Two key groups drive today's consumer economy:
Baby boomers. The largest population group in the US, folks between 34 and 52. They make up almost 30 percent of the total population. As a rule, they are relatively affluent buyers of goods and services. But as they see retirement drawing nearer, they're also saving: putting money into stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.
Their habits benefit upscale and specialty retailers and lots of consumer-service firms: mortgage lenders, now busy refinancing loans, plus banks and financial houses. It's hard to go broke helping boomers plan for their retirement.
Generation Y. The "echo" of the baby boom generation - the boomers' kids. Aged 6 to 20, these folks make up 21 percent of the population, says economist Richard Hokenson of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, a New York investment house.
They're among the main consumers of leisure and entertainment products: First in line for "Titanic" and the hottest recording artists. They watch a lot of MTV.
And they like snappy T shirts, buy designer jeans, and keep numerous speciality apparel stores in business. They frequently gross out their parents by dragging home something totally unexpected, like a pet pig, or a purple tuxedo or dress for the prom.
In economic terms, this group will become increasingly important as it matures, Mr. Hokenson says.
Of course, all customers count, whatever their age. But to be a good retailer, it's best to be good to the Y's.