Generational views on quality Essay

Generational views on quality

            Time seems to speed up nowadays: what earlier took centuries, now takes years, decades at the most. Everything is changing in a very rapid pace, and today we witness a unique situation of several generations living side by side. They are: the Veterans, the Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. It’s not just the age difference that matters, the distinctions lie deeper: each generation has their own attitudes, behaviors, expectations, habits and motivational buttons. Although some generational differences have existed throughout history, during this era differences between the two generations grew significantly in comparison to previous times, particularly with respect to such matters as musical tastes, fashion, drug use, consumer habits and politics The significant characteristics of any generation in the Consumption Age are the views and attitudes to quality of goods and services, which allow to describe peculiarities and features of different generations. Differences among each generation can be explained by their background and the historic surrounding they grew up in. So it seems reasonable to say several words about backgrounds of the generations in question.

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            The Veterans, also known as Traditionalists, Matures or the Silent Generation, lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They tend to be stable, thorough, loyal, private and hard-working. They believe in duty before pleasure and they sure do have patience. They trust leaders, respect authority, and value formal dress and communication. The fact that they had to endure economic hardships of the Great Depression and the War determines their plain tastes and respect for everything that is steady, respectable and not likely to change.

            A baby boomer is someone who was born during a period of increased birth rates, or baby boom. Large part of the Baby Boom was an after effect of World War II where the bombed out cities and fractured economies increased the needs for goods and services in unprecedented peacetime amounts. Consequently, the Arsenal of Democracy switched gears and started cranking out goods and materials for export, as America supplied the “free world” with goods to rebuild their own economies. This led to an unprecedented bubble of vigorous economic growth that didn’t slow until 1958. Furthermore, in the U.S. the G.I. Bill enabled record numbers of people to attend college and obtain, perhaps in most cases, the first college degree in their extended families. This led to an increase in education and granted higher incomes to families allowing them the resources to produce more children. There is little debate that the 76 million American children born between 1945 and 1964 represent a cohort that is significant first because of its size. Boomers account for about 39 percent of Americans over the age of 18 and 29 percent of the total population, they are at the same time at the most significant political posts in the country, many significant people in economics are Baby Boomers, and, moreover, they are still main US consumers nowadays, as Bab Boomers have the highest median household incomes in the States. For example in 2004 the US baby boomers held 80% of the US’s wealth and bought 80% of all top of the range cars, 80% of cruises and 50% of skincare products.

            The baby boomers were the first group to be raised on television, and television has been identified as “the institution that solidified the sense of generational identity more than any other”. Besides, Baby Boomers were the first generation, brought up on the TV advertisements and commercial and the quality of life improved significantly by the time they were born. All that allowed them to have greater freedom of choice, to be more particular and fastidious about goods and services they purchase. Baby Boomers are strongly oriented into wellness, besides, they often think that they changed the world, and nobody could do better than them, so they need to have all the best in this life.

