Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Genealogy as a social phenomenon

My recent attendance at the very large genealogy conference called RootsTech 2017 gave me pause to reflect on the interesting social consequences of such a gathering. As was expected and as it is commonly perceived, genealogy attracts a decidedly older segment of the population. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living, Administration on Aging concerning the population of the United States:
The older population—persons 65 years or older—numbered 46.2 million in 2014 (the latest year for which data is available). They represented 14.5% of the U.S. population, about one in every seven Americans. By 2060, there will be about 98 million older persons, more than twice their number in 2014. People 65+ represented 14.5% of the population in the year 2014 but are expected to grow to be 21.7% of the population by 2040.
If we look at this statistic alone, there should be a significant growth potential for an interest in genealogy. Perhaps focusing on youth is a bad marketing decision for those who are investing in the future of genealogy? The assumption that is being made when the genealogical community focuses on youth is that the older genealogist will need to be replaced by younger ones, but the statistical reality is that the pool of potential oldsters is rapidly increasing and there is no expected shortage of old folks to go to huge genealogy conferences and spend their retirement years doing genealogy and spending money on genealogical products. Additionally, the present situation where the "older" population of the United States is relatively electronically unsophisticated will be solved by the simple fact that the aging population will have grown up with computers.

From my own perspective, if I were starting a genealogy-related business today, I would concentrate on making my programs attractive to the mature user. The dichotomy here is that the developers and programmers today are younger and have a socially induced blind spot when it comes to relating to the older population. Here are some more statistics from the Administration on Aging:
  • The population age 65 and over numbered 46.2 million in 2014, an increase 10 million or 28% since 2004.
  • Between 2004 and 2014 the population age 60 and over increased 32.5% from 48.9 million to 64.8 million.
  • The number of Americans aged 45-64 – who will reach 65 over the next two decades—increased by 17.8% between 2004 and 2014.
  • About one in every seven, or 14.5%, of the population, is an older American.
  • Persons reaching age 65 have an average life expectancy of an additional 19.3 years (20.5 years for females and 18 years for males).
  • There were 72,197 persons aged 100 or more in 2014 (0.2% of the total 65+ population).
  • Older women outnumber older men at 25.9 million older women to 20.4 million older men.
You just might want to think this through if you are running a genealogy business. I recall at RootsTech 2017 the long lines of people purchasing DNA testing kits at a reduced price from Maybe the huge demand for these "less expensive" kits also says something about the population. It did not appear to me that the lines were unrepresentative of the bulk of those attending the conference. 

On Saturday at the Conference, it was "Family Discovery Day." The mixture of the crowd tilted slightly towards younger families with children. However, my observations on the Exhibit Floor were unchanged. The people who were talking to and buying from the vendors were the old folks. The youth really had no reference point to take any interested in what the vendors were selling. 

Aren't the genealogically oriented companies ignoring reality? We should be focusing on the 20-year-old+ segment of the population who are going to be the old people of the future. 


  1. It's up to us, the genealogy enthusiasts of today, to help get our younger relatives and friends interested in family history. Tell those stories, show those photos, chat about the family tree at every possible opportunity. My hubby has Irish ancestors, so for St. Paddy's Day, I send the grandkids cards naming their great-great-great-greats and telling them to wear green!

  2. Aren't those at the top of FamilySearch also ignoring reality, just a little, when they keep urging leaders to call youth, youth and more youth consultants, who don't stick with family history long term nor in any depth of research. Odd, isn't it.