This is Part 4 of a five part series on the hottest trends for 2016. Today we focus on emerging Social Trends that will impact businesses in 2016 and beyond.

Millennials Rule

While the rise of the Millennials has many implications, perhaps the most notable is their influence within the labor pool. 2015 was the first year that Millennials comprised the largest percentage of U.S. workers (at 34%) while Boomers represent 29%. Gen X has dropped from 49% in 1995 to 34% today. Changing demographics poses a significant challenge for U.S. employers who face a dearth of experienced management workers capable of supervising an inexperienced pool of workers. Clearly flexible work environments serve both Millennials and an emerging class of retirement age workers seeking less hours and more freedom.

U.S Population Grows through Immigration

Virtually all U.S. population growth is coming from immigration. The foreign-born population is 44.9 Million (14%) and is expected to swell to 78.2 Million by 2065 (17%).  While much of the political debate is about illegal immigration from Mexico, immigrants from Mexico only comprise 28% of the total, with immigration from Asia equating to 26% and Latin America 24%. While the U.S. is home to roughly 1/5 of the world’s immigrants, the rate of immigration has actually declined over the last 30 years. There is a deep divide on the impact of immigration in the U.S.  50% of Americans think that immigration hurts the economy, while 28% believe it makes the economy stronger. Americans believe 6:1 that immigration leads to more crime.  Most Americans believe that immigrants are not “assimilating” into American culture, but are more likely to maintain their heritage and norms.

Diversity, Faith and Other Statistics

The following trends and statistics represent our broadened diversity:

  • While 71% of Americans are Christian, “unaffiliated” faiths are on the rise. Particularly on the part of Millennials, a growing minority of Americans have “no organized faith”.
  • 9% of U.S. adults are multi-racial, but the number is expected to triple in the next 35 years.
  • While there was a sea change regarding gender status in 2015, the number of cross-gender people in the U.S. is unknown. A well published (and startling) statistic is that more than 40% of them have attempted suicide, compared with 20% of gay and lesbian, and 5% for the overall population.

Companies will have to ensure that they are protecting the rights of a more diverse workforce.

Record College Admissions

In 2009 there were a record number of college and university students as a result of 4.1 Million births in 1991. Since the end of the recession, roughly 70% of high school students have gone on to become full time freshman college students. There were 4.3 Million U.S. births in 2007, the highest since 1957 (during the baby boom). While there is much controversy about ballooning college and university debt, the next 10 years will mark a period of swelling college and university populations. Colleges and universities are drastically revamping their business models. There will be movement away from brick and mortar, and to online and virtual experiences.  There will be the advent of “celebrity professors” who will syndicate their courses at multiple universities.

Plus Sizes are Hot

With online retailers and social media buzzing about plus sizes, retailers are rethinking their strategy. With Melissa McCarthy and other celebrities touting plus sizes, and Target and Charlotte Russe introducing new assortments this year, the $20 Billion market is exploding.

Wholesome Eating for Everyone

While Americans talk a good game about nutrition, we still consume over $110 Billion a year in fast food products. 2016 will mark a turning point in the American diet as consumers are clearly shifting towards less processed foods made of simple ingredients. The recent announcement by the World Health Organization about carcinogens in our diet, acceptance by large retailers such as Wal-Mart for organic foods and escalating health care costs are beginning to move wellness into the mainstream.


In an America that is underemployed, many displaced Americans and their enterprising children have started their own businesses. The self-employed and people they have hired comprise 44 Million jobs (30% of the total). While 10% of Americans have traditionally been self-employed, a much larger percentage are incorporating and hiring employees. On average, the average self-employed American hires two additional workers. Lending to small businesses (from large banks) was down 38% from 2006 to 2014 as a result of tighter Federal lending requirements.  Service companies will target micro-businesses, who will be cash strapped as a result of poor financing.

Silver Tsunami

Our life expectancy will exceed 100 by 2030. By that time, one-fifth the U.S. population will be 65 or older. The U.S. (as well as other countries around the world) is ill prepared to deal with its aging population. Federal, state, and local agencies are scrambling to define their roles and obligations for ensuring the health and wellness of aging adults. As aging adults live longer, the nation’s health care system will be stressed. It is believed that roughly 30% of people 85 years and older have severe cognitive decline, suffering from dementia and other diseases. There will clearly be a shift towards leveraging community organizations for services, such as nutrition, housing, and case management, but the underlying economics of such decisions have not been clearly defined.  As the “third rail of politics”, the implications on Social Security and Medicare have simply not been debated at the Federal level in any substantive fashion. In the long-term Americans will face a very significant tax burden.

Humanitarian Crisis

The current El Nino weather pattern is amongst the most severe in history. Such conditions could trigger humanitarian emergencies in poverty stricken areas in Central and South America. In 1997-1998 severe weather caused over $100 Billion in damage and killed more than 30,000 people. Perhaps the most troubling of social issues facing us today is ongoing racial divide in the U.S. Perhaps not that pertinent to business, let us hope that we come together as a nation and overcome such obstacles. View Part I, Part II and Part III of this series on the Intended Consequences Blog.

Sources: New Customers Push Retailers to Rethink Plus by Lindsey Rupp Bloomberg BusinessWeek Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S. Pew Research Slapping a Natural Label on Everything by Andrew Martin Bloomberg BusinessWeek Class of 2025 expected to be the biggest, most diverse ever by Richard Fry Pew Research A Silver Tsunami Invades the Health of Nations Reenita Das Forbes Millennials surpass Gen Xers as the largest generation in U.S. labor force by Richard Fry Pew Research Big Banks Cut Back on Small Business by Ruth Simon-The Wall Street Journal Three-in-Ten U.S. Jobs are held by Self-Employed Pew Research U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious Pew Research