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New Book: The Many Faces of Canadian Boomers


bookcover Stayin' Alive
You are in for a surprise if you pick up Michael Adams’ new book about aging boomers.

Adams is the president and co-founder of the Environics group of research and communications consulting companies. In Stayin’ Alive (Viking Canada), he shows that Canadians – born between 1946 and 1965 – are anything but uniform.

Adams clusters the boomers into four "tribes": Disengaged Darwinists, representing 48 per cent of boomers; Connected Enthusiasts, at 21 per cent; Autonomous Rebels, 19 per cent; and Anxious Communitarians, 12 per cent.

Disengaged Darwinists

This first tribe makes up nearly half of Canada’s nine million boomers. These are the traditionalists, who bought into the values of their parents. They were not drawn to movements touting sexual liberation, multiculturalism and gender equality. Surprisingly perhaps, they are concentrated at the younger end of the baby boom generation with 58 per cent male.

Members of this group work in the skilled trades, manufacturing and in mid-level office jobs. They mourn the loss of old fashioned values, especially common sense. The economic downturn has hit them hard, adding to their sense of disempowerment.

This "silent plurality" is a fan of the military and strong supporters of the men and women serving in Afghanistan today. They distrust politicians, and they have little interest in formal religion. They pay scant attention to health mongers and their campaigns. As they see it, a juicy steak is hard to beat.

But change may be underway. According to Adams, the Disengaged Darwinists are embracing information technology in larger numbers and becoming more interested in making their mark on the world. They may become more vocal as they age.

Connected Enthusiasts

The Connected Enthusiasts are the "live wires" of the generation. They represent about 21 per cent of boomers and are 58 per cent female. Connected Enthusiasts believe they were born in the best of times. In their youth, they welcomed the birth control pill. In middle age, they celebrate information technology that allows them to network with kindred spirits around the globe.

They are the most affluent of the tribes after the Autonomous Rebels. Many are small business owners. About 35 per cent are professionals.

Connected Enthusiasts are committed to family. The top priority in their retirement is to care for aging parents. They are optimistic and highly social. Members of the tribe pursue a wide range of volunteer activities in communities across the country.

According to Adams, this group is more religious than the average Canadian, and the most interested of the four tribes in spiritual issues (though not involving churches). They are concerned about the state of the planet, and they are frustrated at their inability to change things.

Connected Enthusiasts are the "health nuts" of the baby boom generation. They are strong believers in the benefits of exercise and big fans of farmers’ markets.

Anxious Communitarians

Anxious Communitarians are the "worriers" of their generation. They represent 12 per cent of boomers and about 1.1 million Canadians. The majority are women. This group’s sense of self is rooted in their social roles as spouse, parent, worker and community member. They have spent their lives trying to make others happy.

Among the tribes, Anxious Communitarians are the poorest. They are counting on the Canada Pension Plan to see them through their retirement, but this group’s biggest worry is not money, but personal safety. In 2008, six out of 10 members of the tribe feared walking alone at night in their neighbourhood. In retirement, they are hoping to finally get time for themselves.

They expect little from politicians. Many do not vote. According to Adams, the Anxious Communitarians believe in religious phenomena, including God and miracles and heaven and hell. In health matters, they defer to their doctors.

Autonomous Rebels

The Autonomous Rebels are the "standard-bearers" for the generation, despite representing only 19 per cent of the boomers.

Many are professionals with high-paying jobs. They dislike hierarchy and loathe political correctness. In their youth, they took on authority, questioning why people of different races couldn’t marry and fighting for gender equality. Today, they are concerned about ethical consumption and the state of the planet.

With time, they have grown in confidence, maintained some of their youthful egalitarian ideals and increased their wealth. Few believe in an after life. Autonomous Rebels are tough-minded and outspoken. They are the most likely of the four tribes to be divorced. Many live alone. Most, however, are married to like-minded partners.

In recent years, Autonomous Rebels have become more focused on their health, developing a high degree of health literacy. According to Adams, they favour mainstream medical treatments, steering clear of alternative therapies except as a last resort.

Still making waves

This engaging and accessible book paints a fascinating portrait of Canadian boomers. The boomers are older today. They’re entering retirement. But they are not dead yet, Adams warns: "Their late life is going to be at least as revolutionary as their youth, maybe even more so."