March 28, 2004

Welcome to the Age of Wellness

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Take your last drag, pop down to the shops now, get a pack of 20, get into a pub and smoke away – because by midnight tonight, smoking in public will be a thing of the past.Tomorrow marks the beginning of a new smoke-free dawn.


It is also a revolutionary moment. Banning smoking in Irish pubs – and the ease with which it has come to pass – tells us an enormous amount about how much our society has changed.

The transformation can be explained by demographics. There are now 605,000 workers ( 30 per cent of the workforce) under the age of 30; at the same time,the behaviour of the thirty and fortysomethings is changing dramatically.
Immigration continues at a much higher rate than many expected. For example, until this year’s census, it was assumed that immigration would be running at 20,000 maximum per year.The true figure is above 30,000. There is every reason to believe that this figure will increase, and it is not inconceivable that immigration will be running at a net 50,000 in a few years. Already it is forecast that by 2008, 25 per cent of Dublin’s population between the canals will be foreign-born.

So,while the politicians are focusing on the immigrants with the citizenship referendum,the transformation among the domestic population is equally dramatic, and possibly more so. A demographic upheaval is going on that is as dislocating as the Industrial Revolution.

During the Industrial Revolution, 30 per cent of the population of western societies moved from the land to the factories. This led to the breakdown of the feudal system, the rise of Marxism, communism, fascism and, ultimately, Europ e’s world wars. The Industr ial Revolution changed the way we look at the world forever.

In the 20 years from 1994 to 2014, close to 30 per cent of Ireland’s population will have moved from the home to the office as Irish women go to work in huge numbers. No developed society has seen so many of its women swap the kitchen for the office so quickly.

Taken together, the ingredients in this demographic revolution will change our society so profoundly that it is inconceivable that our political life will not be permanently affected. But how do we know what the place will look like? As is often the case, the leading indicator for change is the entertainment industry.

Three of Ireland’s smartest entertainment entrepreneurs,who have been ahead of the curve for the past ten years in almost every scene – bars, clubs, cafesand restaurants – have just bought a country house in Meath called Bellinter House.

They intend to create the perfect party environment for their clientele as it gets older. Bellinter House will be the Irish equivalent of Babbington House in England, where thirty- and fortysomething rock ‘n’ rollers and hipsters blow a fortune every weekend. A similar market is burgeoning here.

A good way to look at this market and the broader impact of changing demographics and economics is to regard the future of rich, developed societies as being almost in a period of permanent adolescence. Instead of growing up in our 20s, like our parents,with children to care for and other adult responsibilities,we are opting for prolonged adolescence.

We are now seeing and will continue to see 40-year-olds acting like 20-year-olds. Although most Irish commentators and marketing gurus continue to focus on the under-25 market, the real action is in the rich 35-plus crowd.This is where the cash is.Think of the permanent adolescents or `middle youth’ market, listening to Air or Fatboy Slim (the uber-fortysomething adolescent) while chilling in a €200 a night spa hotel.

As was the case in Britain, the most sophisticated growth area in entertainment is the emergence of these bespoke trendy country houses and retreats aimed exclusively at the high-spending late 30s and early 40s market.

These punters still want to party. The ravers of 1990 are now the discerning country lounge lizards of 2004. Expect country bolt-holes for fortysomethings to emerge as a major entertainment trend in the next few years.

These folks do not want the `fuddyduddy’ experience of a traditional heavydraped Irish country house with its stodgy roast beef dinners, heavy claret and retired American chief executives. They want cosmos, sea-breezes, fusion, DJs, private late-night partying – and they want to wake up on Saturday morning knowing that little Saoirse is being looked after in an adjacent soundproofed all-day creche.

You can also detect changes in the slightly younger generation, as the late 1990s drinkers move into their early 30s. After a decade of drinking ourselves into a stupor, the sales of beer are falling. What does this tell us? We are all get- ting a bit older and gradually it becomes obvious that the feeling of ten pints slosh- ing around in our bellies is rather unplea- sant. But we are still drinking.This time it is wine and lots of it. Sales of wine in Ireland have increased sixfold since 1996. Gastrobars are also capturing the trend.Only five years ago,big super-boozers were being built almost every month in Dublin.This has changed.

The price of such mega-emporiums has fallen, because business has followed the early twenties lads and ladettes as they move from a size 8 to a 12 and from 28-inchwaists to 34! Thinkof this trend and extrapolate ten years and these people will join the per- manent adolescents in some hip country house with its own `Space NK’ chill room. Another fascinating change driven by demographics is the way people come to regard the health industry.

There is now huge growth in the `wellness’ industry, which aims at staying well. This will eclipse the health service in the future. On closer observation, our health ser- vice should actually be called the death service. Our health service exists to tell us that we are dying at a faster rate than we expected. If you have something wrong, you go to hospital, yet the process that determines sickness and wellness is simply ignored.

