(Back) to the Future

  • Update:2012-10-19
  • Arthur O. Eger, Translator: Wang Yun

In 1998, I wrote an article for the Dutch magazine Product, in which I tried to predict trends for the years 1998 to 2008. Thirteen years later – in 2011 – someone remembered and asked me: ‘Whatever became of your predictions of 1998?’ I had nearly forgotten about them, looked up the old article and discovered – somewhat to my surprise – that they had all come true. Then the publisher of Product challenged me to do it again. I did. This article contains the following four sections:1.How it was done;2.The predictions of 1998;3.What became of them, a retrospective case survey;4.The predictions for 2012-2022.

1 How it was done
In 1991, Faith Popcorn – an alias for Faith Plotkin – predicted the trend ‘cocooning’ in her book ‘The Popcorn Report’. With that, she introduced a new word in western civilization. She predicted that people would withdraw more and more into their homes. Her explanation was that this would happen because of the stress in their work and the increase of crime and turmoil in the streets. People would reconsider their lives and choose for having children, as well as for staying home and enjoying a rented movie with a glass of wine, instead of going out. Popcorn based her predictions – amongst other things –on the growing sales of video recorders and the success of courier services for pizza and Chinese food. Boom, bust and echo ‘Nonsense’, says David Foot (1996). Popcorn mixes up cause and consequence. She suggests that people
first choose to stay home and then – to give their lives more meaning – decide to have children. In reality, it was the other way around. The huge baby boom generation in the US and Canada had reached the age at which people usually decide to have children. Children require a lot of time and energy from their parents, and cost them a lot of money. As a consequence, the parents have less time and money for going out. So instead of going to the cinema, they rent a video. Instead of going to a bar or pub, they buy a bottle of wine. And instead of going to a restaurant, they order pizza. But they still love to go out and as soon as their children are old enough, they will go out again. The trend watchers – such as Faith Popcorn –will say: ‘The cocooning trend is declining’. In reality, people are showing ‘normal behaviour’. The only reason it looks like a trend is because it involves so many people. Everything the baby boomers do, based on their age and their income– i.e., demographically speaking – looks like a trend. Cocooning is not a trend; it is normal behaviour for people in their thirties with children and a mortgage. According to David Foot, two thirds of everything that will happen in the next five to ten years can be predicted on the basis of demographic shifts. If you want to know how 40-year-old people behave in five years’ time, look at the behaviour of 45- olds now, and you will know. Are there a lot of people of age 40? Then the behaviour of people,who are 45 now, will appear to be a trend in five year’s time. Unfortunately, the results of Foot’s research regarding people’s behaviours are spread throughout his book, and he does not use age categories. To make Foot’s theory useful for industrial design engineers, I created age categories. I collected the results of the research and grouped them according to these categories. These results are described below. [1]
Children, 0 – 9 years
This group cannot be found in Foot’s research. Children of this age usually don’t decide for themselves (this may depend somewhat on their nagging skills). In general, their parents decide (see: Starters
and Families). Adolescents, 10 – 19 years Adolescents don’t have much money, but they do have a lot of time. This means that they have enough time to look for the cheapest offers and are willing to read
complicated instructions and assemble doit- yourself products to save money. They live with their parents, visit concerts and sports events, go out often and download lots of music. They use public transport
and think they are immortal. Starters, 20 – 29 years Just like Adolescents, Starters do not have much money, but have a lot of time. They are in college or at university, and start living on their own, mostly in the centre of a (big) city. They are not very critical with regard to the quality of the products they buy. They look for bargains and spend time to find them. They buy in discount shops and assemble products themselves if that saves them money. Mostly, they use public transport and they drink beer (lots of it and cheap brands; they get drunk on as little money as possible). They also act as if they are immortal. Their favourite sports are football (soccer), tennis and hockey. They use decorative cosmetics (fashionable, with expressive colours) and they are followers of the latest fashions. They are looking for a partner. If they buy their first car, it is second-hand and inexpensive.
Families, 30-39 years
