Three Myths About People Over 50
By Terry Portis

When I teach an introduction to psychology course, I give an assignment that asks students to examine advertising and see how people from different age groups are portrayed. They report a lot of stereotyping and assumptions that people in certain age ranges are pretty much all alike. You find this no more true than when advertisers are trying to reach adults over the age of 50. While some marketing firms are getting it right, many are just simply missing the mark. The people in their 20s and 30s who are working for design and marketing firms regularly make some assumptions that are just wrong.

  1. Everyone over 50 is the same.

Marketing professionals sometimes talk about appealing to the over-50 age group. Who is that? Does everyone over 50 have the same values, interests, family situation, job status and financial means? Psychological research shows that individual differences are more pronounced and distinct as we get older. People also reach an age where they are not trying to fit in with some imagined group, and can just be themselves. So, this explains the eccentric uncle who you invite to Christmas dinner, even though he makes you nervous. He’s not crazy, he is just a unique individual.

We do know that some national trends are affecting millions of middle-aged people. Kids in their 20s are moving back in with their parents like never before. This is happening at the same time that mom or dad might be moving in too. Financial concerns are keeping a lot of people up at night. Staying healthy, relevant and engaged with life are priorities for most people. Increasing numbers of people in their 50s (and older) are going back to school and changing careers.

So, a word for marketing professionals: Connect with us on our values, on the kinds of things that are going on in our lives, on problems we need your help in solving. Then you will be effective and we will listen to what you have to say.

     2. People over 50 are scared of or not interested in technology.

Given the popularity of technical training courses at AACC and other community colleges for people over 50, it is easy to see that this is a myth. Studies suggest that Facebook usage rates for some segments of older adults have quadrupled over the last two years.

Perhaps some mistake a certain level of skepticism to represent fear or disinterest. How is the new digital device better than the one I purchased six months ago? Will this “technological advancement” make my life easier or harder? These are the kinds of questions that many older adults are asking, even while they stop into the local retailer to make high-dollar purchases.

    3. Everyone is going to quit everything and just retire at 65.

Research suggests that less than 11 percent of people who are currently 45 will take a traditional retirement at 65. Many will continue to work full time, some will continue to work, but with reduced hours. Some may even come in and out of the workforce, depending on their financial needs, health or personal interests.

This misconception also assumes that people who are “officially” retired are quite at their leisure, sitting on their porch, waiting for the end. The truth is that many older people are leading more active lives than ever before. Community organizations and churches often rely on older volunteers to serve and keep programs going. Some volunteers give so much of their time that they are truly unpaid staff people.

In his new book, The Big Shift, Marc Freedman sums up the new reality of life over 50: “We’re clearly all getting older, but most of us are not getting old … at least not yet.”

Dr. Terry Portis is the director of the Center on Aging at Anne Arundel Community College. He holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and can be reached at [email protected]

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