Over-50s are a growing, powerful group that should not be ignored


Older people are happy in themselves but they are not happy with how they are perceived by the rest of society

OLDER PEOPLE are happier: that’s a fact. Of course, it depends on your definition of “older”. In survey after survey – across dozens of countries – the curious fact emerges that people’s self-reported happiness declines from their late teens until their late 40s and then it starts to rise again. And it keeps rising until people are into their 80s.

While this may not be good news for teenagers, and is probably old news for people in their 40s (an unhappy bunch in most surveys nowadays), the finding is certainly good news for Ireland’s growing population aged 50 and over. Right now they number more than 1.2 million – nearly 28 per cent of the entire population – and their numbers are set to grow substantially over the coming decade.

So we have a large and growing group in Irish society who are happy, relatively affluent and increasingly the mainstay of many consumer markets. Every recession-hit marketer’s dream target market. Or so you would think. But instead, older consumers are often ignored by advertisers. This is all the more extraordinary when you consider that in Ireland right now we have roughly equal numbers of teenagers and of 50-somethings. But when was the last time you saw a television programme (or an entire channel) targeted at people in their 50s?

To coincide with the Business of Ageing conference (www.businessofageing.com) to be held this week in Dublin, Amárach Research surveyed 500 adults aged 50 and over throughout Ireland in January and February about their needs and experiences.

The findings point the way to many opportunities – and to quite a few threats – for Ireland’s product and service providers as the economy slowly makes its way out of recession. That goes for the public and private sectors.

Among the key findings are:

Life is generally good for the over-50s: the words they would use to describe their lives right now are “good” or “great” (for 26 per cent), “okay” (for 18 per cent), and “happy” (for 13 per cent).

Nevertheless the recession has had an impact on their lives: a “strong impact” for 34 per cent; a “moderate impact” for 50 per cent and “no impact” for 16 per cent.

The over-50s are the backbone of many organisations in Ireland. Six in 10 are in a credit union; one in five is in a residents’ association; one in six is in the GAA and one in 10 is in a political party.

They are enthusiastic media and technology consumers. Four in 10 over-50s use the internet (and 29 per cent of older internet users are on Facebook). Flights, insurance and books are the most popular online purchases for the two thirds of internet users who have shopped online.

Some 80 per cent have a mobile phone (six in 10 of them send text messages) and one in two buys a newspaper every day.

They are not, though, enthusiastic about the manner in which older people are portrayed by the media. Some 77 per cent of over-50s believe the media portrays their age group as vulnerable. Half of over-50s think the media portrays them as “unable to cope”.

The over-50s are a key group driving “switching” behaviour and other changes in consumer markets. One in three has switched their car insurer; one in four has switched their main supermarket; one in five has switched their electricity supplier and one in six has switched their main bank.

Looking ahead, one in three will switch the brands of toiletries they buy in the near future; four in 10 will switch household cleaning brands; and one in five will switch the brand of dairy products that they buy.

These are just a few indicators from the survey that tell us Ireland’s 50-plus population is making its economic weight felt across a swathe of product and service sectors. And it is only the beginning. Add their projected population growth to their already significant buying power and the over-50s are a group that cannot be ignored.

The good news is that Ireland’s over-50s are not sitting at home waiting for Ireland’s marketers and entrepreneurs to start selling to them. The bad news for Ireland’s marketers and entrepreneurs is that they are probably already shopping with your competitors.

But it isn’t too late. Ireland’s over-50s are leading the charge when it comes to trying new services, consuming media and switching to alternative suppliers. So there’s still time to catch the age wave as it transforms our economy and society beyond recognition.

Gerard O’Neill is chairman of Amárach Research and will be presenting findings from the business of ageing survey at the Business of Ageing Conference in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham this Wednesday.

See: businessofageing.com

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