BY KARI CONNOR
I hit the big "5-0" this year. In the 6-month lead-up to the birthday, a continuous stream of pressure came from my mom friends to do something EPIC. Like a gang of genies wanting to activate my biggest bucket-listy wishes, they wouldn’t just let me quietly contemplate the meaning of life. They demanded action.
As I look around me at the behavior of middle-aged moms, I’m witnessing a youthful-like spontaneity and spike in creativity that continues well after the 50th birthday.
Society has pegged middle age as a marker for decline. And a generation ago, moms’ attitudes toward middle age was rooted in the fear of being irrelevant, invisible, frumpy, and no longer physically strong or sexy.
But as women are having children later and have gained more control over life choices compared to a generation ago, are attitudes toward middle-aging changing? Is there an attitudinal rebirth going on?
I look at the data. An observational, anthropological study of my Facebook feed reveals mom friends crushing middle-age stereotypes. Physical, spiritual, and give-back activities and epic experiences abound. My feed is a barrage of moms running Icelandic Ultra 50Ks, hiking R2R (rim-to-rim) in the Grand Canyon, doing downward-facing dog on amazing Costa Rican beaches, marching loudly in the streets of their cities with their daughters and sons, or going on international volunteer missions to bring clean water to third world countries. Meanwhile, skincare brands clog the feed with “age-defying” claims about their creams and serums — society’s negative reminder (buzzkill) that AGE is something to be conquered.
Data shows that 90% of middle-aged moms consider themselves to have a much younger attitude than their own mothers’ generation at the same age.
In a recent study done by the UK Telegraph, 96% of women over 40 don’t feel middle-aged at all. The study found that 80% felt society’s assumptions about middle-aged women do not represent how they live their lives. What does that mean for moms? Most women are moms by middle age, so it means a lot. Brands should pay attention to these new attitudes toward middle life. The majority report using products aimed at younger women!
Yet here is the chasm: Moms are feeling as vibrant and young as they ever have — in the prime of life, not defining themselves by age. But all those brands sitting upon their “Age-Defying” positioning aren’t up to speed with modern mom. She’s actively embracing age. Brands need to get on board with her or get out of her way.
I conveyed this concept of middle-agelessness to my 19-year-old daughter recently when a box from Urban Outfitters showed up at our door and she snagged it, assuming it was hers. “That bomber jacket is for me,” I told her. “So cute,” she said, “but when did you start shopping at Urban?”
The truth is that she’s been dragging me and my Visa there for many years — for dances, holidays and birthdays. Little did she know I was so captivated by the whole bralette movement that, unbeknownst to her, I bought one for myself. But I stopped short of buying Urban Outfitter’s “premium high-rise jeans” aka mom jeans. Those never looked good on anyone and the irony would be lost on my daughter!
Moms and daughters seem to relate to and influence one another with regard to brands. My daughter and I both enjoy similar food, the same Netflix series, and we often discover and swap apps via iCloud like LimeBikes, car2go, Lyft. And we love to find the perfect AirBnB, sharing photos in our cart before booking.
So if a “youthful” brand like Urban is attractive to me, I wanted to know if other moms were shopping there. That could have implications for brands seeking to engage moms with an ageless mindset. I looked in Simmons’ syndicated research to see if I could challenge my daughter’s perceptions and validate my hunch. Urban radically over-indexes among 18–24-year-olds. No surprise there — they are 4X as likely to shop there. But support drops among 35–44-year-olds who are half as likely. While the brand shows a RALLY among moms ages 45–54. These middle-agers are 24% more likely to shop there. Hunch validated!
Moving beyond Urban Outfitters, I found that Spotify published something interesting they found in their data. Their great tracking metrics saw something unpredictable in their analysis of middle-agers. They found a specific point when middle-aged listeners drop their sophisticated singer-songwriters, their “best of the 80s, 90s and today,” and spontaneously start listening to teen pop. That age is 42.
Video game ads by Untitled Worldwide, show an array of middle-aged women, including a school mom and a female executive in a presentation, responding to a siren with some action-hero-style moves and joining forces to hunt down a criminal. The gaming brand’s research found that 80% of active players are women ages 30–55. It’s significant because the middle-aged female demographic is often left out of video game culture, often stereotyped as fans of puzzle games like Candy Crush rather than action games.
I also checked in on Hollywood middle-aged moms like Brooke Shields and Julia Roberts, both of whom seem to be giving middle age the middle finger. Calvin Klein just signed Brooke, proof that denim isn’t just for a clique of youthful models. And People magazine recently named Julia Roberts as the World’s Most Beautiful Woman 2017, 26 years after she first made the list! Julia also refused to get a facelift. She prefers more natural methods of feeling younger, including studying yoga and “decluttering” her life. “There’s a lightness to my life now — an airy quality of not taking things too seriously,” she said, “That's happiness.”
Youthful spirit. Sexy. Curious. Spontaneous. Health-and-wellness seeking. These are behaviors marketers often associate with millennials. But moms are both at their peak financial power and feeling in the prime of life, staying relevant to technology, fashion, culture. And recognizing that presents us with a great opportunity to relate to their optimism and help them rewrite the rules of middle-aging.
“Thirty years ago, there were clear-cut rules about how a woman should look after a certain age,” says Poupak Sionit, CMO of GlamSquad, an app that allows users to order hair and makeup services to their doors on short notice. “But those lines are very blurred right now.” It’s not about age anymore. It’s about what makes you feel good.
Moms are crushing the middle-age label and so should brands.