Ageing, stereotypes and reality

Demographics thinking
Thinking, dahlings…

Everywhere I look at the moment, I am coming across articles about the ageing population, women over 50, women over 60, women and pensions, even ‘baby boomer Hilary Boyd’s novel [which] is putting the sex back into sexagenarian’ … some things you could do with not knowing, right?

Quoting from a recent Times article, Stefanie Marsh interviewing Hilary Boyd about her novel Thursdays in the Park, I was struck by the ease with which the stereotypes trip off the tongue:

Boyd does not look like a pensioner in the same way that no actual pensioner looks like a pensioner any more … Like the majority of women of her age, she does not look “old”. That’s because “women of my generation”, she says, “we’re a stroppy bunch. The baby-boomers. We’re saying, ‘It’s not over because we’re 60.’ We’re not going gently into old age. We exude a different energy. We’re fitter, we’re healthier. We dye our hair, have Botox, wear make-up.” 

A woman hits 60 and everyone and everything is telling her she’s past it. Advertisers have started describing her as “the mature woman”; friends have started letting themselves go, putting on weight and wearing fleeces. “And special-needs shoes. And elastic-waisted trousers! A woman who is doing that would say to someone like me, ‘What are you trying to prove?’ And I would say, ‘It’s not over yet!’ 

“Invisible” is the word her friends most often use to describe themselves. “They think that they have fallen off the radar … The problem is women almost shut themselves down. And it’s hardly surprising you lose your confidence — there’s so much around that makes you think you are creepy if you are responding in a sexual way at all.” Boyd is talking about anti-ageing face creams advertised by women in their thirties. “And where are the clothes for middle-aged women? Bloody kaftans! No, I don’t think we’re helped.”

In another article about turning 50, Mariella Frostrup says:

I found I felt the same, but the world felt differently! I was being vanquished to a ringside seat from where I could watch the world go by but was not expected to participate. It felt as brutal a change as being retired from Parliament’s frontbenches.

It’s the stereotypes of women over 50, not the women themselves, which are past their sell-by date. Nowadays, along with men over 50, we are part of the fastest growing and most powerful demographic out there. We represent 43 per cent of the population, we control 80 per cent of the wealth and spend three times more than any other demographic. At 50-plus we are the biggest consumers of adventure travel and luxury goods — to name but two areas. Once marginalised by television executives and advertisers we are about to land firmly in their eye line as we become an audience they can’t afford to ignore.

It is all very interesting, no?  Especially if you are one of this generation of women – the first to have economic independence, to benefit from developments in health and nutrition, to be part of an overtly consumerist economy, to ‘control’ their own lives.  To defy ageing probably sounds entirely reasonable at the moment.

But, how will this play off against the reality of ageing, pension planning, government cutbacks in health and social care and the obsession our society has with youth, beauty and health?  Aren’t we really just pushing back the boundaries of ‘old’ to an age that is always greater then our own – from 60 to 80 perhaps? And, will this wealthy generation be continuing to spend its’ cash in an overtly consumerist manner when it is no longer earning or will they find that ‘need’ trumps ‘want’ when old age knocks on their door?

I have no idea and I’m not sure anyone else does either … there’s a lot of ‘firsts’ being bandied about here.  Irrefutably, as we age, the incidence of illness and disability rise with it.  I do know that becoming ill, acquiring a significant health or age related disability can be very expensive.  The state gives far less support than you imagine.  Other priorities than how you look, and are perceived, become paramount.

In focussing on changing the stereotypes of being old, I’m not sure the baby boomers have quite got to grips with the reality of ageing …  What do you think?

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