Our system regards `healthy’ as being the state of `not being sick yet’, and once we become ill, the health service tries to blast that illness into remission. In the future, one of the biggest indus- tries will be the wellness industry that will revolve around the idea of staying healthy through diet and exercise rather than depending on the silver bullet cure- all fromthe pharmaceutical industry. If you doubt this, just go to the Golden Pages under Yoga. Five years ago you would be hard pressed to find more than a couple of addresses.

This year, there are pages of refer- ences.The popularity of yoga more than anyother development captures the trend towards the wellness industry. In fact,one of the leading indicators of social change is the type of ads on local shop noticeboards.These days you will see ads for all sorts of relaxation classes, courses on eating well, on massage, on holistic medicine. Think about the growth of Pilates. Before Sex and the City I had no idea what Pilates was, but now I can’t seem to get away from it. In fact, come to think of it, before Sex and the City I used to think a Brazilian was just a great footballer, but that’s an- other story.

Well, in fact it is not another story – Brazilians, landing strips and the like are other examples of the cosmetic and grooming industry that is a function of the beauty obsession, more money and the middle-youth market. Finally,think of Madonna,the Ïberchick of  MiddleYouth. She is playing Dublin in the summer, but, unusually, insists on playing on a Sunday.

Why is this? Because apparently she is Jewish. Actually, not so – in fact she has converted to a hybrid form of mystical Judaism calledKabbala. This carryon originates from Medie- val Hasidim and involves all sorts of mumbo-jumbo for warding off evil spir- its and keeping in track of developments in theZodiac.However,the point is that if someone called Madonna Louise Ciccone can become Jewish, you know the wellness industry is a broad church indeed, and likely to become broader.

So while today’s headlines will be full of partnership, An Post and the PD con- ference, the real action will take place to- night, when smoking in public places passes away without even awhisper.

This will mark the first real sign that our demography has caught up with our traditional Bord Failte image of Paddies in flat caps smokingWoodbines and sup- ping stout.Welcome to the new age – the Age of Wellness. 


  1. Thomas Lupton

    David,

    Roddy Doyle cleverly utilised the Irish genetic melting
    pot and aspects of city living to create such memorable
    films as: “The Snapper”,”The Bus” etc.
    Anytime I read your cleverly constructed critiques,
    commentaries and analysis I find myself almost visualising
    the films cleverly expressed by your writing, and certain
    analogous elements between yours and the afore mentioned
    Mr. Doyle. So, please consider a career in capturing some
    material for a novel or for the silver screen. There is no
    shortage of evidence (qualitative and quantitative) in
    Ireland and I think the funding would be forthcoming. I’d
    go watch or buy something authored or directed by you for
    sure. Title suggestions, “The ‘Celtic Tiger’ skidding on
    its ‘Banana Republic’ Skin” or “In Vino Veritas, Nil
    Desperandum Illegitimi” (“In Wine there’s truth, don’t let
    the B****rds get you down”). Anyway, keep up the good work!

  2. eoin

    David. I think you are Ireland’s most valuable commentator.

    However, is it not a mistake to extrapolate from today’s figures of
    enormous immigration and assume that that will go on forever. I
    remember a RTE News program in the early nineties that convinced me
    that Ireland’s unemployment rate was going to hit 40%, OR emigration
    was to hit unforseen levels in the nineties ( like 80,000 a year) because
    of then then demographic boom that was about to hit the employment
    market – and given previous employment growth levels ( in the eighties)
    we just could not cope with that. The reasoning was sound – it just
    assumed an extrapolation of the employment growth levels of the
    eighties. In fact we created far more jobs than the deficit they assumed.

    Too many commentators extrapolate, or super-extrapolate ( as you did
    with the 50,000 assumed immigrants a year- which is absolutely
    enormous).

    However, I can easily see this immigration frop to zero or reverse. The
    reason people came to ireland was because of impressive job growth –
    growth better than anywhere else in Europe: there was some circular
    logic here too as the consumer demand from immigrants increased some
    job demand.

    That said, nobody is coming to the soggy under-resourced western
    Island because they necessarily love it – they would end up somewhere
    else if it were easier to find a job somewhere else: so all it takes for a
    reversal of positive net migration is for England and Germany to grow
    jobs faster than Ireland. As in the early nineties when Ireland was
    growing at 2% a year ( like last year) but Germany and the UK were
    growing faster.

    In any case an assumed population growth of 50,000 a year, added to
    the demographic growth per year, will be enough to cripple
    infrastructure beyond all functioning. If people could go elsewhere where
    was easier to live and find a roof, even at the same wage levels, so they
    will go. The immigration system has it’s own upper limits and will
    someday reverse. Why is why I, as a soon to be returned ex-pat with
    money to buy, will not buy a house just yet.

  3. David Mc Williams

    Thanks for the comments Thomas, in fact I’m working on an
    economics/branding/marketing book called “Kidnapping the
    Pope’s Children” which is about the generation born in 1979
    which could be a start!

    Also Eoin, you are right on immigration, it could reverse,
    but I’m not too sure it will.

    Thanks for both comments, David

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