            The Baby boomers were followed by the so-called Generation X (people, born between 1961 and 1980). The GenXers tend to be more conservative in their tastes and spending habits, as they grew up with double-digit inflation. They’ve seen their parents going through difficult times, being laid off from jobs, that were supposed to be secure, so this generation does not have much trust in anything offered or provided by the existing economy. They tend to invest more in their own development, in provision of a well-to-do old age. This group of people is independent, they are not intimidated by any authorities, so their own taste is pretty much everything they would rely on in choosing some products or services. The GenXers are responsible also for creating new family dynamics and a new way to look at careers. The greatest contradiction of this generation is that they enjoy the greatest economic freedoms and opportunities in history; at the same time, they face financial challenges unlike any past generation. Their standard of living is higher than that of previous generations. For example, a century ago, Americans could expect to die before age 50. Today, you can expect to live, on average, 77.4 years, and be pretty healthy most of that time. Improvement in the quality of services and goods offered to this generation, allow them to see the potential of the extra quarter century plus, looking beyond traditional retirement ages. However, it’s still a generation, bred in the unstable society, so they, more that anyone else, are in the need for financial security and financial independence. The GenXers made high demands to the quality of services, provided in these spheres. They have their own needs, and one of these needs is a necessity to build wealth for financial independence. They don’t quite rely on sponsored pension plans and Social Security benefits, instead, the GenXers prefer private investments to provide them when they come of old age. The GenXers are also keen on protecting their standard of living, they insure their lives more often than representatives of other generations, as they think this is the best way to replace their income and help maintain their family’s standard of living if they die prematurely by illness or accident. They have a greater distrust of government and big business and see little reason to be loyal to either. Also, the insecurity of the world has spawned an independent attitude among GenXers who think “nobody will take care of me but me. Their striving for security and independence is well-demonstrated by the fact, that 75% of all GenXers plan on someday having their own business, so that they won’t have to depend on someone else and suffer the same fate as many in the older generation. The feeling of financial insecurity and the attitude “take the money and run”, connected with it, explain the spending habits of this generation: buying a lot of goods, without being too particular about their quality, spending money lavishly on products, services, on entertainment.

            The Generation Y or the Nexters grew up during the high-tech revolution and have never known a world without video games and CD players. They are the most technologically savvy generation ever to walk the earth. They are called a myriad of names by those most interested in profiting from accurately identifying and then defining them. They are known most commonly as Generation Y and they are defining the future. They are doing it today.

            However, not only background determines the attitudes and values of these generations. Economic situation is also an important factor to consider. For example, economic prosperity of the Baby Boomers, their purchasing activity and particularity about the quality of goods and services can be explained by the economic situation prevailing in the country at that time. Increase in the number of people living in the country makes it necessary to prepare for increase in other spheres: houses and apartments must be built; streets must be paved; power, light, water, and sewer systems must be extended; existing factories, stores and other business structures must be enlarged or new ones erected; and much machinery must be manufactured. All these activities have an extremely important effect on the national economy, which, in turns, is reflected on the well-being of the people: First, by requiring large investments of funds, they help to maintain interest rates, encourage savings, and facilitate the accumulation of wealth. Second, by furnishing jobs for a large number of people, they tend to keep unemployment at a minimum and to maintain average per capita earnings and ability to consume. The result is the maintenance of high levels of employment, production, and prosperity.

Certainly, when four generations live side by side, they will have to work side by side, and here again the differences in values and approaches to the quality of their workplace can be seen. These differences often present a difficulty for the employers, who have to balance between 4 different groups of interests and wishes, but when duly managed, these differences can contribute to the company’s success and to prosperity of its staff. When people want to find work, they usually have some ideas of what it would be like for a company, and what the company, in turn, can give to the employee, so one can say, that for all employee groups, employee benefits rank as a top factor in job satisfaction. However, each generation has its own view of what kind of benefit constitutes a reward to them. In this respect, younger generations surprise the older ones very often. For example, the Baby Boomers might resent the younger generations’ demands for work/life balance simply by the fact that the younger employees had the guts to ask for accommodations they themselves might never have dreamed of asking for, as baby boomers are used to a more competitive workplace where asking to balance work and life might have been perceived as a sign of weakness or a threat to getting ahead. A Gen Xer might not understand why the older generations can’t work hard and play hard at the same time. They don’t want quality lifetime late in life when they retire – they want it now.

