There is increasing evidence that the trend towards low fertility rates (with even many developing countries now following in the footsteps of the West) and fewer children in our world will have an effect on consumer markets.  In a world where money talks, will it be worth providing as many services to mothers and children?

It makes sense that businesses may start to concentrate more and more on the aging baby boomers’ needs that make up the largest chunk of the market.  I stopped to read this telling article in the New Zealand Listener while standing in a checkout line, and it reiterated thoughts that have crossed my mind before – namely that my fortune could lie in setting up retirement villages!  The article includes comment on “The Business of Ageing”, a 2011 report by the New Zealand Ministry of Social Development, and warns:

 “Businesses that continue to prioritise selling to younger groups will find their market shrinks as the baby-boomer generation ages … The mature consumer market is predicted to be the only growth market in terms of demography, with younger market segments likely to remain static or shrink.

Lindsay Mouat, chief executive of the Association of Advertisers…says a transition is underway as advertisers respond to changing demographics. In the past, he says, advertisers did focus on younger age groups – in particular household shoppers who were typically buying for young families. “But we’re seeing that the baby-boomer generation is becoming a more important target.”

…He notes that even the film industry is broadening its focus beyond the traditional under-40 target market, citing the surprise 2012 box-office hit ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’, which starred a cast of veteran British actors including Dame Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Made for a measly $10 million, it grossed $134 million worldwide.

The aging baby boomers will also hold more voting sway and, if they vote in a self interested manner, they could well vote themselves a larger share of public resources from the government.  Women already face growing pressure to identify themselves not only as a mother, but also with some sort of successful career, and fewer services focused on them could make motherhood a less appealing place to be.

While perhaps not the healthiest dinner, it is nevertheless interesting that Taco Bell has recently abolished its children’s menu.  This report by Aljazeera comments:

“We see more opportunity in providing our Millennial customers with a better, more relevant Taco Bell than focusing on kids’ meals,” Taco Bell spokesman Rob Poetsch told Al Jazeera in an email.  Children’s offerings “aren’t a part of our brand strategy… But Poetsch also revealed that children’s offerings never actually amounted to much for Taco Bell.  “Kids Meals accounted for less than a half of a percent of our total sales,” he said.

Toy sales are also down, as a recent article from The Economist notes.  The sales of toy giants such as Mattel (owner of Barbie) are decreasing as a result of falling fertility rates and older mothers.  The article reports:

… women are having fewer children at a later age when they have more money: between 2005 and 2010 the average age of a first-time mother in Britain, Germany, Switzerland and Japan rose by almost half a year. Spending per toy and per child is consequently on the up, even though unit sales are down—a significant shift, but not yet a profit-boosting one.

While I’m not so worried about large toy producers or my kids eating Taco Bell, these trends are potentially concerning.  It is clear that the consumer market – and even films – are starting to focus more on the baby boomers.  In a society where money talks, we must be very careful that our communities still provide the services that families and mothers need. 



Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...