“Youthquake” or “Agequake”?

by Jeff Weiss

In case you missed it, last week Oxford Dictionaries named “Youthquake” as the 2017 word of the year.  Given our recent launch of Age of Majority and all of the data that points to the power of the older consumer, I was both amused and surprised by this announcement.

Unbeknownst to me, it turns out that the term “youthquake” has been around for quite a while.  The term was actually coined by Vogue Magazine’s editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland in 1965.  Youthquake was a 1960’s cultural movement started in the streets of London by a new generation of young adults and it revolved around music and pop culture that changed the landscape of the fashion industry (apparently the invention of the mini skirt can be attributed to this movement).  The movement highlighted the force that youth culture had on inspiration, taking dominance away from the English and Parisian couture houses and giving it to kids on the street.

While youthquake never really made it into the mainstream of North American culture, Oxford lexicographers say that there was a fivefold increase in the use of the term between 2016 and 2017.  This was driven primarily by the surging youth support for Britain’s Labour Party and election of 30-something leaders in France and New Zealand. In addition, youthquake was chosen because it is seen as being able to bring some hope in the power to change things.

So here’s what I find amusing.  This term was first coined when the massive market of baby boomers came into young adulthood.  This generation challenged the norms of the past and were successful due to their large population size.  Given that boomers and all active aging consumers still represent the largest population group who wield the most influence (particularly with their wallets), why is the assumption made that older people don’t want to challenge the norms of the past?  Active aging consumers have never felt so empowered as they have today and they are not afraid to voice their opinions in an attempt to cause change.  And if you were a rebel in your teen and early adult years back in the 60s and 70s, why would you be any different today?  Once a rebel, always a rebel…

So, while I don’t dispute the influence today’s youth can have on things like election results, I believe that making the term “youthquake” the word of the year is just one more sign of ageism based on outdated and untrue myths.

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