How can we get millennials, next generation interested?
Back when I was growing up, there was no Internet and nobody could have probably imagined a phone small enough to fit in your back pocket.
My parents kept a watchful eye on my sister and me, successfully making sure neither of us got anything other than our ears pierced. She and I both went on to attend college — my sister has a doctorate — and neither one of us had to go into extreme debt to finance our degrees.
We were both born on the tail-end cusp of Generation X. Remember that generation, the one that thought reality bites and grunge was ultimate expression of rebellion? Now middle-aged, most of us are pretty well-adjusted, thriving and raising families of our own. That means it’s time to start worrying about the next generation, the millennials.
We frequently hear disturbing facts about this generation, born from the 1980s through the early 2000s, who aren’t buying houses or settling down at typical rates. They are postponing careers and marriage and many face crippling college debt. Spend some time talking to millennials and it’s clear their values, goals and outlook on life are different from past generations.
They are the largest generation yet, larger than the baby boomers, and coming of age right now. Their spending habits are poised to drive big changes in our economy. Indeed, we are already seeing the effects of that with the popularity of game-changing companies like Lyft, Uber and Airbnb.
A recent article in the magazine BoatUS (Motto: Making boating safer, more affordable and accessible) highlights a big problem facing the outdoor industr y right now.
Titled “Why Aren’t Millennials Buying Boats,” the gist of the story is that boat ownership has declined 41 percent for 20- to 39-year-olds in the past decade. This is a major trend that’s affecting many retailers’ bottom lines. Millennials just aren’t buying outdoor gear at the same rate as generations past.
Maybe it’s because they aren’t going to buy a tent if they can just borrow one for the weekend from the neighbor down the street. Why spend so much money on a boat if you
can just use your parents’? For certain this generation prefers the money-savvy sharing economy, but I’ve got a gut feeling it’s something else, too.
While many recent surveys point to an uptick in outdoor leisure activities such as bird-watching, jogging and target-shooting, the level of participation in other more traditional recreational pursuits like fishing and hunting, the bread-and-butter of the outdoor industry, remains static or is beginning to take what looks like a dive off the deep end.
And that’s troubling news because less participation in those activities means less
funds for wildlife conservation and management.
The Pittman-Robertson Act that taxes firearms and ammunition and the similarly-structured Dingell-Johnson Act that taxes certain tackle and fishing gear provide millions of dollars each year for restoring critical wetlands, improving wildlife habitat and increasing access to boating facilities for public use, among other things. Hunters and anglers fund those programs with their licenses, stamps and tax dollars collected when they buy gear.
How can we get millennials and the generation coming after them interested in the outdoors? Some demographers and sociologists might propose we conduct academic studies to determine a best course of action. I, however, would say the answer is easy. Just get them outside.
The most important factor that affects whether a person picks up hunting or fishing is whether they are introduced to those activities at a young age.
The story of how my father got to be an outdoorsman is a prime example of this principle. When his own father would get home from a long work day on his feet, his idea of relaxing was to read the newspaper and smoke his pipe. Spending time outside wasn’t a priority for him.
My father’s Uncle Tom did, though, and from the time my dad was old enough to walk down the street by himself to Uncle Tom’s house, he spent all his time outside of school (and I suspect quite a bit of the time he was supposed to be in school) underfoot and keeping Uncle Tom company on his hunting and fishing excursions in eastern Pennsylvania.
My father’s love of all things outdoors, and even writing
this very newspaper column for about 30 years, derived from the hours he spent with outside with Uncle Tom.
My mother’s upbringing was similar. She spent all her free time down at the barn, driving her pony cart and, later riding horses. I really hit the jackpot when I was born to those two people. My parents instilled in me a love of spending time outdoors that now I have the privilege of passing down to my own children.
Think back to how you learned to tie a knot, see in a scope or figure out which conditions warrant a Carolina versus a Texas rig. Chances are you can remember who exactly showed you that stuff and guaranteed you’re smiling right now just thinking about it.
If you’ve got a millennial or any other kid at home, do them — and the outdoor industry and conservation efforts — a favor and make them open their bedroom door and come on out.
Maybe you can get them to turn off their phones for a little while and show them that in some ways reality can be superior to the virtual world. Because out here the air is fresh, the fish are biting, and the woods are waiting for you to begin your next adventure.