Future Growth Areas: What's Hot, What's Not

|  By Bernard Salt, June 28, 2007

DEMOGRAPHIC change over the last 10 years has had a profound impact on Australian business, especially the property market. This was apparent in the sea-change and tree-change surge which was linked to the ageing of the baby boomers: lots of people pressing into that time in the lifecycle when they think about winding down.

 This big shift was underpinned by the simple fact that the number of people aged 50-something jumped by 793,000 over the decade to 2006. But what is the demographic outlook for the next 10 years and how might these trends affect business?

 The dominance of the 50-something cohort since 1996 is plainly evident: the sea-change shift inspired by the 50-something was always going to happen.

 Also evident is the fact that since 1996 all but one of the five-year age groups has expanded. This is due to increased migration and to a recovery in the birth rate. With more people pushing into almost every stage of the lifecycle, all parts of the economy are stimulated, from retirement housing to the construction of new homes on the city's edge.

 This recent history is all very interesting, but what do the demographics say will be the growth areas of the future. Where's the next sea change? Consider the following segment by segment review of what's hot and what's not in the decade to 2016.

Baby bounce: The Australian birth rate recovered in 2002 and has gained momentum ever since. This will have an immediate positive impact on the demand for baby products, clothing and furniture. And we can expect further technological breakthroughs that will deliver ever more sophisticated baby strollers. Will they have on-board trip meters and DVD players by 2016? Also on the up will be primary school enrolments from 2009 onwards.

Teenage shrinkage: Teenagers as a life form are under threat. Thanks to declining birth rates throughout the 1990s there will be a drop in the teenage population over the next 10 years. This is not good news if you are involved in retailing jeans, music, movies, fast food and whatever else teenagers spend their money on. The diminution of the "teenager pie" will be quite apparent because their contraction over the next 10 years follows strong growth over the last 10 years.

Swingles surge: Swingles are the happiest of our segments; they live in that wondrous world nestled between 25 and 34. This is an optimistic time in life where anything and everything seems possible. Their relationships and their careers are both full of promise. And best of all these swinging singles, or swingles, are set to soar: their number expanded by 37,000 over the last 10 years, but over the next decade they will expand by 200,000. Swingles must therefore exert a greater influence over popular culture in the new decade.

Flat 40s: If the swingles are happy and expanding, then the 40s are flat and floundering. Once the darlings of the slim side of middle age, the coming decade is likely to be less kind to our increasingly portly 40s. In the decade to 1996 this group attracted 381,000 new residents; in the next decade it will attract just 110,000 recruits. Perhaps we will see demand for 4WDs subside.

Falling 50s: Is there no end to the number of F-words to describe the plight of the middle aged over the next decade? This is of course precisely the dilemma identified by Douglas Coupland all those years ago when he tagged Generation X. They were forever damned to follow in the footsteps of the boomers. Yes, there will be more 50-somethings in 2016 than there are today. But business has become addicted to a supply of 50-somethings pumping into its veins at a rate of 79,000 per year over the last decade. Over the next 10 years the supply of 50-somethings drops to 37,000 per year. And 50-something issues, like "how can we get our adult children to leave the family home" cease to become amusing.

Surging 60s: Do you think the 60s is a good time in life? Probably not. In fact I reckon most people would not think too much about people in their 60s. They are out of harm's way, beyond the workforce, within retirement and firmly positioned within the chute to oblivion. That's how many think about the 60s right now. I say that within 10 years the 60s will have been made over, tarted up, and brought in from the cold.

 The 60s will attract almost 800,000 new residents within 10 years, a growth rate that's up from barely 100,000 last decade. Just you wait until those boomers get their hands on this decade. They're not grey nomads, they're eco-adventurers. They won't be forlorn widows and widowers whiling away the days watching day-time telly - they'll pair up.

 Again and again. Life's lonely beyond 65 without a partner. And how about those brave boomers staring down death. Stories of courage and survival will refocus the spotlight on this decade.

Super 70s: The real action over the next 10 years will not be in the delivery of care for the frail elderly beyond 74. And the reason is that the number of people in this age group will grow no faster than over the last 10 years.

 The frail elderly market will boom not next decade but in the 2020s. But there will be action in the early 70s. Whereas the number of people aged 70-74 increased by 26,000 over the last decade, over the next decade growth in this age group will skyrocket to 286,000.

 What do people in their early 70s want and need? Hip replacements would be a good business to be in over the next decade. And so too would the delivery of financial and legal advice based on succession planning. A tenfold increase in the growth rate of people in their early 70s is also sure to pack out churches every weekend.

 Businesses concerned about their demographic exposure should complete a simple audit of which age group supplies most of their current market. Then consider the outlook for this demographic profile and compare that with the recent past. This technique will provide a wider context for management decision making over the next 10 years. Your Personal Information