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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Our Spending Habits Transform At 50, But Why?

One of Harry Dent's "Demand Curves." (H.S. Dent Foundation)

One of Harry Dent’s “Demand Curves.” (H.S. Dent Foundation)

Robert Krulwich of WNYC’s Radiolab has been wondering about Americans’ shopping habits since reading a study from financial newsletter writer Harry Dent.

Dent thinks the U.S. is headed for an economic apocalypse as baby boomers retire and stop buying things. So he crunched some numbers from the U.S. Census bureau.

The “Demand Curves” he created, such as the one above for men’s shirts, yielded some surprising trends about baby boomers’ sartorial choices.

He found that at a certain stage in life, Americans’ spending on clothing peaks — then plummets. But why?

Do you have a theory as to why clothes spending habits change so dramatically after 50? Join the debate on Facebook or tell us in the comments.


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  • J__o__h__n

    The reworked Orwell quote was amusing. 

  • Guest

    My theory?  We stock up when we can, fill our closets, drawers and shelves, accumulate more than we need, then get tired of shopping, lose interest in the next big trend, eventually retire and have less to spend and slow down on the buying, partly because we need to and partly because what we’ve accumulated is enough to last a while.  We begin to wear it out instead of giving it away or throwing it out before it’s worn out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000227634483 Jeff Leonard

    by age 60 the shirts we have saved from our 30′s are in style again

  • Lee

    take the alther, repair, tailoring of apparel and accessories and place it next to the shirts graph – tailoring is declining but more slowly than shirt consumption – are those collars being turned around? ;-)

  • homebuilding

    Thanks for this story.

    I’d like to see Pew research compare nationally males v females, other ethnic groups, etc., and of course, age differentials.

    On average, dramatically fewer men follow fashion trends the way women do.   I’d suggest this has something to do with the ascendancy of the gay male who attends far more to haircuts, shoes, and clothes.

    I’ve got plenty of clothes and shoes but I did buy a new suit for a wedding over five years ago…..and a sport coat with many closure style pockets for travel (and surviving TSA checks whilst keeping glasses, pens, coins, billfold, passport, boarding passes secure and ‘at the ready’).

    Personally, I’d guess that the steepest drop off would be around 60 instead of the 50 reported.

    Note that in any natural disaster (tornado, flood, hurricane) the very FIRST thing that charities say “NO MORE!” on is clothing items.  Also, clothes can be generally cheap and it’s easy to accumulate quite a store before anything is worn out.  And if you buy too many, at least–
    you haven’t gained any body weight for your indiscretion !

  • Nicole

    The experts say not to dress for the job you have but for the job you want.  At 50, you may still be trying for that last promotion and are dressing to impress, but not too long after 50 you’re probably in the position from which you’ll retire.  At that point, the shirts and shoes and suits you have in your closet are probably good enough.  After retirement I don’t know of a lot of people, men especially, who keep donning tailored pants and dress shirts.  Even if they are still shopping for the same number of items, people over 50 may be more likely to buy casual clothing like jeans and t-shirts that cost a lot less than professional attire.  That’s my theory, anyway.

  • Hollis MulwrayV

    it’s called “retirement”

  • Anyone

    Was this longitudinal data or was it just from 2006?  If it was all recent, perhaps the issue is that people over 50 are more likely to use cash rather than a credit card, and thus not readily matched to an age and ignored or discarded as age-unknown.  In short, it might be a sampling error.

  • Deerlakehome

    After 50 we start losing our interest in impressing the ladies.

  • Beauty Truth Goodness

    Puh-leeeeezze! Stop buying shirts? How can any of us possibly stop buying shirts? We either “lost our shirts” in the stock market bust in 2008 or the government has taken the shirts right off our backs during The Second Great Depression. Any shirts I had left after those calamaties were just worn out while I looked for work during the last seven years. I will be buying shirts until they bury me in the one I still have that looks dignified with a tie.

  • Rosita

    As for me, I have so many clothes I do not need to buy any more till I die. I am 70 now.
    But on the other hand while my kids were growing up and I had 2 in college every year for about 10 yrs I had no clothes, no money to buy them with. This is b/w  30-40 yrs old, I bought only minimum clothes for work. But as soon as my last kid #6 graduated I started buying me clothes every wk, this was b/w my 40-50 yrs. After that I had so many that I quit buying.

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