles down.”) Today, she produces more than 200 licenced Zelda products, from calendars to children’s books. Sales are conservatively estimated at $50 million annually.
I feel a particular affinity for this new kind of older risk taker – Zoomer-preneurs, if you will – because I’m one of them. ZoomerMedia, including the magazine you’re reading, exists because when one long chapter of my working life ended, I couldn’t imagine not going on to the next. As president of CARP and ZoomerMedia, I consider the issue of aging a lot professionally but, personally, it rarely crosses my mind. As quickly as I register the fact of age, I tend to forget it, for the same reason that I tend to forget about birthdays. People who count them, I’ve noticed, get older faster. People who don’t stay younger. They also stay healthier, in more ways than one – both physically, as we pointed out in Chapter 12, and financially, as we’re pointing out today. The title of this chapter is I Am Zoomer, Hear Me Roar. That roar is now both physical and financial.
Society being what it is, maybe now we’ll finally be heard!
1. All figures from Statistics Canada and/or PMB (Print Measurement Bureau)/ComScore, Fall, 2014.
Moses’ Zoomer Philosophy — which launched in ZOOMER Magazine in October 2009 — is a series of monthly essays on age and aging, and the secrets and the science to living better, longer, healthier and happier lives. The first volume of his collection is now available in e-book format on the Kobo Books website. Click here for more information.