We Americans seem to really like sound bites and labels. Politicians would go limp without the day-to-day banter of words and phrases used to tar their adversaries and beatify themselves. Pundits would be tongue-tied. The entire advertising industry would have to communicate in complete sentences and abandon messaging and myth-making. Good grief, people would have to explain the logic behind their words. Bummer.
Some of the most popular labels in parlance today are those used to describe the generations: baby boomers, Gen Xers, millennials. It's a useful way to further our understanding of groups of people with whom we work. And leaders and managers take these groupings seriously.
No demographic experts or big thinker academics are behind these labels. Most were made popular and fleshed out by the marketing industry, which used them to help business leaders understand their customers' needs, wants and attitudes. The common wisdom is that if The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal used the moniker, as well as the late-night talk show hosts, the buzzword would gain universal acceptance. Well, that seems to have worked.
Stereotypes abound in the definitions of the various generations — that may be the whole point. Perhaps because they've been around the longest — too long, some would enthusiastically assert — this typecasting is particularly true of the baby boomers, who are identified as having been born between 1946 and 1964. Many are viewed as work-obsessed people whose self-image is defined by their jobs, from which they refuse to walk away. They are deemed to be controlling, selfish, entitled and doggedly pursuing a youthful, healthy personal appearance, and, of course, personal wealth. Not a particularly flattering list.
Many boomers believe they do not fit this generational cast and do not see this person in the mirror every morning. I have a hard time believing that someone born in the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower would share all that much homogeneity with someone born when Lyndon Johnson occupied the White House. The stretch of time from 1946 to 1964 is a river of deep political and societal change that ended very differently than when it began. My personal belief as a leading-edge boomer is that we also turned out very differently than anyone expected.
Inconsistencies also exist about boomer health and wealth. Studies have shown that boomers may be interested in health, but haven't followed the wellness rules. We may be less healthy than our traditionalist parents and suffer from multiple chronic conditions.
Boomers also are expected to be much more demanding consumers of health care. But who isn't these days? The American public en masse is much more critical, distrustful and expectant of transparency of hospital care and business practices. The boomers may be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
One thing is very true of all the boomers: The numbers are real. They represent one of the largest expansions of the U.S. population in history. The consequences of that surge are also measurable in many types of infrastructure such as housing and schools.
Health care will have to absorb this phenomenon. It won't be a tsunami, but the growing pressure will be palpable. This cover story is the start of a six-part series of the boomers' impact on health care. Unlike many things in our unpredictable environment, this is really going to happen.
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