Cultural Transformation Recognition Ceremony at the Jefferson Auditorium, US Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC, 2011 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Ideas for Leaders #557

Six Disruptive Demographic Trends and What They Mean for the Workplace

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Key Concept

While demographics are never stationary, the demographic changes currently impacting the United States are transforming the country, with fundamental implications for how Americans live and work and how businesses in America can thrive. 

Idea Summary

According to Jim Johnson of University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, the major demographic trends transforming America today are unprecedented — so unprecedented that he calls these trends “disruptive demographics.”  Based on on-going analyses of statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor, Internal Revenue Service and other governmental agencies, Johnson, who is a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Kenan-Flagler, identified six disruptive demographic trends that will have an impact on business strategy and the workplace:

  • The rise of the South. The population in the South is growing more than in any other part of the country. More than half of the net population growth between 2000 and 2013 was in the South, especially in Texas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.
  • The ‘browning’ of America. Driven by immigration from Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, more than 90% of the population growth since 2000 is non-white (Asians, African-Americans, Hispanics and other races). By 2050, non-Hispanic whites will no longer be the majority.
  • Interracial Marriage. Although still a tiny minority of marriages, interracial marriage is increasing steadily (from 7% of new marriages in 1980 to 15% in 2008). Immigrant newcomers are involved in many of these marriages. A telling statistic: in July 2011, a majority of children under the age of one were non-white.
  • The ‘greying’ of America. Johnson calls it the “silver tsunami.” Baby Boomers officially started reaching age 65 on January 1, 2011, and between 8,000 to 10,000 Boomers will reach that threshold every day for the next 19 years! And these senior citizens will be around a while — living to age 83 on average.
  • The decline of men. Women have not only been storming the workforce, they are now the majority — and they are dominating secondary education statistics as well (in 2010, for example, colleges granted 570,000 more degrees to women than men). Among the reasons for the dominance is the poor performance of African-American men, too many of whom drop out of college and end up incarcerated, on disability, or without sufficient skills.
  • Grandparents raising grandchildren. In a rising number of households, grandparents, many of them under the age of 50, are on what Johnson calls their “second tours of duty”: raising their grandchildren. 

Business Application

According to Johnson, these six trends have a direct impact on today and tomorrow’s workplaces. For example, accommodating and promoting women is a strategic imperative. The workplace must accommodate not only the elderly who are working longer, but also the more than one million Millennial workers who must balance work with elder-care obligations. Employees caring for their grandchildren also elicit the need for greater agility and flexibility.

For Johnson, the six disruptive demographic trends lead to the following imperatives for business

  • Embrace immigration. With the silver tsunami about to hit, America needs plenty of young workers and consumers to help pay for the entitlement programs on which the elderly depend.
  • Recognize the diversity of the markets. Cultural awareness is key to successfully attracting and retaining customers in demographically diverse markets.
  • Develop culturally sensitive succession plans. Succession plans must target the newest generations and rising demographic groups. Be creative in where to look for new talent — while the crowd surges on talented minority candidates at elite schools, top-notch young talent can be found at schools without big names.
  • Take concrete steps to accommodate a multi-generational workplace. Agility, flexibility and accommodation are the orders of the day, according to Johnson. For the first time in history, four generations — Pre-Boomers, Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y — are crowding into the workplace. Each of these generations has different attitudes, styles, values and priorities. One-size-fits-all or my-way-or-the-byway won’t work.

Refusing to pay attention to the disruptive demographic forces shaking up the workplace is not an option. Rigid or myopic business leaders are doomed to fail in attracting and retaining the best talent of the future.

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Idea conceived

  • October 2014

Idea posted

  • October 2015

DOI number



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