The Upside of a Downturn

Global demographic trends directly affect the Australian prosperity and security outlook. Bernard points to a rising world population, saying key issues affecting us between 2000 and 2050 will be the battle for resources, scarcity of water, energy, food, cheap labour and talent. During the same period, he predicts the ongoing rise of India, China and South East Asia, and media scaremongering (both justified and not) on issues of terrorism and food security.

Bernard suggests world population will peak between 2050 and 2100, starting a slow decline towards the end of the century. People will be more productive, reaching maximum food and resource production, with an increased value placed on the security that manages and protects those resources. The recent financial difficulties faced by countries around the world have had an effect on consumer culture. Bernard says that between 1997 and 2008, there was an era of high consumerism and corporate high flyers.

Consumers were living in the moment and looking to pay for their extravagances in the future. In tandem with easy credit and rising house prices came the rise in size…of plasma televisions and McMansion-sized housing aspirations. Consumers were driven by this aspirationalism, which encouraged celebration of the individual, confidence in the future and ourselves. Now though, in 2009 and going forward, there has been a short, sharp shift in consumer thinking. Bernard points towards a rise in the moral consumer and a new breed of wowserism. People are more prone to be anti drinking, smoking, speeding, gambling, junk food and corporate excess. We’re also seeing a rise in green, ethical and traditional values. Fear, says Bernard, drives a retreat to the security of the herd, the tribe, the family and familiar brands. This breed of consumer is driven by a new morality. He claims it’s generation X who will be lying awake worried about finances during the recession. Baby boomers think ‘there goes my early retirement’ as they hadn’t saved enough before the crash and there will now be little or no time to recover from the GFC. Today sees them return to or engage with the workforce.

For generation X, it’s the wrong time to be 33-43. They struggle with a mortgage, children and single incomes. On the plus side, at work they are also moving into leadership roles. Generation Y is perhaps the least prepared, they have never experienced a recession before. And Bernard argues that this is the first time anyone has said ‘no’ to them. But they are now learning the lesson of a downturn and seeing value in assets and commitment. Least affected is of course the young, prudent, connected technophiles of generation Z. In tandem with these shifts, changes to life expectancy have created new lifestyle segments and behaviours. Where life expectancy itself has increased from 63 in 1929 to 82 in 2009, the age one reaches adulthood has also slid up the scale. In 1929, one might consider themselves adult in their young teens. Today, Bernard argues, adulthood doesn’t begin until you reach 30.

Here at home, Australians are on the move to coastal regions as drought takes its toll on more remote and regional locations. Australia is also seeing a shift in its ethnic base, from Anglo and Mediterranean to Asian influences. Between 2001 and 2006, the largest numbers of new immigrants were born in China, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the Philippines respectively. During the same period, the number of migrants from our traditional pools, in Italy, Greece, Poland, the Netherlands and Malta were in decline. Migration numbers across the board during this period, however, were up. And this increase may lead to rising security tensions here at home. There will be a rapid increase in the number of children in education, and security at and around schools will thus be of growing concern.

Young adults have security fears of their own. Particularly when it comes to increasing violence on the city streets, in pubs and clubs. Many also seem to suffer from authority issues, according to Bernard. And, of course, there have been ethnic tensions among students and workplace security issues that also rate mentioning. Mature adults are looking around at the things they have accumulated, both children and possessions, and searching for new ways to keep them all safe and secure. They have a heightened interest in home and workplace security. They consider gated communities and battle fears of terrorism, travel and airport security. Their fears are similar to the older generation of active retirees, who even more often opt for gated communities, home safety and take an active role in community security issues.