‘Products and services for older people’ – What does this mean?

The guest blog is written by Mona Shekarriz, Research Associate with Engage Business Network, Age UK. She is working on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Brunel University and Age UK to conduct market segmentation and to examine consumer behaviour in later life.

When hearing about a product or service for older people a number of questions come to mind. Who are “older people” and on what basis these products and services are designed and delivered?

A lot of dispute exists on the meaning of old age. Is it simply a factor of our birth date? Is it the life stage we are in? Or does it come from our looks or physical or mental state? Maybe our interests, plans for the future, experiences, our social circle, and financial status…the list could go on and on.

In fact our real age is a combination of all these, but the sad truth is that industries largely judge our age only by our date of birth.  The reason is that we are more comfortable comparing people against the stereotypes we have in mind. These stereotypes come from our social, cultural and personal experiences in life, for instance we assign certain characteristics to older people and others to younger ones. It is much easier for us to ask for someone’s age and start building a picture of their life in our head based on the stereotypes we have.

But if we are working towards a world tolerant of people with different behaviours and interests, why do we make an exception in the way we treat age? Why do we keep asking people’s age and take major actions based on this one piece of information? This is especially damaging for companies designing and developing products and services. 

There are no doubts that ageing causes some physical and mental decline. However it is a mistake to overlook all other aspects of someone’s life and assume their physical and mental state based on their age. With the advancements in technology and medicine, and equality and diversity legislation, people have better opportunities to live longer, healthier and more distinctive lives.

This brings us back to the issue of how products and services specifically for older people are actually being developed. In other words, do we really think of all the above in development and delivery of those products and services?  If a product or service targets people in a certain life stage, the best way to success and to improve the quality of later life is to start understanding people not only by their age, but also by all aspects of their lives.

“Man’s age is something impressive, it sums up his life.  A man’s age represents a fine cargo of experiences and memories.”  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Learn more about what Age UK does to help make digital technology inclusive for older people.

11 responses to “‘Products and services for older people’ – What does this mean?

  1. What society and marketing hasn’t caught up with is, lumping 50 year olds together with 80 year olds as ‘older’ misses the differences between them, not just physical differences, but also differences of outlook, energy and aspiration. Try telling Paul McCartney he’s an ‘older person’ and can be included in a marketing drive Stannah Stairlifts. Just doesn’t work. Other markers are needed to identify the interests of individual ‘older’ people.

  2. Richard Alexandar

    What are the stereotypes of older people that younger people have in their heads?

  3. Hi Richard, In a research published in the Journal of Genetic psychology in 1968 by Hickey et al. * , they found some of the stereotypes children have in their mind about an older person. These ranged from physical characteristics such as being ‘‘feeble’’ or ‘‘walk slowly,’’ or being ‘‘inactive” to social stereotypes such as being ‘‘nice’’, ‘‘kind’’, ‘‘friendly’’, ‘‘mean” or ‘‘bossy’’. Bu to add to that, industries also assign certain characteristics to older people such being price conscious , brand loyal or hard to attract. I hope I answered your question.

    * Hickey, T., Hickey, L., and Kalish, R. (1968) “Children’s perceptions of the elderly” Journal of Genetic Psychology 112: 227–235.

  4. Hi Mona,
    Thanks for replying. The research you have quoted is now 44 years old. I agree with Penelope, and would add that nobody, be it NHS, Asda, Age UK, Harrods, has got to grips with the sheer diversity that exists within the group that could be loosely termed, “Retired”. I do hope this thread continues, it might open a few doors.

  5. Richard, I agree with you. I just need to add that identifying different groups of consumers is one of our main research objectives for the Engage Business Network within Age UK.

    Also on the subject of stereotypes, the article I mentioned is based on research which has been referenced for years now. You can also have a look at these more recent ones:

    Kornadt, A.E. and K. Rothermund (2011) “Contexts of aging: assessing evaluative age stereotypes in different life domains.” The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 66(5): 547–556.

    Newman S., Faux R. and Larimer B. (1997) “Children’s Views on Aging: Their Attitudes and Values” The Gerontologist 37(3):412-417.

  6. Thanks Mona, I’ll see if I can get the 2011 report online.

  7. Found it, but I can’t read the text because I’m not a subscriber. However, the gist is summed up by the discussion statement:

    Discussion. Our results indicate the existence of domain-specific age stereotypes that become internalized into older persons’ self-views.

    In other words (to give a somewhat crude example), if we are financially stable, had a good family life, and were successful in daily encounters, we probably feel good about ourselves and this is more likely to engender a positive perception of us by others.

    Can I get away with that interpretation?

  8. One of the findings of their research is that in older participants there was a positive relationship between life satisfaction in a specific domain (family, finance…) and age stereotypes. But as you mentioned, they said that it is hard to rule out the possibility of this happening due to personal positive life experience and satisfaction among the older particpants.

  9. Thanks, Mona. Another factor is that some health conditions continue to suffer from stigma, negative stereotyping, and have low priority at government level. I have been laying the foundations for raising awareness of the whole spectrum of seizure disorders, including epilepsy, on the Grey Pride website. My blog is entitled: FIT FOR EVERY OCCASION.

    The 60+ age group has more cases of epilepsy than any other age group, an uncertain number of other seizure disorders, and we are the ones who are least likely to discuss it. I also run a closed group (safer) on Facebook, Seizures Suck 60+ UK. This is part of a fast-growing charity called Epilepsy Sucks UK.

  10. The goal post of what it means to be old is moving; During the course of the twentieth century, average life expectancy within the developed world rose from 50 to 78 years. This can has been, broadly, attributed to changes in diet, lifestyle and medicine.

    I support that if you were 30 years old in the year 1900 then you were a geriatric! 20 Year olds were middle aged.

    http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/ageing/ageing2009chart.pdf

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