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The '65+' survey conundrum
Lots of detail about the under-65 crowd. We are a society so consumed by age bracketing and labels, you'd think there was enough data to meet all the needs of marketers. We have Generation X and Y/Millennials ("What, me worry?"), or Young, Middle, and Older Boomers. We know whether they love their iPhone or their BlackBerry, and whether they signal the end of voice calling capability because texting is the beginning, the middle, and the end of their cell phone use. And today's WSJ helped us understand that a 35-year-old could have the arteries of an 80-year-old.
But move to 65 and beyond -- they're all seniors, all the time. Other than MetLife's 2009 demographic study of the 65+ population which covers every dimension of the group EXCEPT technology use, we don't have much to help us understand sub-segments...beyond charming anecdotes. Today I took a look at Pew Research's study on Chronic Disease and the Internet -- and learned that although chronic disease sufferers use the Internet less than those who have no chronic disease, the 'social life of those online users is robust'. Well, that's nice. But age-bracketing of the study -- not so great -- 18-29, 30-49, 50-64...and... 65+. And did I mention that 80% of seniors have at least one chronic disease?
Okay, okay, I know that this study sampling of 'seniors' is typical. But an 11-year range, a 19-year-range, a 14-year range -- and then everybody else? And it is not just in this study -- it's pervasive in surveys -- Forrester (64+), Nielsenwire (65+), AARP (50+), Center for Technology and Aging and older adults (60+). Big buckets and, therefore, sweeping generalizations. To quote Nielsen's research director, Chuck Schilling: "The over-65 crowd represents 13% of the total population and with this increase in online usage, they are beginning to catch up with their offline numbers." Great! But too few to sub-segment, huh, Chuck?
You're a marketer to...or about seniors -- oops. So often I hear this qualifier paraphrased as: 'Well, of course, the 65-75 age range uses technology so differently from the 75-85, or the 85+ population.' That's true, but how are we ever to know the mix of chronic disease sufferers who are over 70 who might be candidates for a Patientslikeme.com online community? Or have access to the Internet and are willing to shop online? Thirty-nine million people age 65+ is not a tiny population -- although admittedly smaller than the baby boom (78 million) or millennials (80 million). But when you account for the likelihood of baby boomers having one living parent (50%), now we're talking about a population interest area that might just be worthy of early, middle, and late sub-segments.
What do seniors need, who is a caregiver, what's the motive to buy a tech product? Home care agencies, geriatric care managers, senior housing organizations -- all remark about the absence of shared information sources that include an older senior and their potentially long-distance family members. But how many seniors would be interested in (or may have) access to tech that connected them to family or caregivers? We must look at the 2008 AARP Healthy@Home study to scope interest, if not usage. We must look at Caregiving in the US 2009 to learn about caregiver usage of technology. By combining these with an analysis of the MetLife demographics, maybe we could figure out the profile of a prospective purchaser (the multiple decades of seniors and/or their adult children) for a GPS-tracking device, for home activity monitoring, senior-focused software, online learning tools, or health-related tech for remote management of chronic disease?
The average life expectancy of women is rising to 80.2, for men it is 75.1 (or whatever source you want to cite), perhaps rising most for the college-educated. Gut feel, I think that they might spend money...or their children and grandchildren just might. Maybe on technology. Who knows?