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In the first of a two-part series, a

professional futurist and business-


trend watcher looks at the big
trends in demography, money, and
consumerism that will shape the
world in the next decade.

By Andy Hines

Consumer Trends
in ThreE DIFFERENT
“WORLDS” MECALEHA / ISTOCKPHOTO.COM
18 THE FUTURIST July-August 2008 www.wfs.org
© 2008 World Future Society • 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 450, Bethesda, MD 20814, U.S.A. • All rights reserved.

W
hat are the top 20 trends tion behind. While those in the
affecting consumer life United States might complain about
around the world? The fu-
turists and analysts at So-
the “broken” Social Security system,
most of W2 and W3 don’t even have
The Three
cial Technologies have done a num-
ber of deep dives into the topic and
a social security system. Of course,
opportunity emerges from need, and Worlds
produced a list of “durable” trends the financial services in these coun-
that are sure to be important over the tries are poised for explosive growth, W1 consists of fewer than a
n e x t d e c a d e a n d b e y o n d . We particularly in W1 countries.
grouped these trends into five cate- An interesting aspect of aging in
billion people in the affluent
gories: demography, rising wealth, nations like the United States is the countries, including the United
culture, infrastructure, and values, increasing obsolescence of retire-
and we suggest business implica- ment. U.S. baby boomers are choos-
States, western Europe, Japan,
tions for each of these trends. ing post-work lifestyles that don’t re- South Korea, and Australia.
Throughout this analysis, we refer semble the stereotype of the quaint,
to World 1 (or W1) World 2 (or W2), restful senior citizen. Surveys reveal W2 is the large segment of 3 to 4
and World 3 (or W3) as our three that about three-fourths of boomers
“worlds” based on an index that plan to keep working beyond retire- billion in the middle, in nations that
rates a country’s economic and social ment age. Boomers are going to live are relatively balanced in terms of
development and technological ca- longer, generally be in better health,
pability, then groups them among and have a better education than needs and resources, though still
peers. W1 consists of fewer than a previous generations. Why not work vulnerable to setbacks. Some W2
billion people in the affluent coun- longer?
tries, including the United States, A futurist who joined Social Tech- nations, such as India and China,
western Europe, Japan, South Korea, nologies about a year ago is a poster are growing particularly rapidly,
and Australia. W3 consists of the 1 to child for the post-work boomer. She
2 billion people who are in dire retired in 2006 after 30 years with a while nations in other regions, such
straits, including most of Africa, Ban- large multinational corporation. She
gladesh, and Haiti. The W2 world is works for us part time because she
as in Latin America and eastern
the large segment of 3 to 4 billion in finds futures work interesting and is Europe, less so.
the middle, in nations that are rela- willing to accept less money than she
tively balanced in terms of needs and made in the corporate world. She W3 world consists of the 1 to 2
resources, though still vulnerable to also teaches a class at a university
setbacks. Some W2 nations, such as near her home—where she is work-
billion people who are in dire
India and China, are growing partic- ing on another degree for herself. straits, including most of Africa,
ularly rapidly, while nations in other She is active in her church, goes to
regions, such as in Latin America boot camp fitness training at 5 a.m. Bangladesh, and Haiti.
and eastern Europe, less so. every day, takes motorcycle trips with
Look to these trends to be influen- her boomer husband, and is cur-
tial, assuming relative economic rently planning to run the Rome
stability, over the next decade. Marathon. I jokingly tell her she is
going to have to go back to work to Trend 2: Changing families. It’s
get some rest! time to put the traditional family on
Demographic Trends
Business implications: In their quest the endangered species list in W1.
Demography is a solid starting to discover new activities and have “Alternative” family arrangements,
point for our trend analysis, because new experiences, non-retiring seniors on the fringe a generation ago, are
demographic numbers are fairly pre- will look for ways to stay active de- now mainstream. Consider that 51%
dictable. However, when we look at spite diminishing physical abilities. of adult women are now without a
the future of demography, a rule of Companies will surely want to tap spouse and 37% of babies are born
thumb is that the exception is becom- their valuable expertise and experi- out of wedlock in the United States.
ing the rule. ence. However, many seniors will in- Couples are delaying childbirth to
Trend 1: Aging population. We are sist on working on their own terms, pursue career goals and then gener-
all familiar with the notion of an ag- setting their own working conditions ally having smaller families.
ing population. Imagine the world or even establishing home-based Single-person households are the
resembled Florida or Italy, where the freelance businesses. The urban re- fastest-growing type of household in
median age will be 50 by mid-cen- newal trend under way in cities like the United States—second only to
tury. The populations of the world’s Baltimore and San Francisco—where multigeneration households, in
most developed, W1, countries are empty-nesters leave the suburbs and which parents move in with their
skewing toward more older people good school districts to relocate to kids who still have kids of their own
and fewer younger people (“aging,” high-rise condos in downtown at home. This isn’t surprising consid-
in other words). W2 is just a genera- ­areas—is also part of this trend. ering the cost of raising and school-

