Learning from the lucky country: trends for the new decade

New Zealand is often accurately cast as the poorer, smaller, less productive (but slightly less boorish and better looking) cousin of Australia. And while the following predictions about the ‘Twentytens’ from social researcher and futurist Mark McCrindle of McCrindle Research are all based on Australian data and research, there are enough similarities between the lucky country and New Zealand for the insights to have some relevance to local marketers. Plus, it’s Australia Day on 26 January, so consider reading this post a show of solidarity with our Tasman neighbours.

The Rise and Rise of Australia’s Population: In 2000, Australia had a population of 19 million and the population growth rate had slowed to 1.2 percent. However, over the last decade it has defied the predictions and rather than slowing, the population increase has accelerated, finishing the decade breaking 22 million with a population growth rate twice what was expected, hitting two percent per annum. This decade will see Australia’s population hit 27 million.

The highest ever birth numbers, the lowest ever death rate and record net migration have combined to provide the perfect storm of population growth over the last few years. A decade ago it was predicted that Australia’s population by mid-century would hit 27 million. But at our current record breaking growth, with our population growing by an extra million people every two years, it is likely that it will hit this mark in 2020.

Australia’s Mini Baby Boom: Australia began the last decade with the lowest birth rate on record with a total fertility rate (babies per woman) of 1.7. It was thought that the birth rate would drop to 1.5 by the end of the decade but the reverse occurred: Australia finished 2009 with the highest total fertility rate for 32 years (now at 1.97, it is close to 2.01 of 1977) and the highest number of births ever (296,261). Also the women having the most babies today are those in their 30s rather than those in their 20s of a decade ago. The highest fertility continues to belong to females aged 30-34 years (127.8 babies per 1,000 women), the highest for this cohort since 1961. Similarly, women aged 35-39 years reached the highest rate for this cohort since 1948. This baby boom will continue with annual births exceeding 300,000 throughout the decade ahead. But the number of women having no children in their lifetime is rising.

From Xers & Y’s to Zeds & Generation Alpha: The last decade began by analysing Generation X and welcoming Generation Y. Born since 1980, Gen Y in 2000 were children and teenagers, while in 2010 the oldest of them turn 30 and become parents (30 is the average age of an Australian woman having a child). The last decade saw the birth of Generation Z, born from 1995 to 2009, and it will be in the decade ahead that most in this generation move through their teenage years and move towards independence. A generation today spans 15 years which means that 2010 marks the start of the next generation: Generation Alpha. They will be the most formally-educated generation in history, starting education younger than ever and projected to stay in education for longer than ever. As the children of older, wealthier parents, in two-income households and with more entertainment and technological options, it is likely that they will be the most materially-supplied generation of children ever.

The Ageing Population: The last decade began with the Baby Boomers ranging in age from the mid 30s to early 50s and it concludes with some of the Boomers entering retirement and becoming pensioners. This is the start of the age wave hitting Australia. By 2020 there will be more 65 year olds than one year olds; life expectancy at birth will exceed 81 for a male and 86 for a female; and almost 1 in 5 Australians will be aged over 60. Over the next four decades while the total population will increase by just over half, the 65 and over population will more than double and the 85 and over population will triple. This ageing population will affect everything from the national accounts, to demands on health and housing, to the workforce. In 2020 the never-grow-old Baby Boomers will be in their 60s and 70s and the oldest Gen Xers will be in their 50s, themselves beginning to exit the labour force.

Redefined Lifestages: Twits, Nettels and the Downagers: The last decade saw the emergence of the TWITS (Teenage Women in Their Thirties). This emerging segment provides a real comment on our times. Once adulthood was marked by marriage, mortgages and starting a family, but today, for many, these milestones have been delayed. Indeed, many women have extended their adolescence and others, after starting a family and reaching their 30s, have entered a second teenage lifestage. The poster girls might be Pink, Victoria Beckham or Gwen Stefani, but the segment is alive and growing in the Australian suburbs too.

NETTELS (Not Enough Time To Enjoy Life) are the very busy couples and families, usually found in the capital cities burdened with a large mortgage, a relatively expensive lifestyle and a long working week, often with a long commute as well. The NETTELS are a fast-growing segment increasing by seven percent per year.