Starting families with small children usually have a bit more to spend, but they also have a lot of expenses. Their house, furnishings, car and children all cost money. (In the Netherlands, the average age of women having their first child is 29,5; in 1992, this was 28.) As they spend a lot of money, they also often borrow (mortgage). They live in a suburb and want a house with a garden. They drink less alcohol, but more expensive varieties: specialty beers or wine. They buy a new car every two years to keep up with the Joneses. When they approach their forties, they have more money, but less time to spend it. They become more critical with regard to the quality of the products they buy. They select skin care products instead of decorative cosmetics and are less active in sports, or change to golf. Because of the kids, they opt for a minivan, space wagon or SUV.
Career-oriented, 40 – 49 years
The people who belong to this group have a lot of money to spend. Their career is running smoothly while their expenses decrease. The children start living on their own, the mortgage is nearly paid off and many of the products they have are good enough and don’t need replacing. They have busy lives, find good quality important and don’t have time (or don’t want to take the time) to look for bargains. They buy leading brands and want good advice. They don’t have time to read the manual so they want simple products.
They like convenience and are willing to spend money on it: not a head of lettuce, but a pre-packaged, prewashed, readyto- use salad melange. They shop in a supermarket with a wide product range. It’s fine if that costs some money, as long as it does not cost a lot of time. They buy a smaller, but more luxurious car. They hardly follow fashion, because they already dislocated their ankles in their twenties while wearing platform shoes. They buy clothes about which experience has taught them that they fit their style. They buy more lingerie, including corrective garments, because their body is not as toned as it used to be. About 80% need reading glasses. They look for more subdued sports, such as golf or walking.
They visit musicals, ballets and classical concerts instead of rock concerts and sports events. Around their 45th birthday, they experience a midlife crisis: what am I going to do with the rest of my life? They
start their own company or begin a new career. They may even be willing to accept a lower salary.
Young Seniors, 50 – 59 years
The Young Seniors have both time and money. Their children have left the nest. Young Seniors want good quality and service. They have sufficient experience with products of poor quality to have become very critical and appreciative of good quality. They think that they have everything they need with regard to products. They therefore prefer to spend their money on vacations, going out for dinner, visiting concerts or theatre performances. They prefer faraway, exclusive holiday destinations. With regard to clothing, they know what fits and suits them and they are willing to pay for it. They need good financial advice about how to invest their money (private banking). They are aware of their mortality (often one or both of their parents have passed away), worry about their health, and work to improve it. They use vitamins and preventive medicines.Men develop prostate problems, women are post-menopausal or almost there. They spend more money on games of chance: lotteries, bingo, and the casino. They prefer quiet shops with dedicated and patient staff and don’t want to negotiate about prices. They prefer a luxurious sedan and will drive it for five years or longer. They commence working as a volunteer and spend more money on charity. They visit museums, begin a hobby, such as a collection (or they revive an old collection), or start to read (again).
Seniors, 60+
The Seniors are – to a great extent– comparable to the Young Seniors. However, they develop more and more problems with their health. Their need for medication slowly grows, whereas their mobility slowly decreases. What can be predicted and what cannot? Foot claims that the near future of two thirds of ‘everything’ can be predicted with the aid of demographic knowledge, at least if the behaviour is related to age.
And according to Foot, that is almost always the case. However, some things cannot be predicted. A surprising example is the result of elections. One might expect an aging population to vote more conservatively. This is not the case. There proves to be no relationship between age and voting behaviour. Therefore, a change in the age structure of the population has no predictive value on election outcome.
Another example is the introduction of new products (innovations) and their immediate consequences, such as the computer (and the predicted paperless office that still has not materialized). Or the discovery that
smoking causes cancer which had a – very slowly – diminishing number of smokers as a consequence. After a number of years, when the influence of the new product becomes clearer, the consequences become more and more predictable.

