A 'thumbs up' for understanding longer lives?

When did you last use Facebook? Or perhaps that question should be directed at your parents.

We all tend to make assumptions about certain activities and the ages at which people do these things. Growing your own veg? For the retired. Going to a music festival? For the young. However, with longer lives we are seeing increasing evidence that we need to check those assumptions. Our longevity research shows that age is less connected to life stage than many assume.

In November 2018 we conducted a survey with a representative sample of the UK public specifically to understand attitudes to age and life stage. This included questions on specific activities, some of which we might typically associate with a particular age group. We asked respondents ‘at what age do you think people typically do these things?’ and then ‘which of the following have you personally done in the last year?’ The results are in the chart below: the blue bars show the mean age at which the public think each of these activities is done – for example we think that the mean age for growing your own veg is 57, for going to a music festival it’s 30.

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The orange bars show the actual age mean age at which these are done. For those activities towards the left of the chart – growing your own veg, joining a gym – our perception of the average age at which people do these things is pretty close to the reality. However, for going to a music festival and shopping for the latest fashion on the right of the chart, the discrepancy is significant – we’re over a decade off in our assumptions here. So while we think that the mean age for going to a music festival is 30, the reality is closer to 42.

We can explore these assumptions in another way too. Taking the results from this question that looked at use of Facebook, we can analyse the results by age breaks.


The above chart shows the % of each age bracket we think uses Facebook (blue bars), and the actual % of each age bracket that does so (orange).

It is reported that younger people are leaving Facebook for platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. But despite this, we correctly identify that the proportion of younger people using Facebook is still very high – over 80%. However the same can’t be said as we look up the age breaks. The scale of discrepancy between our perception and the reality as we go up the age brackets is big – for example, we think that a third of 65-74 year olds use Facebook, but the reality is almost double this figure!

Why do these misconceptions matter? They matter because it means we are making assumptions about age and stage that are not accurate reflections of how people are living their lives. Many older people are indeed growing their own veg, but many are also using Facebook. Buying fashionable clothes and attending music festivals is not solely the preserve of the ‘young’!

It’s in this context that brands need to communicate to their consumers and they need to do so carefully. Those that assume that age equals life stage, and market a product or service accordingly, may be misunderstanding their target and missing out on the opportunity to connect with a wider audience. Understanding the complex and varied lives we are starting to see in the era of longevity is vital for future success – and that’s something that surely gets a ‘like’ from us all.

Rachel Lloyd is a Director at Message House. She leads their research on longevity to help clients explore its implications. Message House conducted an online survey among a nationally representative sample of the British public during November 8-9th 2018. Base size for those aged 75+ are small and results therefore directional.