A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

Aging boat buyers, population growth, a grandson’s first striper

Over the last couple of years I have written a good bit about changing demographics and how they are affecting our industry today, tomorrow and 10 or more years from now.

The July issue of Soundings Trade Only carries a comprehensive report on the aging of the core market by associate editor Reagan Haynes. “An ominous age gap” is a story you should read.

The graph here from Info-Link shows the new-powerboat buyer age distribution for 1997 vs. 2012. Here’s a quick takeaway from the story: There are twice as many folks over 65 buying new boats as there are under 40.

In case you missed them, here are some other recent demographic and generational waypoints worthy of note.

• The last man to be born in the 19th century died a week ago today in his hometown of Kyotango, Japan. Jiroemon Kimura was 116, according to news reports. The one-time farmer and oldest person in the world was born in western Japan in 1897 and lived through two world wars, four Japanese emperors and 20 U.S. presidents, according to The Wall Street Journal. The mantle of oldest human being now passes to Misao Okawa, another Japanese citizen, who was born in 1898 and just turned 115.

• The passing of Sen. Frank Lautenberg earlier this month at 89 marks the changing of an era: It’s the first time since the end of World War II that there are no veterans of that war in the Senate. A Democrat from New Jersey, Lautenberg returned from the war and used the new GI Bill to attend Columbia University, according to an NPR report.

“Veterans became presidents. Veterans became senators, titans of business,” Lautenberg told the Scripps Howard News Service two years ago. “The experience of sharing risk, of depending on someone else for your life, of being able to offer someone else support for their lives changes the attitude.”

Two World War II veterans remain in the House of Representatives: Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., and Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas.

NPR reports that during the late 1970s more than four of five members of Congress were veterans, most having served in WW II. The number of veterans today has shrunk to fewer than one in five members, according to the report. NPR quotes Donald Ritchie, the historian of the U.S. Senate, as saying the WWII experience generated strong congressional friendships and “points of connection” that cut across party lines.

• The U.S. Census Bureau reports that for the first time in modern history more white Americans died in the year that ended June 2012 than were born, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.

University of New Hampshire demographer Kenneth Johnson called the new figures “stunning” and noted that even during the great influenza epidemic of 1919 there was no so-called white “natural decrease,” the paper reports. Johnson told the paper that the main reason for the shift was the decline in white births, which have fallen 13 percent since 2007.

Researchers didn’t anticipate reaching this inflection point, where the deaths of non-Hispanic whites would exceed births, until about 2020. With an aging white population, there will be fewer white women of childbearing age and, therefore, fewer white children, the paper reports. Concurrently, young U.S. adults from all ethnic groups are having fewer children. Maintaining the U.S. population requires about 2.1 births per woman, according to the WSJ. With the fertility rate of U.S. women at about 1.9 births, population growth will increasingly rely on immigration.

“We are jumping the gun on a long, slow decline in our white population, which is going to characterize this century,” Brookings Institution demographer William Frey told The Washington Post. “It’s a bookend from the last century, when whites helped us grow. Now it’s minorities who are going to make the contributions to our economic and population growth over the next 50 years.”

• Last thought on age for today: I am spending next week on a foggy little island moored in a sound with two Gen-Xers, two millennials and a grandson not yet 2. If all goes well, I will get a chance to fish with my friend Capt. Peter Lehner, who rumor has it turns 90 this year. Pete is sharp as a fishhook and still works in tight to the rocks in his big aluminum boat powered by a water jet.

Young Ben will be introduced to the good captain, he will turn a few cranks on his first striped bass and the virtuous cycle will be complete.

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