Contrary to popular perception, the healthy aging marketplace isn’t exclusive to Baby Boomers and older consumers. In the U.S., younger generations—including Millennials (between 18 and 36 years old)—are taking personal interest in their health and are increasingly driving sales in health care categories, such as supplements, vitamins and preventive care. This presents a huge opportunity for companies who understand the nuances of each consumer segment’s needs.
Recent research from Nielsen and Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) sheds light on what multigenerational consumers say they need for their health and well-being in their "golden" years, as well as what "healthy aging" really means to them and American companies.
Three-quarters of all American adults over 18 years old acknowledge that they are taking more personal responsibility for their health today compared to 10 years ago, with the majority doing so to ensure they don’t have to rely on others as they age. One reason behind this evolving self-responsibility movement may be the notion that responsibility for health transcends generational boundaries. This feeling is especially strong with younger Americans: 63 percent of Millennials feel it’s their responsibility to care for an elderly parent, compared with 55 percent of Boomers. This is partially connected to the younger generation’s greater ethnic diversity: 14 percent of Millennials are first generation American citizens and 12 percent are second generation. Multigenerational households are more prominent in these cultures and typically have cultural expectations that the younger generations will care for elderly family members.
Cognitive and Physical Capacity
Across all generations, healthy aging overwhelmingly means maintaining cognitive and physical capacity. Nielsen and NMI research shows that consumers of all ages are highly concerned with the integrity of their cognitive functioning. In addition, emerging science is showing that losing one’s brain capacity and mental faculties are not necessarily an inevitable consequence of age but a result of other factors such as diet, daily activities, financial stress, social isolation and even anxiety. The advent of internet "brain games" such as Lumosity and the positioning of DHA Omega 3 as a brain supplement are just two examples that cognitive health is becoming an expansive opportunity for those with the insights to understand the breadth of possibilities within the cognitive health market.
The generations disagree, however, on the importance of physical ability with age. Fifty-three percent of Millennials fear losing their physical agility and self-reliance, such as the ability to drive, cook and shop. Consumers older than Millennials, on the other hand, perceive the loss of their financial freedom to be more pressing.
Financial health is also important to all consumers and has ramifications for their physical and emotional health. Consumers who are on track with their financial plans for retirement are more likely to rate their physical health as very good to excellent, feel they have control over health care expenses, and expect to live a longer life than those consumers who do not feel they are on target. So how financially ready for retirement are Americans? Sixty percent don’t feel that they are financially set for retirement, while nearly an equal number (57%) fear not having enough money to live comfortably after retirement. However, U.S. consumer confidence in the first quarter of 2014 reached its highest level since 2007. And savings and investing intentions also picked up pace, with 44 percent of respondents saying they’re putting spare cash into savings accounts, up from 39 percent in fourth-quarter 2013.
Millennials, in particular, are financially optimistic and ambitious. While 69 percent don’t feel they currently earn enough to lead the kind of lifestyle they want, 88 percent think they’ll be able to earn enough in the future. This growing confidence may reflect that consumers, including Millennials, have increasingly become savers rather than spenders. And older Millennials, ages 28-36, lead this trend. Despite financial responsibilities related to life events associated with their young age, such as starting families and paying off student loans, older Millennials still have an eye towards their retirement and aging. They’re much more likely to have started their careers than younger Millennials, ages 18-27, and have saved more in their 401(k)s than any other generation at their life stage.
Millennials are much more open to alternative medicine: Younger Millennials are 40 percent more likely than the general population, while older Millennials are 32 percent more likely than average. All Millennials are also more likely to use acupuncture, herbal remedies and massage therapy and less likely to use prescription drugs, compared with older generations, to maintain their health as they age. Given Millennials’ racial and ethnic diversity and the cultural traditions tied to alternative medicine, they also may not be as tied to Western medicine as the older generations.
The economic downturn has caused many consumers to re-evaluate what is actually important on a more personal level. Four out of five consumers, across all generations, indicate they are becoming more aware of personal relationships instead of personal possessions. Many consumers are looking for new relevance in every area of their lives by searching for a deeper sense of purpose and connection, with almost two-thirds over 45 stating they want to build a sense of community in their lives.
In line with this growing preference for personal interaction, as well as their social nature, Millennials appreciate the personal touch in dealing with their health. Younger Millennials are more likely than their older counterparts to like check-in calls from their health providers, with reminders for appointments and health advice.
Consumers of all ages are recalibrating what is important in their lives to establish balance and healthy lifestyle goals in order to feel healthy, independent and secure as they age. They are starting to make long-term changes to their lifestyles in a trend that represents realistic and tangible steps rather than sporadic and short-lived initiatives. As Americans' healthy aging demands continue to expand, opportunities will likely flourish across all categories and ages—and companies that help them meet their health goals will see big benefits.
This study draws from research conducted by Nielsen and the Natural Marketing Institute, examining Millennials consumer sentiments toward healthy aging and concerns. The study also includes insights from Nielsen’s recent "Millennials: Breaking the Myths" report.