THE FUTURIST July-August 2008 www.wfs.org 19


Trend 1: Aging population.
The populations of more-affluent countries
are skewing toward more older people,
fewer younger people.

SERDAR YAGCI / ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

ing children in many W1 countries. choices open to people across life Business implications: Organizations
In March 2008, the U.S. Department stages have expanded, and aging struggling to deal with the issue of
of Agriculture deduced that the cost populations are taking full advan- growing diversity are particularly af-
of clothing, housing, and educating a tage of them. fected by this trend. In the future,
child in the United States until the Trend 3: Migration. It’s logistically more organizations will find them-
age of 18 is $204,060. easier now than ever before to relo- selves confronted with having to di-
Kids now grow up faster and, iron- cate from one area to another—be it versify their workforces in the face of
ically, adults are “growing up” more across a country or around the a global economy that demands an
slowly. Children absorb adult mes- world. This phenomenon is raising international perspective to succeed.
sages from media and are moving challenging social and political is- Trend 4: Population growth. About
through childhood more quickly. sues. In W1, the debate continues 10 to 15 years ago, a series of books
Meanwhile, many adults are seeking over whether immigrants are a net came out sounding the alarm that
to recapture their lost childhoods— benefit or drain on the recipient population growth threatens Earth’s
these youth-seeking grown-ups have economy, and it has become a peren- carrying capacity. The most recent
been called “rejuveniles” or “kid- nially popular campaign issue for statistics from the U.S. Census Bu-
ults.” Those who come back to live some politicians, as well. Do we let reau suggest that global population
with their parents have been dubbed them in? Do we keep them out? Sev- is going to top off at somewhere be-
“boomerangers.” eral European nations are confront- tween 9 billion and 10 billion people
An indicator of this demographic ing these issues, made particularly (we’re closing in on 7 billion today).
boundary blurring is the formation acute as their native-born population W2 and W3 have been proceeding
of adult kickball leagues and partici- growth has stopped and in some through the demographic transition
pation in other activities formerly as- cases declined. Incorporating immi- more quickly than some had antici-
sociated with children. At the same grants into national social/entitle- pated, important because 95% of
time, adults are going back to school ment systems can present major po- population growth will come from
in record numbers—in many cases litical challenges. these worlds. As these nations de-
outnumbering youths in the class- It is likely that politicians will con- velop economically, large families
room. tinue to make a lot of noise about are confronting disincentives in the
Business implications: Given all “cracking down” on illegal immigra- form of the high cost of raising chil-
these changes in the nature of fami- tion, but in the end, we forecast, the dren. Previously, more children
lies, organizations will need to recon- net benefits that immigrants bring by meant more labor to work the farm.
sider how they think about families doing both manual and high-value- But the process of industrialization
and how they communicate with added knowledge work will keep the has diminished the economic advan-
them. These shifts are already driv- flows of migrants coming. One of the tages of having kids in the developed
ing market researchers crazy—at traditional strengths of the U.S. econ- world. Most European countries and
least those who still rely on tradi- omy, for example, has been its will- Japan are already below replace-
tional age-based segmentations. Age ingness to embrace new people with ment-level fertility, and the projec-
is simply not a reliable indicator of new ideas. Many argue that it has tion is that global population growth
people’s actions or interests. The been a key competitive advantage. will reach this mark by 2050.

