The Bobby-sox Generation

a Target Rich Environment for Senior Living

The first members of the “bobby-sox” generation (born 1935 – 1945) will turn 76 in 2011.  As discussed in “Do Senior Living Communities Need a Wake-up Call?” and “Do not go gentle into that good night[i], this generation will be more demanding and EXPECT many amenities (considered options today) to be included in the standard package in the future.  The bobby-soxers will be less willing to compromise their independence for the “one-size-fits-all” approach utilized in many of today’s senior living facilities.

Recognizing and understanding the desires of the customer is essential in any business.  In senior living, we need to revise our mental images of the stereotypical resident if we are to successfully market to this generation.  Because of the preponderance of celluloid images that keep our heroes forever young, it’s hard to imagine that ELVIS would be 76 this month if he were still alive.  Do we really believe that this generation whose icon flew his entourage in a private jet from Memphis to Las Vegas just to get a “PBJ”[ii] will be satisfied with a set menu at set times in a set place as is common in many communities today?

Is it reasonable to assume that the generation that fostered the 20th Century success of higher end hotel companies (e.g. Marriott, Hyatt and Four Seasons) – with concierge floors, lounges, suites, king-size beds, etc. – will accept 200 – 300 square feet of personal living space?  Will they be prepared to “give up” their home to move into a space that’s probably smaller than their current bedroom?

Will the members of this generation who have been used to success, affluence and independence be prepared to turn over control of all their daily activities to facility staff with programs such as arts & crafts – see “Summer Camp for Seniors” – as their only daily stimulation?

This Bobby-sox generation is often overlooked as it is sandwiched between the “Greatest Generation” – which includes the World War II veterans – and the huge numbers of “Baby Boomers”.  Yet, there are over 20 million bobby-soxers in the U.S. today, accounting for approximately 7% of the total population.  This group accounts for over 50% of the 65+ population (Medicare eligible) in the country and there are now 15% more living members of the Bobby-sox generation (10 year group) than all prior generations.[iii]

The following pictures depict a sampling of well-known Bobby-soxers from business, government/political, sports and entertainment industries.  Although these celebrities are more recognizable, each represents many other everyday members of the generation from all aspects of society.

See which, if any, of these individuals come to mind when you think of 65 – 75 year olds.   And then, THINK AGAIN because they are rapidly becoming your TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC.



Frankie Avalon (1940) and Annette Funicello (1942) – Singers, actors & former teen idols; she was the favorite Mousketeer

Alan Alda – Captain Hawkeye Pierce on M.A.S.H.  (1936)

Tom Brokaw – TV News Anchor & Author of “The Greatest Generation” (1940)

Bill Cosby – Comedian & Actor(1937)

Neil Diamond – Singer/Songwriter (1941)

Elizabeth Dole – U.S. Senator & Cabinet Member; head of American Red Cross & wife of Presidential nominee Bob Dole (1936)

Mike Ditka – Pro Football Player, Coach & TV Commentator (1939)

Michael Eisner – Disney CEO (1942)

Jane Fonda – Actress & Political Activist (1937)        

Harrison Ford – “Indiana Jones” Actor (1942)

Morgan Freeman – Actor (1937)

Louis Gerstner  CEO of IBM (1942)

Joe Gibbs Hall of Fame Pro Football Coach  with the Washington Redskins (1940)

John Kerry – US Senator & Presidential Candidate (1943)

Sandy Koufax – Major League Baseball Pitcher & Hall of Famer (1935)

Ralph Lauren – Fashion Designer (1939)

George Lucas – Creator of “Star Wars” (1943)

John Madden – NFL Coach & TV Announcer (1936)

John McCain – Retired Navy Captain, Senator & Presidential Candidate (1936)

Mary Tyler Moore – Actress (1936)

Joe Namath – New York Jets Quarterback & Super Bowl Champ (1943)

Jack Nicholson – Actor (1937)

