Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Boomers and Racial Diversity

There is a growing amount of "talk" around the changing racial composition in America today and how the various generations are responding to this new reality. The main point of most of the articles and postings is that the race issue isn't a black vs. white issue anymore, it's an old vs. young.

That is, older America is mostly white and younger America, whites are the minority.

The secondary point is that older white Americans are not comfortable with this change and a generational race war is brewing.

That's a bunch of crazy that we're not buying. Here's why:

Boomers are the generation raised by parents who came of age when Jim Crow laws were still on the books in many places. However, Boomers themselves came of age during the Civil Rights movement and the impact of Martin Luther King, Jr. The result, despite the mindset of their own parents, Boomers as parents raised a mostly color-blind generation: Millennials. (Read an earlier piece on this very topic: How Boomers Transformed Race Relations in America.)

Boomers are the "pivot" generation, eschewing the belief system of their parents to instill a new belief system in their own children that the hue of one's skin doesn't matter.

A recent op/ed by demographer William Frye points out that in a Pew study last November, only 23% of Boomers agreed that the "growing population of immigrants" was a "change for the better." What the esteemed (and we mean it) Mr. Frye fails to report is that only 30% of Gen Xers and 35% of Millennials also agreed with that statement. Certainly Boomers are less happy about immigration than younger generations, but not by much. Plus, the study doesn't ask "why" someone might think immigration isn't a change for the better.

There might be other factors to consider beyond skin tone and country of origin.

The same Pew study shows that 60% of Millennials think it is perfectly fine to marry someone of a different race, indicating that they are indeed mostly color-blind. Only one out of three Boomers said the same thing. Maybe on the race issue, Boomers succeeded in "don't do as I do, do as I say."

Given that, maybe it is premature to predict a generational battle over racial issues. Yes, America is changing colors. But does color really matter in today's melting pot?

Bottom Line for Marketers: Look beyond the raw data and understand the underlying sentiments better.

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