It is not just younger Australians that are reinventing themselves. McKrindle research has identified the Downagers. These are Australians aged over 60 for whom age is just a number. They comprise 24 percent of this demographic and feel and act far younger than their age would suggest. They are the fastest growing segment of the 60+ demographic and they value travel, lifestyle, social connection and they adapt quite easily to new technology.

Return of the Multi-Generational Household: The last decade brought us the stay-at-home twenty-somethings who were labelled the KIPPERS (Kids In Parents Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings). Nearly 1 in 4 (23 percent) people aged 20-34 continue to live in the parental home. And it’s not just those in their 20’s. In Australia there are 117,547 people in their early 30’s still living at home with their parents (eight percent of Australians aged 30-34).

Generation Y have also been labelled the Boomerang Kids because it is increasingly likely that once they have moved out of home they will move back there again. Of Australians aged 25-29 who live in their parental home, more than half of these (54 percent) have moved out and returned again. Most (52 percent) last less than two years before moving back to the parental home with 20 percent lasting less than one year. 16 percent last more than four years before returning home. Indeed, many Gen Xers and Yers are returning to the parental home with their own young children in tow.

All of this has given rise to the Sandwich Generation. This describes those Baby Boomers sandwiched between the need to care for their dependent children and the responsibility of caring for their older parents. This sandwich generation arises from the combined trends of delayed childbirth, the delayed financial independence of children and the increasing life expectancy of the older generation. Consequently we have seen this decade the emergence of the multi-generational household with the parents housing their adult children (sometimes with their own young children in tow) along with their own ageing parents. This multi-generational household, while new in our era, is simply a return to what was the norm a century ago.

Generation Y are the world’s first digital generation, the world’s first global generation, and the most entertained and materially endowed generation Australia has ever seen. This was the generation that expected to start their economic life in the manner in which they saw their parents finish their economic life, and when hit with the financial reality of independent living, many are reflecting on the good deal they had living with their parents and so they are boomeranging back home.

Web 3.0: The last decade brought us Web 2.0, which was defined by social networking (think Facebook and MySpace), user-generated content (from YouTube to Flickr) and new ways of communicating (from the blogosphere to Twitter). However, while it has been fascinating, the novelty for many has faded and the next decade will bring demands for useful applications and usable online tools. Like any new technology the first wave of fun and entertainment is replaced by a focus on utility and practicality and this is what the decade ahead will bring.

Shopping Gets Responsible, Saving is Back: After a decade of aspirational purchasing and the growth of luxury brands, the combined effects of the Global Financial Crisis and environmental sustainability have delivered a slowdown to rampant materialism. With the Gen Yers entering their parenting years and the Boomers heading towards retirement, this decade will bring a new era of austerity for many. Saving is becoming the new spending and conspicuous consumption will fade due to the growing pressures of an ageing population, continued global financial uncertainty, high indebtedness in Australia and the rising costs of transport, energy, petrol and housing.

Work Changes, From Increasing Demands to Career Development: While the last decade saw the growth of portfolio careers, work-life balance and “sea-change” lifestyle jobs, this new decade is bringing back some new stability. With the ageing population will come an ageing workforce, mass retirements, a skills shortage and a succession planning challenge. Over the next decade 40 percent of today’s senior leaders will reach retirement age. Already the average age of an employed person in the education sector is 44 and in the health sector it is 45. Therefore there will be a premium paid to employees who can gain experience in a career, climb the ranks within an organisation and move into leadership positions. While flexibility, job variety, collaborative leadership models and work-life balance will remain part of employment, there will be a return to training, skills development, longer job tenure and stability.

Australia Redefined: Australia today is loved for more than the outback, the iconic beaches, sporting success and “no worries” attitude. Certainly the old affections run deep, but the 21st Century has brought a new sophistication and a view of our nation as an innovative, technologically savvy, world-leading cultural hub and lifestyle destination. The last decade has showed an Australia with a self-assuredness of our place globally and a move from the old “cultural cringe” to an acceptance of our traditions, history and interests beyond clichés. Much of this has come through our diverse and growing cultural mix. Currently one in four Australians weren’t born here and the cultural diversity of the under 30s is even greater than that of the over 30s. Of the population growth in the decade ahead, only one-third will be through natural increase and two-thirds through net migration. The decade ahead will continue to redefine the Australian identity as a sophisticated, urban, hard working, cosmopolitan, culturally diverse and globally connected nation.

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