            There’s another quality factor worth considering. It’s a very typical situation, and still it influences the atmosphere in which the generations live a lot. There’s a term “sandwich generation”, used to name those, who find themselves in the dual role of being caregivers to their children and to a disabled spouse or aging parents. These people put special emphasis on eldercare/childcare services provided and these services are of great importance to them. The very fact of its importance to people can be proved by the results of the study, conducted by Institute for Health and Social Care, which explored older people’s ideas about one of the most important aspects of services quality – a quality of home care service. The research included interviewing 143 older people, each one of which had very clear views about what characterizes quality in these services; they valued home care services highly. Older people defined “quality” in terms of several key attributes. Here they are:

Provision of help to keep your home clean and with small tasks like changing light bulbs.
Regular carers, so that trust can be built up and time saved.
Notification of what tasks older people can expect carers to undertake.
Notification of any changes in carers or carers’ activities, so that older people are not opening their doors to a stranger.
Flexible services which can reflect older people’s current needs.
Carers trained in the tasks they have to do and trained to listen to clients.
Aids and adaptations to promote independence.
Services to enable older people to get out of their homes.
Older people saw good, safe transport and better health care services as important. Additionally, people under 80 saw the provision of company as part of a quality service. For those over 80, a quality service would enable them to occupy their minds, encourage ‘good neighbours’ and provide robots to do domestic tasks from cleaning to gardening. Older people from black and minority groups saw culturally specific languages, foods and activities as additional characteristics of quality services.

Quality of eldercare service is just one aspect of a very fashionable term “well-being” or “quality of life”. This term was defined during the second half of the XXth century and it has been an important concern in economics and political science since then. Besides eldercare and healthcare there are many aspects of well-being. A large part is standard of living, the amount of money and access to goods and services that a person has; these numbers are fairly easily measured. Others like freedom, happiness, art, environmental health, and innovation are far harder to measure. Understanding quality of life is today particularly important in health care, where monetary measures do not readily apply. Decisions on what research or treatments to invest the most in are closely related to their effect of a patient’s quality of life.

There are a lot of studies and research into the behaviour of these age groups. Some studies are mostly theoretical, but many of them have practical meaning and are conducted by margeting experts in order to sell the goods and services better. Besides purely business impact of these studies, they sometimes help us look into the different generations nature.  For example, a research, conducted in late 2003 by Boston-based marketing-strategy firm “Reach Advisors” shows, that GenXers put more emphasis on value and permanence, which are such rare commodities for their generation. Gen X have more schooling than boomers yet are far more pessimistic about their financial futures. Gen X parents are more uncomfortable with their debt levels, have much lower expectations of remaining in their current jobs, and are less likely to expect defined-benefit pensions in retirement. The specter of financial insecurity haunts them much more than it did their parents at the same age. The second important result the study provided is that while “quality time” was the much-quoted goal of boomer parents, Gen Xers also want “quantity time” with their kids. Gen X moms and dads are more likely than upwardly mobile boomer parents to turn their attention from careers to put a greater emphasis on children and household responsibilities. Still, the Gen X parents are less satisfied with the amount of time they allocate to family — not because they don’t like the trade-off, but because they wish they could spend even more time with their kids. They pay a lot more attention to goods for children and services provided for them (like babysitting), they try to make sure they are of the best quality.

Generation Xers in the top 5% of household income – those with annual incomes of $150,000-plus – tend to be in industries that have seen layoffs and where income growth has stalled. The consequent uncertainty leads to more cautious spending across the entire income spectrum. Where wealthy boomers might brag about how much they pay for something, Gen Xers relish talking about how much they managed to save – and that applies even to those in the top income brackets.

