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Demographics: sexier than you think

August 24, 2011

It has been my unspoken goal of this blog to sex up math (okay, now it’s a spoken goal). There are just too many ways math, and mathematical things, are portrayed and conventionally accepted as boring and dry, and I’ve taken on the task of making them titillating to the extent possible. Anybody who has ever personally met me will not be surprised by this.

The reason I mention this is that today I’ve decided to talk about demographics, which may be the toughest topic yet to rebrand in a sexy light – even the word ‘demographics’ is bone dry (although there have been lots of nice colorful pictures coming out from the census). So here goes, my best effort:


Is it just me, or have there been a weird number of articles lately claiming that demographic information explain large-scale economic phenomena? Just yesterday there was this article, which claims that, as the baby boomers retire they will take money out of the stock market at a sufficient rate to depress the market for years to come. There have been quite a few articles lately explaining the entire housing boom of the 90’s was caused by the boomers growing their families, redefining the amount of space we need (turns out we each need a bunch of rooms to ourselves) and growing the suburbs. They are also expected to cause another problem with housing as they retire.

Of course, it’s not just the boomers doing these things. It’s more like, they have a critical mass of people to influence the culture so that they eventually define the cultural trends of sprawling suburbs and megamansions and redecorating kitchens, which in turn give rise to bizarre stores like ‘Home Depot Expo‘. Thanks for that, baby boomers. Or maybe it’s that the marketers figure out how boomers can be manipulated and the marketers define the trends. But wait, aren’t the marketers all baby boomers anyway?

I haven’t read an article about it, but I’m ready to learn that the dot com boom was all about all of the baby boomers having a simultaneous midlife crisis and wanting to get in on the young person’s game, the economic trend equivalent of buying a sports car and dating a 25-year-old.

Then there are countless articles in the Economist lately explaining even larger scale economic trends through demographics. Japan is old: no wonder their economy isn’t growing. Europe is almost as old, no duh, they are screwed. America is getting old but not as fast as Europe, so it’s a battle for growth versus age, depending on how much political power the boomers wield as they retire (they could suck us into Japan type growth).

And here’s my favorite set of demographic forecasts: China is growing fast, but because of the one child policy, they won’t be growing fast for long because they will be too old. And that leaves India as the only superpower in the world in about 40 years, because they have lots of kids.

So there you have it, demographics is sexy. Just in case you missed it, let me go over it once again with the logical steps revealed:

Demographics – baby boomers – Bill Clinton – Monica Lewinsky – blow job under the desk. Got it?

Categories: data science, news, rant
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