Photo: Gratisography, Bells Design

Doing Demographics Differently

As a real estate professional, you’re surely aware of how important it is to stay abreast of the trends that affect your business. I’m betting your browsing history is filled with housing stats, news about local business developments, and features on design trends, among other things.

Multicolored pile of plastic action figures

Photo: Gratisography, Bells Design

But what if you could access information that would help you see the future? Perhaps I’m being a bit fanciful, but I think demographics provide that glimpse into the crystal ball that all savvy business people crave. And that’s why I recommend you take a look at Big Shifts Ahead: Demographic Clarity for Businesses (2016, Advantage Media Group), by John Burns and Chris Porter. It lives up to the title, describing demographic shifts and interpreting what they mean for the future of business. But the authors do a couple of things that make their analysis more consumable and actionable than other writing on demographics I’ve consumed in the past.

One of the ways in which they differentiate their work is by diverging from the method society usually uses to define a generation. This is important because the way researchers measure variables makes a big impact on the conclusion of any study. We tend to define generations as groups of people born in the same twenty-year timespan or so, which I’ve always felt makes it tough to draw solid conclusions about what each group really values. As someone who is a year or two too young to be part of generation X, I’ve always been conflicted by the millennial label. But because Burns and Porter define their groups by the decade they were born in, I’m more at peace. I fit their definition of the 1980s “sharers” really well, even if I do share some important characteristics with my “balancer generation” friends born in the late 70s and the younger “connector” generation that came after me in the ’90s.

I also like how the authors admit when something surprises them. It sounds like a small thing, but when researchers and academics are taught how to write, they aren’t schooled in the whole “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy like us ink-stained journalistic types. They often “bury the lead” to borrow another well-worn cliche from the news world, and lead instead with the assurances and steady hand of academia. Yawn. But Big Shifts Ahead is different. One item that surprised me was the prediction that young adults “incomes will grow faster than most believe” (fingers crossed I’m still young enough to qualify for that crystal ball item). Their style choice also provides me with more trust in their conclusions, because it’s an indication the authors aren’t seeking data to fulfill their preconceived notions about the future.

Finally, the authors use methods of storytelling that make the information easier to internalize. They use real-life stories of people who are emblematic of the trends they’re trying to explain. They use color in their graphs and data presentations, and are sensitive to non-data-driven readers. And finally, they aren’t afraid to make up new terms to explain emerging trends. Though it doesn’t roll off the tongue exactly, I liked their use of “Surban,” which provides shorthand for the growing demand for smaller homes with little yard space in more urban areas, “bringing the best of urban living to a more affordable suburban environment.”

Overall, this book dives deep into many of the trends that will define real estate over the next few decades, and the authors aren’t afraid to make specific predictions about what we’ll see. Of course, no one can truly know the future, but a little glimpse at what might be ahead certainly won’t hurt you. Ooh, and pro tip: You can download a chapter of Big Shifts Ahead here for free to get an idea of what I mean.

Meg White

Meg White is the managing editor for REALTOR® Magazine and administrator of the magazine's Weekly Book Scan blog. Contact her at mwhite[at]realtors.org.

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