20 THE FUTURIST July-August 2008 www.wfs.org


Trend 5: Urbanization.
The majority of the world’s
population is now living in cities.
In the highly developed world for
instance, urbanization rates
typically hover around 75%.

CHRISTOS GEORGHIOU / ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

Business implications: Ironically, a big brick or glass tubes called office thal poverty is inevitable. Rising
newly emerging “worry” is that soon buildings after they fight a daunting wealth suggests a need for an
W1 will have too few people and too commute and joust for expensive economic system based on a new
few workers. This concern results parking spots. Many of these people assumption of abundance. The
from the common misconception go up 30 floors to sit in a cubicle and global economy produces more than
that economies and organizations use a computer or phone all day— enough wealth to support a com-
must continue to grow. The chal- the typical activities of a knowledge fortable standard of living for all
lenge brought by slowing population worker. Why fight this battle in an three worlds, but it still hasn’t fig-
increases is that some of the “auto- age of telecommunications? Why not ured out an equitable way to dis-
matic” growth that businesses have work at home, the local coffee shop, tribute that wealth or produce it
experienced due to ever-higher GDP or any venue where you can plug in sustainably.
(fueled by population increases) will and stay connected, going to the of- T h e o p e n - s o u rc e m o v e m e n t
gradually decline. This is already fice only when it’s necessary to phys- (where computer developers post
happening in the United States, Eu- ically meet with people? code they’ve developed online for
rope, and parts of Asia. W2 and W3 Business implications: Managing free to be used and added to by other
are rapidly catching up. virtual workforces will present chal- developers) is an example of how an
Trend 5: Urbanization. The major- lenges to organizations. In the past, abundance economy might work:
ity of the world’s population is now measuring the “good” workers by Contributors give away their exper-
living in cities. In W1, for instance, how many hours they spent at their tise to have a better product; in the
urbanization rates typically hover desks was easy. Organizations will process, they enhance their reputa-
around 75%. W2 and W3 are in the now need to devise new ways to tions and build networking connec-
process of rapid urbanization, as measure productivity based on out- tions that may later pay off in a
many of those countries are transi- put or value created, rather than “real” project or job. The open-source
tioning from an agricultural to an in- hours spent in the office. idea is spreading beyond software
dustrial economy. When that hap- development. There is even a Web
pens, people tend to settle in huge, site for open-source prosthetics.
Rising Wealth Trends
multimillion-person megalopolises, Another indicator among young
often around national capital cities; We characterize this economically people, particularly in W1, is that
one exception is the Nigerian mega­ based set of consumer trends as they are less inclined to follow tradi-
city of Lagos. “rising wealth” to reflect the world’s tional paths to earning a living.
Thanks to technology, anyone rising standard of living—particu- Some, for example, may spend their
armed with a laptop or PDA can con- larly in W2 nations such as China. day blogging and not getting paid,
nect to the world, and the workplace, Interestingly, this trend is challeng- because they believe that if they pro-
via the Internet. As a result, some in- ing the fundamental assumption of vide value it will pay off at some
teresting choices will emerge about scarcity, defined as the assumption point, sometime, somewhere. And
where to live and work. For decades, that, in order for there to be wealthy they are often right. Somebody picks
urbanization has been agglomerating people, there must also be poor peo- up one of their stories, which builds
people together, grouping them in ple, and that a certain amount of le- their reputation and eventually leads