On the other hand, it is difficult to call GenXers stingy. As the Second Annual American Express Platinum Luxury Survey shows, the wealthy members of the younger Gen X spend lavishly on luxury goods and services; they budget their luxury dollars quite differently than the wealthy older Baby Boomers. GenXers are far more invested in buying up the material trappings of wealth, they spend far more on luxury goods like fragrance, cosmetics, beauty products, fashion accessories, men’s and women’s luxurious clothing, wines and liquor. They also spend a lot more on services (health services and entertainment). The two generations place emphasis on different things and make different demands to the quality of goods and services offered. The Boomers are more likely to own original art (31% as compared with 24% among Gen X), a fine jewelry collection (29% to 25%), a vacation/second home (26% to 18%) and an antique or other collection (24% to 18%). Members of Gen X, by comparison, are more likely to place a greater emphasis on active or experiential “toys” such as sports cars, (owned by 28% of Gen X compared with 24% of Boomers) and boats and yachts (21% to 17%). The survey also revealed other interesting results as far as quality preferences are concerned. While the luxury consumers buy luxury in a variety of categories, they also enjoy shopping wisely and searching for the best value and price. Thus, 80% of luxury consumers stated, that getting a discount or finding a really good sale price on a luxury item makes them feel like a smart shopper. More than a half of them (63%) complained, that the price of most luxury goods is to high, and added, that they rarely pay full price for a luxury brand. 83% of them admitted that a sale or discount was very important to their purchase decision. The common trend is that though luxury shoppers are value conscious and passionate about getting the best price, they are, on the other hand, are willing to pay more for superior service and greater convenience. The whole generation can be named “value-conscious”, which is they are willing to pay for goods as services as long as they see the value. About two-thirds (64%) of wealthy consumers surveyed are willing to pay more for special services when they travel or shop at a more exclusive boutique. The overwhelming majority of survey respondents said luxury had to do with quality and service, not a price tag or label.

Of course, it’s impossible not to mention another important sphere of consumer interest – the media. Some studies were conducted to study the attitudes of different generations towards media. One of these is the research recently released by Yahoo! and Carat Interactive, conducted by Harris Interactive and Teenage Research Unlimited, it takes a fresh look at Generation Y and its uses of media. As its results show, the use of media by the kids in this group is more fluid and less compartmentalized that it is for the older people. Not only do they spend more time with the Internet than TV, but they also use the Internet as the hub of their media activity. The Internet is the medium from which all other media decisions get made. Moreover, it’s the most important service to the GenYs, with the help of which they get access to other services and goods. It has become almost an alpha-and-omega for how they communicate with each other and their world. The Internet is the important medium to their lives in ways that other media are not.  “In the future, GenY will look at the Internet as a place to not only discover (today) but to confirm and validate. Currently, magazines signal trends to them and this drives search activity on the Internet and word of mouth. In the future, trends will generate from the Internet through rich media and targeting marketing programs. These Internet trends will integrate testimonials as well as transactions, speeding up the process of getting a great product into the hands of the GenY Consumer.”

However, the Internet is not only a means to get other services and goods, – it’s an independent service. There is clearly a technology elite in the United States – the 31% of the population, who are high-end technology adopters (according to the research Consumption of

Information Goods and Services in the United States, conducted by John B. Horrigan). This elite comprises three distinct sub-groups of Americans who are the most voracious consumers of information goods and services in the United States. The Young Tech Elites make up one-fifth of the technology elite. The average age for this group is 22 years. Older Wired Baby Boomers make up the remaining one-fifth of the technology elite. The average age for these baby boomers is 52. Wired Generation Xers (GenXers) make up most of the technology elite (about 60%). The average age for this group is 36 years.  For this group, the Internet, cell phone, digital videodisc player, and personal digital assistant are commonplace; many of them access the Internet wirelessly and are starting to pay for online content. What is distinctive about them is that new electronic communications technologies come first, they are more important than the wireline phone, and email is as important as telephonic communication. For the Young Tech Elites, the Internet is a regular source for daily news and an indispensable element of their entertainment experience. The tech elites are also very hands-on when it comes to their Internet experience.

As information technology users, Americans sort into 8 distinct groups, according to their way of using information goods and services, attitudes about technology and its qualities, online behaviour and demographic characteristics. So, there are:

·              Young Tech Elites, who make up 6% of the US population, these are the heaviest technology users. All have Internet access, most have cell phones and

DVD players (80% or more), and most are most engaged with the interactive aspects

of the Internet, such as downloading music, creating online content, participating in online groups. Their monthly spending on information goods and services averages $161.

·                    Older Wired Baby Boomers (also 6% of the population) spend the most money per month of any group (an average of $175). They are very active information gatherers online, news and work-related research are especially popular among them, they are also active in online transactions.

