The Technology Boom: Older Generations and Tech

Older generations make up a massive part of the workforce and consumer base, but technology companies often neglect this demographic. This blind spot comes with a price, as Baby Boomers possess over 70 percent of all disposable income in the United States, with greater spending power than other generations.1 However, tech-oriented companies may fail to target this generation because of stereotypes that they lack technology skills. Likewise, many tech businesses struggle to take advantage of Boomers’ diverse talents due to rampant ageism in the industry. Nevertheless, a 2014 report found that Boomers still held more STEM jobs than Millennials, demonstrating their continued power in the workforce.2 As Boomers continue to embrace technology in their personal lives and contribute to the workplace, tech-focused organizations must adapt to get the most out of this increasingly savvy generation.

Misconceptions and Stereotypes: Baby Boomers as Tech Consumers

Marketers in tech often focus on Gen Z and Millennials, commonly thought of as the digital generations. However, while these cohorts may have grown up in the internet era, they have little disposable income.3 The most influential consumer group in the United States by disposable income? Baby Boomers. All marketers looking to increase revenue and reach should look to this generation, including high-tech companies.

On the other hand, tech companies hesitate to target Baby Boomers due to the common perception that this generation is technologically inept or hesitant to embrace new platforms. While adoption rates may slightly trail younger generations, research reveals that over 90 percent of adults over 60 own a computer, and over 70 percent own a smartphone.4 Not only does this generation own technology, but they regularly use it for a variety of purposes, such as keeping in touch with family and friends via social media. Boomers make up about a third of all social media users, with 70 percent of adults over 60 engaging in the social media sphere.4 Despite common stereotypes, seniors are more technologically engaged than ever, and savvy organizations should increase their efforts to target this lucrative consumer group.

Targeting Tech-Savvy Boomers

Although marketers are increasingly aware of Baby Boomers’ online presence, targeting this generation requires unique strategies. While younger consumers’ social media attention span has decreased, Baby Boomers and older seniors still prefer slower-paced content.1 On the other hand, companies should avoid the sense that they’re “dumbing down” tech-centric content to reach older generations. Marketing that plays into the stereotype of technological ineptness is insulting to most Baby Boomers, who value a sense of personal independence and competence. Technology-focused marketing should be straightforward and engaging to appeal to this generation, but not condescending. Likewise, Boomers place a higher premium on brand loyalty than Millennials, Gen Z, and Gen X, so focus on the established fundamentals that set your brand apart.

For technology companies looking to broaden their consumer base, there are various areas through which to appeal to Baby Boomers, such as hobby and lifestyle marketplaces. As Boomers reach retirement age, many are looking for new avenues—including online platforms—to learn new skills. Hobby-focused content that emphasizes accessibility without patronizing appeals to Boomers who want companies to recognize their needs but respect their competence. Another profitable option is travel services, as increased leisure time and preference for experiential spending mean Boomers will be traveling more over the following decades. Travel services that emphasize senior-centric options will find greater success, as many Boomers may want accommodations (e.g., mobility assistance) that younger generations don’t consider.

One significant way technology companies can reach Baby Boomers is by offering in-home assistance technology. As this generation retires, many are looking to spend retirement in their own homes rather than assisted living facilities, a movement called aging in place.6 Various technological options can increase safety and accessibility for seniors who decide to remain in their homes. These tools include smart home features to easily control temperature and lighting and advanced security devices like doorbell cameras, motion sensors, and other surveillance options.

With such a large online presence, there are countless opportunities for tech marketers to reach Baby Boomers. Engaging this generation is often as straightforward as recognizing their needs and offering senior-centric options. Examples are countless: from hobby-based offerings, music streaming services, and even review websites, many older Americans are seeking content curated to a senior perspective. Online marketplaces should promote adaptive options, such as tools optimized for seniors with mobility issues. Likewise, content streaming services should advertise nostalgic media from Boomers’ youth, such as movies and music that were popular during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. This simple recognition of seniors’ preferences and needs can go a long way in establishing brand trust.

Older Generations in the Tech Workforce

Although many Baby Boomers are retiring, this generation remains a vital part of the tech workforce. After the 2008 recession, 2014 data indicated that Boomers made up a larger share of technology workers than Millennials.2

However, ageism remains a major problem in technology and other STEM sectors. According to Ron Hira, Rochester Institute of Technology associate professor of science, technology, society, and public policy, ageism is “an open secret within the tech fields.”6 A combination of factors is likely at play, including stereotypes that older workers don’t have cutting edge technology skills and the fact that younger workers often have fewer outside obligations and can thus work longer hours. 2012 statistics indicate that 38 percent of American software developers were under 35, with employment dropping precipitously after age 36.6 Regardless of the cause, this federal data demonstrates the potent effect of ageism in tech.

Surveys reveal that workers over 55 view age disparity as the biggest challenge to STEM diversity.7 Despite their vital contributions to the technology field, many Boomers feel they are being pushed out and their voices silenced due to ageist stereotypes. Companies must address ageism—not only to avoid discrimination but to benefit their bottom line. While stereotypes may paint Boomers and other older generations as change-averse, studies indicate the opposite. An SHRM study revealed that older workers are generally open to change, seek to learn new skills, and often play vital roles as team leaders.8

To maximize organizational success, companies should combat the unconscious bias that ageism creates. Options to help foster cross-generational talent and fight ageism include mentorship programs and collaborative projects that take advantage of older workers’ experience.8 Many Boomers don’t want to be treated the same as younger workers, but rather valued for the experience and unique perspectives they offer. Companies should strive not to simply hire more older workers but to give Boomers the chance to take leadership roles. This cross-generational strategy can boost productivity as well as let older workers know that their contributions are valued.

Back to the Future: What’s Next for Boomers and Tech?

Despite stereotypes of technologically inept Baby Boomers, older generations offer a wealth of opportunities to tech companies as both consumers and workers. With an increasingly robust social-media presence, an intention to age in place, and ample disposable income, Boomers are making more and more technology purchases. Tech companies that recognize Boomers’ unique needs and preferences will benefit greatly by reaching this wealthy generation. Likewise, while ageism is rampant in STEM fields, older workers continue to offer valuable experience and perspectives to the technology workplace. Giving Boomers the chance to share their perspectives in mentorship roles will allow tech workers of every generation to succeed. For tech companies who want to increase their consumer base and ensure their workforce reaches its full potential, understanding the relationship between Boomers and technology is key.

The right talent base is crucial for organizations looking to maximize cross-generational appeal and make the most of today’s diverse workforce. AllSTEM has the experience to help you find skilled science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) candidates to support your company goals. To find out more, visit AllSTEM at https://www.allstemconnections.com.

  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2019/04/15/the-misconception-of-baby-boomers-and-the-age-of-technology/?sh=6fc43c211b7e
  2. https://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/money/business/2014/06/12/boomers-gain-millennials-tech-job-growth/10371159/
  3. https://www.marketingcharts.com/demographics-and-audiences/household-income-107999
  4. https://davidrogg.com/baby-boomers-and-the-invisible-tech-generation-a26bb2e621e6
  5. https://www.builderonline.com/design/technology/tech-boom-baby-boomers-and-technology
  6. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/03/does-your-stem-degree-have-a-shelf-life/425295/
  7. https://hrexecutive.com/new-stem-challenge-ageism/
  8. https://blogs.nasa.gov/futureofwork/tag/baby-boomers/