As lifespans continue to lengthen, it is inevitable that people will have the opportunity to do more. It is also likely that they will need to work longer. This will likely lead to the emergence of new life stages, as happened with teenagers and retirees which were both 20th century creations.
The "middle-plus" is emerging; this is a group of people who are around middle age, but their age extends past traditional retirement age. I peg this group roughly between the ages of 50 and 74, but age is only a guideline. Middle-plus people can be younger or older than this, as long as they meet some basic criteria, such as work status and whether they have children living in their home.
I noticed this age bracket expansion in the early 2000s when reviewing demographic data on 50-plus women. In particular, I observed that a woman in her fifties or sixties could be both a mother and a grandmother, and many of them were engaged in full-time or part-time work. This represented the future of longevity, the shifting consumer landscape, and the opening of the middle-plus group. Market segmentation should be less about age and more about stage— economic condition, health status, outlook—and pegging people to their age is outdated. Mothers [and fathers] will always need the right tools to raise a child, whether they are 16 or 60-plus.
Recent research by J. Walter Thompson echoed these observations. The company found “A 55-year-old woman might be a grandmother or a new mother, a college leaver or an entrepreneur, a wild motorcyclist or a multi-marathon runner. Her lifestyle is not governed by her age, but by her values and the things she cares about; her passions, ambitions and goals.” More than that, the company’s observations confirmed for me that this wasn’t a new life stage only in the United States but globally.
The middle-plus, as a whole, is an economically active, aspirational group of people, meaning that they are engaged in some type of work and full of life. They may have dependent children and grandchildren, and they may be the primary or secondary caregivers for their parents. They just happen to be a bit older and, like my father, may have encountered some kind of health setback during or just after the traditional middle years (45 to 65). Like most, they have a fear of being seen as frail, disabled, old, or elderly and will do whatever they can to combat that perception. They have the resources to buy products and services to enhance their lives, as well as the lives of the people around them. They are wealthier than average, because they have had the ability to work in higher-paying jobs and have been proactive in their saving strategies.
Companies would be wise to consider this consumer group, because unlike previous generations, this group isn’t interested in the beige-colored, function-over-form, poorly-designed products and services that have plagued the longevity marketplace for decades. They are using the power of their pocketbook to entice brands to design for the dynamic lives they lead. They are insisting that products be built for them or, at the very least, with them in mind.
Businesses would also be smart to consider that just because people are living longer than previous generations, it doesn’t mean they are old. As the saying goes, age is just a number, and middle-plus consumers don’t like being seen as old and frail. From beginning to middle to end, the Super Age is upending all parts of life and death. It will be a wildly complex and transformative period for humanity. It will provide enormous opportunities for businesses to look past chronological age and focus on consumers’ wants and needs. Some companies are already doing this, but there is more than enough room for others to enter the market and meet the wants and needs of an increasingly age-diverse population.
Bradley Schurman is a demographic futurist and opinion maker on all things dealing with the business of longevity. He’s the author of THE SUPER AGE: DECODING OUR DEMOGRAPHIC DESTINY and the founder and CEO of the global research and advisory firm, The Super Age. Bradley and his team help leading organizations harness the opportunities of increasingly older and generationally diverse populations through strategy development and execution. His insights inform national leaders and c-suite executives, as well as their teams around the world.