Al Pacino – Actor  (1940)

Colin Powell  Retired General (US Army), Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, & Secretary of State (1937)

Paul Prudhomme – Chef (1940)

Robert Redford – Actor & Producer (1936)

Pete Rose – Professional Baseball Player (1941)

Diana Ross of the Supremes (1944)

Jay Rockefeller – U.S. Senator and former West Virginia Governor (1937)

Barbra Streisand – Singer & Actress (1942)

Ted Turner Entrepreneur & Media Mogul (1938)

Tina Turner – Entertainer (1939)

Jack Welch – G.E. Chairman/CEO (1935)

Raquel Welch – Actress (1940)

Jerry West – NBA Icon (1938)


to describe a BOBBY-SOXER who represents this generation [They don’t have to be well known like the people above].

PLEASE discuss ways in which their personality, needs and demands will be different than the “Greatest Generation” and/or individuals currently residing in senior living communities.

[i] Both published by Art Carr on the Progressive Retirement Lifestyles BLOG.  Go to and respectively.

[ii] Peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

[iii] 2010 projections are from: Table 12. Projections of the Population by Age and Sex for the United States: 2010 to 2050 (NP2008-T12), Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau; Release Date: August 14, 2008


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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have more of a challenge than a comment. How are senior living providers going to meet the needs of this target market if they are not empowered to improve service delivery and innovate new services? Do you believe today’s senior living leaders (on the front line) are equipped to improve and innovate services?


    • Glenn,

      Like in most things, I suspect that some are, some aren’t and most are somewhere in the middle.

      I do believe that a key ingredient of my success in building a regional occupancy that was 6 – 7 points higher than company and industry averages was my management approach that did place an emphasis on empowering the local managers (I used to tell them that they were COOs). At the same time, management has a responsibility to create a framework that includes adequate training and early warning signals to help that local manager avoid the catastrophic mistakes. So, there is definitely a carefully calculated BALANCE.


  2. This is a brilliant and useful piece. (And, I don’t dispense compliments lightly.) Thanks.


  3. Love the name bobby soxers,not heard that before but it is so applicable. And much more fun than seniors.You are so right they will not go gently into that good night, but they will kick and scream a little less than us boomers who ave been spoiled by the world catering to us.

    Yet as try to sell my fun design concepts more often than not I lose out to some standard senior living design company that serves up the same dreadful furnishings to every facility across this country.
    As much as this industry needs change it is a very conservative it is a ….. we have always done it this way and it works…. kind of industry. If I watered down my designs to look like a hotel or a facility sure I would get more clients….but who needs one more company selling god awful interiors that we won’t want to live in.

    And what they don’t get is that unless they wake up an realize that within the next couple of years they will be forced to change their attitude because the soxers first and then the boomers will find what is out there totally unacceptable!

    I see the vision I know what needs to get done, I know what to do and how to do it, finding forward thinking companies within the senior living industry understanding this is like pushing a huge boulder up hill.

    I thought when I first began on this quest to add color, life and vitality to senior living all I would have to do is show the decision makers that what is needed finally exists, then they would hug me say where have you been, maybe kiss my feet and ask where do I sign.

    Lets just say the journey to transform ugly facilities across this country has fallen a bit short of my expectations.

    The biggest frustration is that the executives I am trying to get to enact the change are usually soxers or boomers. But no one ever thinks about themselves in the environment they manage. Sake the decisions for the seniors who must be aliens and arrived on this world from the planet bland, since that is what they think they like.

    Okay…. I am sorry I can get going….I am preaching to the choir I know.Glad to know there are fellow solders out there in this battle.


  4. Thanks art for your diligence and well thought out articles I appreciate all your effort your put forth.


  5. Annette Funicello died on April 9, 2013 at age 70 from complications of multiple sclerosis, a disease she had battled for more than 25 years.

    How many other Bobby-soxers will pass away before the senior living industry even has a chance to provide services to them?


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