The ageing of the USA, Part Two

Back to the future – a new way of seeing forward

Part Two of a three-part paper previously published by Professor Sherry Jarrell, Part One is here.

In this post, we examine the current income and spending patterns from metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) with age demographics similar to those projected for the U.S. economy in 2020 and 2025.  Two MSAs are selected for each year to verify that differences in buying patterns across cities are because of differing age distributions, not peculiarities in the cities.

We began with U.S. Bureau of Census data on the percent of total U.S. population expected within five age groups through 2025. The share of U.S. population attributed to people age 65 and older is expected to increase from 12.4% today to 16.3% in 2020 and 18.2% in 2025. By 2025, nearly one out of every four drivers will be age 65 or older, compared with 15.6% today.

Income and Spending Patterns

We find that, although many mature adults are highly mobile, most stay put; this results in the Northeast and Midwest remaining key mature markets.  Three of our four 2020 and 2025 MSAs are in Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania. We also find that older consumers:

  • spend more of their income: The spending per income ratio rises from .67 today, to .76 for the 2020 MSAs and .77 for the 2025 MSAs.
  • continue to depend on their cars and prefer them to public transportation.
  • spend increasingly larger shares of their income on healthcare.
  • make TV a key element of their lifestyles.
  • remain in their homes and avoid nursing homes.
  • are politically conservative.
  • are civically active and wield growing influence.
  • are joiners.
  • spend heavily on housekeeping supplies, household furnishings and equipment, new vehicles, entertainment, computers, healthcare products, vitamins, healthier foods, and reading materials.
  • spend less on apparel, cosmetics, and fast food.

Retail spending data

We find that the percent of retail spending on necessities such as products at food and beverage stores and the subcategory of grocery stores is generally higher in all six of our MSAs, compared with the nation. The same is true for the general merchandise store category, which includes discount stores.  We also observe generally lower spending shares relative to the nation in the more discretionary categories of clothing and accessories stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, electronics and appliance stores, building materials stores, and garden equipment stores.

The more important observations relate to spending patterns across the three pairs of MSAs. Looking at food and beverage stores, spending as a share of total retail sales declines across the three pairs of MSAs with increasingly older populations. Beginning with an average of 17.2% in the 2005 MSAs, spending at food and beverage stores drops to 14.1% in the 2025 MSAs.

Similarly, the subcategory of grocery stores falls from 15.1% today to 12.2% in the 2025 MSAs. Note that the approximately 3 percentage point declines in these categories are in spending relative to total retail sales, and that within the categories, the decreases in spending are nearly 20%. For example, for every $1,000 in retail spending in the 2005 cities, approximately $151 is spent at grocery stores. That compares with $122 in the 2025 cities. Thus, although spending shares at food and beverage stores are higher than the national average in all six MSAs, the spending shares fall across the three pairs of MSAs as their populations become increasingly older.

The trend also is downward over time for food service and drinking places, from an average of 9.7% in the 2005 MSAs to 7.5% in the 2025 MSAs—with the trend again representing a roughly 20% absolute dollar spending decline per capita within the category. These results support the expectation that older consumers eat healthier and in less quantities (especially in the case of fast food), and also spend fewer dollars at drinking places.

Per capita spending at clothing and accessories stores decreases from an average of 4% of retail sales in the two 2005 cities to 3.2% in the 2025 cities. As before, although the 1% drop appears small, it represents an approximately 20% reduction in per capita spending.

What types of stores benefit from older populations?

Our results indicate increased spending on furniture, automobiles, and homes. Looking at the per capita shares of total retail spending for furniture, home furnishings, and electronics and appliances, spending shares rise from an average of 2% in the 2005 MSAs to 3.9% in the 2020 MSAs and 4.2% in the 2025 MSAs. This suggests a doubling of per capita spending at furniture and related stores. There are similar patterns for the subcategories of furniture and home furnishings stores, and electronics and appliance stores. Spending also generally rises at building materials and garden equipment stores. Upward trends across the six cities additionally are shown for motor vehicles and parts, and healthcare and personal care.

In the third and final installment of this research, we will discuss the specific types of business establishments that will thrive in the U.S. city of the future.

By Sherry Jarrell

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