THE FUTURIST July-August 2008 www.wfs.org 21


Trend 6: Asia rising. There are
various estimates of when China will
be the world’s largest economy. Note
that this power will not be exclusively
based on cheap labor.
HSING-WEN HSU / ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

to a paid gig. We might call it the Many in the United States (the num- lates, the happier one should be.
“karma economy.” ber one economy for some time now) Data convincingly suggests that this
Trend 6: Asia rising. The rise of are frightened by the trend. But it’s is a dangerously flawed assumption.
Asia became real for me personally good news for the global economy. Yes, there is a correlation between in-
when I was chatting with a U.S. These W2 and W3 nations will be come growth and happiness as na-
representative from a large Korean more economically and militarily tions modernize and citizens move
conglomerate. He was telling me that competitive, but they will also offer beyond a survival mode. But in af-
his company was interested in enter- large and lucrative markets for W1 fluent, developed-world countries,
ing the U.S. market, but that their big organizations. studies show that more money does
push in the next five to 10 years was Trend 7: Consumerism. For the not equal more happiness.
going be in China, because they saw first time, hundreds of millions of Although consumerism is still
it as a bigger opportunity. people in W2 and, to a lesser extent, alive and well in the developed
There are various estimates of W3 will be living in a consumer world, some early indicators suggest
when China will be the world’s larg- economy. As these nations become it may be changing. For example,
est economy, and there will be many wealthier, the work and lifestyle pat- there is the story of 10 San Francisco
debates about whether India might terns of their people will shift—and friends who vowed not to purchase a
be the winner. Both China and India soon they will be able to purchase single new thing in 2006 except food
are ascending the economic ladder of more goods and services as they and some bare necessities such as
development; workers are becoming build economies of specialized labor. toilet paper, brake fluid, and under-
more educated and skilled as legiti- Over time, the purchase of consumer wear. People in more-developed
mate players in the global knowledge goods becomes an increasingly im- economies will have to make choices
economy. Singapore, for example, is a portant expression of one’s values about how to pursue happiness in
small island of 5 million that has and identity. For instance, being able the future.
ascended from W3 to W1 in just a to afford luxury branded goods is a Business implications: The evolution
generation. It has become one of the way to signal to one’s peers that one of consumerism is likely to play out
richest countries in the world thanks has “made it.” in different ways around the world,
to the technological and knowledge- In W1, on the other hand, there are and companies would be well-­
based prowess of its p­ eople. growing questions about consumer- advised to develop different strate-
Business implications: The twenty- ism. One could argue that a primary gies for approaching it in the differ-
first century can be characterized as assumption of our capitalist system ent “worlds.” For example, whereas
the Asian century. Asia’s economic is that consumption will make you material goods are likely to thrive in
and political clout is clearly rising. happy. The more stuff one accumu- W2 nations, having rich personal ex-