2 The predictions of 1998
In 1998, nearly one third (31.6%) of the Dutch population was between 30 and 49 years old (Statistics Netherlands, 1998). What these people do, and how they behave will look like a trend. Ten years later, they will be between 40 and 59. About half of them will then be Young Seniors (50-59). Based on the present behaviour of today’s Young Seniors, [2] we can predict the following for the near future:
1. Increasing quality-consciousness;
2. Growing demand for (financial) services;
3. More exclusive vacations to far-away destinations;
4. Increase in dining out, attendance of (cl assical ) concer ts and bal let performances, and museum visits.
5. Demand for expensive, timeless (nonfashionable)clothing of high quality;
6. Growing need for preventive medication;
7. Growth of participation in games of chance;
8. Demand for luxury cars (which, unfortunately for the manufacturers, will not be replaced very quickly);
9. More donations to charity organizations and more interest in volunteeringwith organizations that work with volunteers;
10. Demand for products that are simple and easy to use;
11. Low interest rates and rising exchange rates of stocks and bonds,
12. Decline of crime and drugs use (which will not be due to more police in the streets).

3What became of them, a retrospective case survey
Before I evaluate the various predictions, let me first make a general remark:For the accuracy of the predictions, it was good that the financial crisis did not start before 2008, because that crisis was quite
confounding. You may think: ‘But why did you not foretell this crisis?’ I will come to that at the end of this section.
1. The quality-consciousness of peoplewill grow
‘Since 1985, the quality-consciousness ofpeople in the European Union has grown substantially.Even in the Netherlands, although this is one of Europe’s countries with a low quality-awareness’. This is
what Eilander and Van Kralingen wrote in their book ‘Tijdreis in Trends’ [3]. The third edition of this book appeared in 1999, so the prediction with regard to quality was not very new. However, even though it is
hard to find quantitative evidence, it can be concluded that this has become true.
2. The demand for (financial) services willgrow
This prediction is quite easy to confirm. In the Netherlands, the appearance and growth of the number of banks that concentrate on private banking – such as Van Lanschot, Staal Bankiers en Schretlen & Co – are a clear indication.
3. More exclusive vacations to far-awaydestinations
4. Increase of dining out, visiting (classical) concerts, going to ballet or museums
5. Demand for expensive, timeless (nonfashionable) clothing of high quality
To confirm this, people in Europe (and the Western world) simply had to look around them. If they did not notice, they were not living there.
6. Growing demand for preventive medication
According to the report ‘The Medical Expenses in the Netherlands’ (Takken, et al., 2002), the costs of health care grew with 6.1% each year in the period between 1999 and 2002. Those costs were 6.8% each year in the period between 1999 and 2007, according to the ‘National Compass’ (Luijben and Kommer, 2010). A quote from the first report says: ‘The average costs of health care per Dutch resident are strongly dependent onage. For people up to 60 years old, they are low and quite stable. (...)
For people of over 60, however, they grow more quickly each year, to end up at an average of 30 thousand euro per person of the highest age.’It will not come as a surprise that the Dutch government is very worried about these figures.
7. Growth of the participation in gamesof chance
It was difficult to find figures about this. The amounts in Figure 1 are based on a publication by De Bruin, et al. (2005). Remarkably, some percentages grew substantially where others decreased. However, the overall participation in games of chance grew. It is unknown what the impact was of active interventions by the Dutch government.
8. Demand for luxury cars (which, unfortunately for the manufacturers, will not be replaced very quickly)
A study by MacNeill and Chanaron (2005) revealed a growing demand for more expensive cars with more accessories in Western Europe. This does not apply for Eastern Europe where– according to the authors – there is a trend towards the ‘5000-euro car’, designed to concede to the bargaining power in these countries.
The following two quotations refer to the lifespan of cars in the Netherlands:‘The older the owner, the older and lighter the car. (...) Seniors (60+) have older and lighter cars than Young Seniors.’‘Passenger cars and trucks stay in use longer. (...) In 2006, nearly 226 thousand passenger cars and over 15 thousand trucks and vans where brought to scrap yards. This was about 10 thousand less than the year before. The number of cars that is abandoned only after16 years has grown to 45%. In 2000, this number was only 22%. The lifespan of cars keeps growing.’
9. Good times for charity organizationsand organizations that use volunteers
A citation from the website of the Dutch government (2012): ‘In the Netherlands, about 5.5 million volunteers are active. In this respect, the Dutch are leading in Europe. They are active in sports clubs, care, education and the welfare sector.’ Data from Statistics Netherlands, however, show a stable percentage of 44% over the period between 1997 and 2003. The number of volunteers is growing (slightly) in absolute terms, as the population is growing.
10. Demand for products that are simpleand easy to use
The explanation that Stefano Marzano gives for the new payoff of Philips: ‘Sense and Simplicity’ on page 9 of his impressive book ‘Past Tense, Future Sense’ (2005) illustrates how this company has tried to hook into this trend:‘Today, Philips makes a promise to its customers – encapsulated in the words ‘Sense and Simplicity’ – that will apply advanced technology to help them improve their quality of life in meaningful
ways while minimizing complexity.’ The success of for instance the Senseo coffeemaker seems to prove him right. However, it looks like Apple is even more successful in realizing this slogan of Philips. As professor Job van Amerongen of the University of Twente said in his farewell speech on the 19th of October 2011: ‘It is striking to see how my in-laws aged between 88 and 93 learned how to use the iPad without much difficulty, even though my mother-in-law had never touched a computer before. Now she enjoys receiving and sending e-mails, Googling and listening to the radio on her iPad.’ (See Figure 2.)
11. Low interest rates and rising exchange rates of stocks and bonds
Until 2007, I could not have been more right (see Figure 3). See the section: ‘But what about the financial crisis?’ for the subsequent years.
12. Decline of crime and drugs use (which will not be due to more police in the streets)
Despite the reports in some Dutch newspapers, this prediction has also come true. Of course, some types of crimes have increased, for instance what is called ‘cybercrime’, crime that is connected with the internet. Without a doubt, that has grown (in 2000, 360 million people were connected; nowadays, that figure is over two billion). The statistical data for the Netherlands (Statistics Netherlands) are very clear. Even though in the first years of the period, there still was some growth, after 2002, the crime rate clearly declined (Figure 4). From 2007 onward, there appears to be stagnation in this decrease.
Unfortunately, Statistics Netherlands does not offer an explanation for it. But what about the financial crisis? A few years before 1998, I made the overview depicted in Figure 5, which is based on Kondratieff waves. The length of the fifth prosperity cycle (1992-2012) was based on the average of the preceding four prosperity cycles. That proved to be wrong. The period was much shorter.
Even if it had been based on the apparent trend that the periods become shorter, the prediction for the recession would have been 2009 or 2010. If we shorten all periods, a new prediction might be that the depression cycle will start in 2013, and the improvement cycle in 2020. The figure shows an important weakness of Kondratieff waves: the length of the periods differs so much that it is very easy to miss the date by a few years.
With the exception of the fifth Kondratieff wave (5th cycle) – which was not based on demographics – the predictions of 1998 came true for the greater part. The consequence is that the publisher of Product challenged me to make predictions for the next five to ten years.

