The Echo Boomers

<B>Steve Kroft</B> Reports On The Children Of The Baby Boomers

If you've ever wondered why corporate America, Hollywood, Madison Avenue and the media all seem obsessed with the youth culture, the answer is simple.

The largest generation of young people since the '60s is beginning to come of age. They're called "echo boomers" because they're the genetic offspring and demographic echo of their parents, the baby boomers.

Born between 1982 and 1995, there are nearly 80 million of them, and they're already having a huge impact on entire segments of the economy. And as the population ages, they will be become the next dominant generation of Americans.

Who are they? What do they want? As Correspondent Steve Kroft first reported last October, you'll be surprised.

The oldest are barely out of college, and the youngest are still in grade school.

And whether you call them "echo boomers," "Generation Y" or "millennials," they already make up nearly a third of the U.S. population, and already spend $170 billion a year of their own and their parents' money.

Almost none of it is spent on boring things like mortgages and medication, and the world is falling all over itself trying to sell them things.

What brands do they love? Sony, Patagonia, Gap, Gillette, Aveda.

Only a small percentage are eligible to vote, yet they are already one of the must studied generations in history -- by sociologists, demographers and marketing consultants like Jane Buckingham of the Intelligence Group.

Buckingham uses focus groups to gather information for clients such as NBC, Chanel, Nike and Levi Strauss.

Echo boomers are a reflection of the sweeping changes in American life over the past 20 years. They are the first to grow up with computers at home, in a 500-channel TV universe. They are multi-taskers with cell phones, music downloads, and Instant Messaging on the Internet. They are totally plugged- in citizens of a worldwide community.

Nick Summers of Columbia University and Andie Gissing from Middlebury College in Vermont are college seniors and editors of their college newspapers. They are both in touch with the echo boomer ethos.

(Note: Since 60 Minutes first broadcast this story, these college editors have become college graduates, and Neil Howe and colleague William Strauss have completed another study of the echo boom generation, "Millennials and the Pop Culture," to be published this fall.)

"I would say that my generation tends to be very overachieving, over-managed," says Summers. "Very pressured."

"I would agree with that," adds Gissing. "A lot of people work hard or want to do well, I guess."

And it's no wonder they feel that way. From when they were toddlers, they have been belted into car seats, and driven off to some form of organized group activity. After graduating from "Gymboree" and "Mommy and Me," they have been shuttled to play dates and soccer practice, with barely a day off, by parents who've felt their kids needed structure, and a sense of mission.

Dr. Mel Levine, a professor at the University of North Carolina, is one of the best-known pediatricians in the country. He says it's had as much to do with shaping this generation as technology.

"They have been heavily programmed. The kids who have had soccer Monday, Kung Fu Tuesday, religious classes Wednesday, clarinet lessons Thursday. Whose whole lives have really been based on what some adult tells them to do," says Levine.

"This is a generation that has long aimed to please. They've wanted to please their parents, their friends, their teachers, their college admissions officers."

It's a generation in which rules seem to have replaced rebellion, convention is winning out over individualism, and values are very traditional.

They are also the most diverse generation ever: 35 percent are non-white, and the most tolerant, believing everyone should be part of the community.