·                    Wired Generation Xers (18% of the US population). They have less online experience, but they have quickly embraced a wide range of information goods and services. They are active in purchasing the Net’s interactive features and other online activities.

·                    Wired Senior Men (1% of the sample). It is a very highly educated small cluster of mostly older men (average age is 70) who have a wealth of online experience, who limit their activities to information gathering and some online transactions for ecommerce of finance.

·                    Other groups include: the Young Marrieds, Low-Tech Older Baby Boomers, Unwired Young Baby Boomers, Low-Tech Elderly, – all of them belong to the so-called lower-tech group, including, for the most part, people with little or no education, lower incomes, with children, most of them are women.

The goal of the survey was not only to divide the users into groups according to their preferences as far as goods and services are concerned, but also to find out, what matters most to technology users. Although the technologies by which people receive and process information may be converging, there is no reason to think that people’s attitudes about them are monolithic across technologies or the groups of technology consumers. Thus, a research was made into what services and goods were most important for technology consumers, what gadgets and services they would have hard time giving up. In looking collectively at the responses, the old media fare rather well. The wireline telephone at home tops the list – nearly two-thirds (64%) of all Americans say it would be very hard to give up their telephones. Television comes in second with about half (48%) of Americans saying it would be very difficult to do without TV. Next, in order of preference, comes a group of new media gadgets or services. Anywhere from 36% to 40% of users would find it very hard to give up the computer, the Internet, cell phone, and cable TV. The PDA, however, is something of an outlier: only a minority of those who have it say would be hard to part with; only 24% of PDA users say it would be very difficult to give it up. Americans find several traditional media least important to them. Only 19% of Americans say they would find it hard to give up the newspaper and only 13% say it would be difficult to give up their favorite magazine.  Americans are typically very optimistic when thinking about technology, with 5 in 8 (62%) of all Americans saying they generally like computers and technology, and two thirds (67%) saying they like the abundance of information available today. Those who have the most tech goods and services are the ones who feel least burdened by information and have the most positive attitudes about technology. For the Young Tech Elites, the Older Wired Baby Boomers, and Wired GenXers, optimism about technology is very high, with 80% saying they like computers and technology. At the other end of the spectrum, the older less-wired groups – the Unwired Young Baby Boomers and the Low-Tech Elderly – have somewhat pessimistic views of technology and the wealth of information available today. A slight minority of them (48%) expresses a positive attitude about computers and technology.

All in all, the four generations living side by side, differ in their preferences, likes and dislikes, they put emphasis on different things as far as goods and services are concerned, which is caused by differences in age, background, education, economic situation they were grew in and some other factors. All these determine the consumer behaviour of different generation, their willingness to spend money on certain goods and qualities, their attitude to luxury buying and their “technology behaviour”, which is attitude to modern technologies, devices, Internet.

Sources

Population: Babies Mean Business, Newsweek, Aug 9, 1948,  retrieved March 4, 2007
Baby Boom, Time, Feb 9, 1948, retrieved March 4, 2007
Briones, M. G. (1998). Ad biz faces technology, GenY and competition. Marketing News, 3(25), 2-10.
Mulhern, C. (1997). Junior boomers: Who’s next? The Net generation. Entrepreneur, 25(12), 14-17.
John B. Horrigan (2003, November 23). Consumption of information goods and services in the United States. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved March 4, 2007 from http://www.ziffdavis.com/pdf/research/PIP_Info_Consumption.pdf
AMERICAN EXPRESS PLATINUM luxury survey (2005, March), retrieved March 4, 2007 from http://home3.americanexpress.com/corp/pc/2005/pdf/genx_lux.pdf
Norma Raynes, Bogusia Temple, Charlotte Glenister and Lydia Coulthard (2001, June). Getting older people’s views on quality home care services. Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Retrieved March 4, 2007 from http://www.jrf.org.uk/knowledge/findings/socialcare/611.asp

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