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Beyond the Stereotypes: Facts About Women Over 50

Karen Knapstein October 7, 2019

The media, marketers and everyday people make assumptions and hold misconceptions about older women. But the facts paint a different picture than our culture would have you believe.

American’s nearly 50 million women over 50 are up against an array of challenges along with a couple of good old-fashioned stereotypes. But real women today are busy living vibrant lives, working and spending, and caring for the people that mean the most to them.

The Stereotypes

“What we see out there are two opposite ends of the spectrum,” shared Cindy Gallop, an advertising consultant, CEO, and general aging rabble rouser.

“On the one end is, the extremely beautiful elegant older woman.” Or, she continued, “there is the utterly laughable caricature that is the object of scorn and derision and ridicule.”

“I object,” she made clear “equally to both ends of the spectrum.”

“In fact, the gorgeous beautiful elegant end of the spectrum we are seeing more and more of because unfortunately, a number of media publications” have committed to showing older women. 

“But then there is a very small group of older women that they are actually prepared to show, all of whom are stunningly beautiful, very tall, extremely slim. Maye Musk is wonderful, but we can’t all be Mae Musk. She doesn’t look like the rest of us.”

Gallop’s perspective is supported by numbers, too. An AARP survey showed that 76% of women wish ads had more realistic images of their gender, and 61% don’t feel like they see themselves in images in the media.

Spending Power

Leaving out everyone who doesn’t fit the picture advertisers are comfortable with is an expensive lost opportunity. Older women in the U.S represent $15 trillion in spending power, which makes up 27% of all consumer spending.

Another eye-popping piece of information? When their children graduate from college, this demographic spends two and a half times what the average person spends. And over the next 10 years, the number of women checking the 50+ box is only going to increase.

But the fact remains that just 5% of marketing targets women over 50.

At Work

Gallop believes that “everyone should know that the key to business success is older women. The single best thing you could do for your business in every industry is hire older women. And the reason for that is…we are experts.”

People over 50 make up a third of the American workforce. At this point in history, women have been in the workplace for just as long as an average male worker. A woman who started a career in the 1970s might be retired, or she might have 50 years of experience to draw from.

They also have a reputation for getting things done, because they have to. As caregivers for aging parents, or as the parents of tweens, teens, or young adults, there are just too many things to do before and after the office to waste any time while they’re there.

Yet women over 50 face more age-related job discrimination then men. They either can’t find work or can’t move ahead. But for those women who want to, or more likely have to, continue working as they get older, entrepreneurship is on the rise. Contrary to the stereotype of the young, white male, the average age of a successful startup founder is 45. And female entrepreneurs are starting businesses at a rate of at least twice those of started by men.

Kerry Hannon, author of “Never Too Old To Get Rich: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life,” thinks women make successful business owners because “women are collaborative. We ask for help. We ask for directions. We are willing to partner up or hire people to compliment us. That comes naturally to us. And entrepreneurship is a team sport.”

Lori Bitter, president and senior strategist of The Business of Aging, finds those same female attributes valuable for women working the longevity market.

“It’s my experience that people who are effective in this space are good collaborators, trust their intuition and relate well person-to-person, one-to-one. That’s where women shine.”

Health and Wellness 

Elizabeth Battaglino founded HealthyWomen.org more than 30 years ago. Back then, she explained, it was all about getting a diagnosis and then doing research to learn what to expect from the diagnosis. But today, while she still publishes medically-vetted health information to women, what she’s found out is that for women today, it’s about living well.

“I think women today are aging well. Probably the most pressing thing, and what we’re hearing is that it’s all about prevention. [Women] aren’t focused on disease. It’s all about how to stay healthy and stay independent.” 

Outside of diseases and chronic conditions, “our surveys have told us that one of the most pressing areas for women is stress and anxiety.” Battaglino shared.

“And when we dove a little bit deeper, we found out that number one was financial health. And we know finance is connected to health and wellness. So women, as they age… they wonder “do I have enough money to live?”

“You also find that women as they age through their 40s, 50s and 60s, we find that something changes. Either you get afflicted with something, or someone you care for does, or your spouse, or you may be going through a divorce, and all of that can affect your finances.”

The concern is real. Women over 65 have an income that’s about 25% less than men. There are several reasons for the disparity, including the wage gap and the fact that women live longer than men, meaning they need more money to take care of themselves over time.

However, the bright side is that the focus is starting to shift.

“Women are still the caregiver, still the CEO of the family,” she explained, “but they’re starting to take better care of themselves so they can continue to take care of their families.”

That, combined with their earning and spending power, means that the younger side of the 50+ demographic has time to catch up on their savings.

At Home

Another fact worth noting about this demographic is that while about half of Americans are married, statistics show us that women are not staying in less-than-satisfying marriages. The divorce rate for people over 50 has doubled in the last 20 years—and the numbers show that more of those splits were initiated by women.

Also interesting? The rate of living together without being married is growing the fastest for Americans over 50.

Outside of marriage, older women are using technology to make social connections more and more. While making new friends at any age can be tricky, it can be done. Social networks like Facebook — 41% of new users are over 65—contribute, but online communities that help initiate real life activities and introductions, like Meetup and Stich, also play a role.

Caregiving is also a huge part of the relationships that make up women’s lives. As of 2015, the average caregiver was a 49-year-old employed woman who spends 20 hours a week caring for her mother. Women are also caring for fathers, spouses, and children with special needs. In fact, the role of a caregiver might be the one “stereotype” for women over 50 that rings true.

The good news is that the world is more aware of the burden of caregiving that falls disproportionately on women today than they once were. Laws in California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Washington, New York and the District of Columbia now provide paid-time off to provide care, often for new parents, but they also provide allowances for caring for an elderly or sick family member.

Some 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have also endorsed such plans, pushing the issue to the forefront, so there is a possibility for eventual paid family support for all Americans.

Stria sponsor Life Reinvented made “The Truth About Older Women” special editorial series possible.

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Karen Knapstein

Karen Knapstein is a New York City-based editor and writer. She has worked in parenting and family, news and education media and marketing and has written freelance content on everything from fashion to small business funding.

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