22 THE FUTURIST July-August 2008 www.wfs.org


periences is increasingly important just fill it up as soon as they get it. mow my own lawn? Is having a
for people in more-developed coun- The complaint goes something like: housekeeper a practical choice or an
tries. And an ongoing need for W3 is “Oh, I don’t have to go to choir prac- unnecessary indulgence? In many
to devise strategies to reach those at tice. Great, now I can do boot cases, it may make economic sense
the “bottom of the ­pyramid.” camp…. I’m so busy!” A popular la- to outsource an activity.
Trend 8: Middle-class growth. In ment in some psychotherapy ses- Business implications: Some people
affluent countries, particularly the sions is that people are becoming hu- may feel guilty about spending
United States, the middle class is man “doings” rather than human money to save time, but as time pres-
shrinking as the upper and lower beings, because they constantly feel sure mounts, statistics suggest more
classes expand. But rather than haves the need to be doing something. Rob- people will get over their reserva-
and have-nots, it is more accurate to inson’s research also suggests that tions. This values shift will provide
say the divisions are between haves free time is now available in smaller great opportunities for an increasing
and have-lots: The standard of living chunks—convenient for checking number of businesses to earn money
at the bottom of W1 is still higher e‑mail, but inconvenient for reading by offering convenience, performing
than in much of W2 and W3. a book. tasks that people could do for them-
While the size of the growing W2 In W2 and to a lesser extent W3, free selves but haven’t the patience for
middle class in countries like China time is more likely to actually decrease any longer.
is difficult to nail down, it is growing as people spend more time working in ***
along a similar trajectory to the one their growing economies. This will be This partial list is intended to
that places like Europe, the United even more the case as those economies provide a primer on the global trends
States, and later Japan underwent a experience rapid growth. in play today and how they might
few generations ago, which created Business implications: Time will develop and evolve into the next
large numbers of “first-time buyers.” continue to be at a premium. Don’t dec­ade. It is a starting point for anal-
These markets will be the places to believe it? Survey your colleagues ysis, and we’ll follow up in the next
look for sales volumes to increase. and ask whether they would prefer a issue with trends related to culture,
Given that many affluent-nation week of unfettered vacation—not the social mobility, and women’s equal-
populations and their middle classes kind where it means double the ity. We’ve suggested some of the
are shrinking, the automatic growth work upon return—or the equivalent business implications of these trends,
that many businesses have become sum in pay. Don’t be surprised when but all of them also carry conse-
accustomed to will decline in these vacation wins hands-down. The time quences for individuals, organiza-
places. Thus, attention will turn to shortage means that businesses may tions, and nations.
W2 and eventually W3 for growing benefit if they provide time-saving Understanding established trends
the top line. products. It also serves as a reminder such as these provides a foundation
Business implications: In the bifur- of the value of customer service. An for thinking in a productive way
cating W1 markets, a pattern of automated call-response system that about the future. The next step is to
­status-conscious shopping is emerg- costs less than flesh-and-blood phone apply the knowledge by uncovering
ing. Increasingly, consumers are will- operators isn’t necessarily saving new opportunities, detecting threats,
ing to spend lots of money on “iden- you money. If it’s a hassle to use, it crafting strategy, guiding policy, and
tity-related” purchases, while other isn’t just annoying your customers, exploring new markets, products,
less-important purchases are based it’s robbing them. and services. ❏
solely on cost. Thus, we have people Trend 10: Personal outsourcing.
shopping at Gucci for a handbag and Consumers used to save money by About the Author
at Wal-Mart for dishwasher deter- doing their own chores, but today’s Andy Hines is the director
gent and a new lawnmower. This time shortage is leading consumers of Custom Projects at
Social Technologies. He
suggests a need for business models to outsource services they used to
co-founded and is currently
where manufacturers and retailers provide for themselves. Thus, a new
chair of the Association
can profit by making small amounts breed of time-saving products and of Professional Futurists.
of customized products—especially services is emerging. In W1, for ex- Thinking About the Future,
those identity-based products. ample, pet sitters and personal con- his third book, co-edited with Peter Bishop,
Trend 9: Time pressure. As never cierges are both growth jobs. In W2, was published by Social Technologies
before, consumers in wealthy W1 na- labor-saving devices such as refrig- in 2006.
tions consistently say they never erators and dishwashers are as This article focuses on some the Top 20
have enough time to do everything sought after and trendy as they were trends affecting consumer life around the
on their to-do lists. Of course, the in the 1950s in the United States. world, as judged by the futurists of Social
Technologies. The list was developed for
perception is often worse than the re- These purchases free up time for par-
the sponsors of Social Technologies Global
ality, as some of the pressure is self- ticipation in the paid workforce.
Lifestyles research program. The second
imposed. A time-use study of the The growing value of time-saving part of this list, detailing trends in culture,
U.S. population by sociologist John technologies and services will bring gender equity, etc., will appear in the
Robinson at the University of Mary- up some interesting choices for con- September-October 2008 edition of THE
land suggests that people have more sumers. Is gardening a hobby or a FUTURIST. For more information, visit
free time now than in the past—they chore to be outsourced? Should I www.socialtechnologies.com.

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