4 The predictions for 2012-2022
The predictions of Section 2 were based on the behaviour of the Young Seniors. That was the age group the baby boom generation would reach. Therefore, the new prediction seems to be quite easy: A further extrapolation of the previous predictions, because the Seniors are – to a great extent – comparable to the Young Seniors. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. The behaviour of the groups slowly changes over time. Also, in 1998, the Netherlands was more isolated. We still had our own currency (the guilder), crossing borders without passports had only just started (the Schengen agreement was implemented in 1995) and internet was not very big yet (as it started only in 1989).
The New Seniors, 60+
This is how the behaviour of the Seniors has changed: the Seniors are still somewhat comparable to the Young Seniors. However, many of them will be retiring, and as most of them have taken good care of themselves, they have a lot of money to spend and a lot of time to spend it. [3] They do not plan to save this money for their children (see Figures 6 and 7).
They are assertive and critical; they want to enjoy the rest of their lives, but they also want to give it meaning(fulfilment).However, they develop more and more problems with their health. Their need for medication slowly grows, whereas their mobility slowly decreases.
An important question is what the influence of these changes will be. Should we consider the composition of the European population instead of only the Dutch population? The average age in Europe is much lower than in the Netherlands. Will the inter netlead to further internationalisation? Or will the growth of right-wing parties that are opposed to immigration cause us to become more isolated? And, finally, a number of Seniors will pass away, which means that a group of Families(30-39 year’s)will collect a substantial inheritance; they differ greatly from the Young Seniors and Seniors. The question is: how will that influence the
overall picture? I have tried to consider all these aspects.
The predictions …
In ten years, about half of the Dutch population will be between 40 and 70. What these people will do, how they behave, will look like a trend. Based on the behaviour of the present Young Seniors and Seniors, the following predictions can be made for the coming five to ten years.
1. Growing demand for (financial) services;
2. More exclusive vacations to far-away destinations, with a growing desire for luxury and service, less adventurous but with more comfort;
3. Increase of dining out, visiting (classical) concerts, going out to ballet or museums;
4. Demand for expensive, timeless (nonfashionable) clothing of high quality;
6. Growing request for (preventive) medication and home care;
7. Growing interest in health food and wholesome living;
8. Demand for luxury cars (which, unfortunately for the manufacturers, will not be replaced very quickly);
9. Good times for charities (donations) and organizations that rely on volunteers;
10. Continuing growing demand for hightech products that are simple and easy to use,such as the iPad (see Figure 2);11. Growi ng number of ( i n ter net) applications (apps) for elderly people, for instance, with the use of augmented reality;
12. Decline of crime and drugs use (which will not be due to more police in the streets).
In addition, two new trends that do not have much to do with age will become discernible:
13. The number of people who work parttime will (continue) to grow.
14. Obesity-related problems will increase.
Explanation behind the predictions
Some of the predictions need a little clarification or nuancing.
11. Growi ng number of ( i n ter net) applications (apps) for elderly people, for instance, with the use of augmented reality. This is related to the increasing love of travel, growing desire for luxury and convenience and for fulfilment of the (Young) Seniors. Augmented reality can help them find their way, not only in the streets, but also at airports, in shopping malls or in office buildings. It can also show them where to find the nearest restaurants (or the nearest pharmacy), and it can give (tourist) information about the area. A condition is that the needed hardware is very easy to handle and intuitive.
12. Decline of crime and drugs use (which will not be due to more police in the streets)
This should be the case, based on the demographic facts. However, the European common market and internet can impact this. The enormous growth of the internet will probably also cause an increased growth of cybercrime. Borders between the Schengen countries no longer form a restriction and this unhampered travelling through a large part of Europe makes cross-border crime easier.
13. The number of people who work parttime will (continue) to grow This has to do with the growing wish for a good quality of life. It concerns a general trend that is not restricted to the Seniors.
14. Obesity-related problems will increase. The growth of obesity is mainly a problem of younger people. However, it is also a growing problem amongst elderly people. For the elderly, the physical consequences are greater and more frequent.

[3] ‘A Journey through Time about Trends

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