Older Adult Consumers

In general, older Americans consume fewer goods and services than their younger contemporaries, but they spend a greater portion of their after-tax incomes on items that cost of living adjustments fail to weight properly (e.g., food, health care, utilities]. The lower average expenditures of older adults are a reflection of the fact that their households have fewer members and the members have less expensive needs. In addition, more job-related items such as transportation, clothing, life insurance, pensions, and entertainment are less expensive for older than for young and middle-aged adults. Income taxes are also less for older Americans. Only about half of the age-65-and-over population pay any income tax at all, and the tax rate for those who do averages around 14%. However, above a certain income level, even Social Security benefits are taxed, and a certain portion of those benefits are withheld when the individual's earned income is above a specified maximum.

The growing size of the older American population and its increased purchasing power during recent decades has been accompanied by the realization that older adults represent a powerful economic force. In fact, the lagging economies of many nonmetropolitan communities in the Sunbelt and elsewhere have been shored up by the so-called mailbox economy stemming from Social Security checks and other sources of disposable income of older residents (Glasgow, 1991). Although older adults are not quite as avid consumers as teenagers, many marketers are now targeting the 50-and-over and the 65-and-over segments of the population.

Effective marketing requires an understanding of what motivates potential consumers and the ability to empathize with them (Wolfe, 1990). With respect to market segmentation based on chronological age, marketers must realize that the motivations of middle-aged and older consumers are different from those of teenagers and young adults. As a group, older consumers are motivated more than younger consumers by the desire for personal comfort, convenience, safety, security, independence, and even spirituality (Schewe, 1990). According to Wolfe (1990), older adults are influenced less by materialistic motives and more by the experience values of products and services. There are, however, significant differences in motivations among people of the same age. An 80-year-old driver in a red sports car may be unusual, but it can occur.

A market segmentation study conducted by Day, Davis, Dove, and French (1988) identified two groups of women consumers: self-sufficients and per-suadables. Self-sufficients were high in internal locus of control,2 independent, cosmopolitan, outgoing, and influential with other people. They read more books and magazines, and went shopping, attended concerts and sporting events, and ate in restaurants more often than persuadables. Persuad-ables, on the other hand, were high in external locus of control, had little confidence in their own opinions, were more easily persuaded by advertisements, preferred to stay at home rather than participating in outside activities, and watched more daytime television than self-sufficients. These differences between the two groups of consumers led the authors of the study to suggest that self-sufficients are more likely to be reached by print ads and persuadables by television commercials.

In addition to more traditional (and stereotypical) health products such as analgesics, dentures, hemorrhoid remedies, laxatives, moisturizers, ortho

2Locus of control is J. B. Rotter's (1966) term for a cognitive-perceptual style characterized by the typical direction (internal or self vs. external or other) from which individuals perceive themselves as being controlled.

pedic shoes, and vitamins, older adults also spend money on art supplies, books, clothing, a wide variety of games [backgammon, mah-jongg, electronic and computer games), home furnishings, travel, and entertainment (Leventhal, 1991). For the sports-minded, there are lightweight rifles, special golf clubs, and other equipment adapted to age differences; for the more affluent, there are cruises and flights to everywhere, furs, jewelry, and luxury cars of all kinds; and for readers, there are magazines designed specifically for the mature market (e.g., Active Aging, 50-Plus, Golden Years, Modern Maturity, Prime Time). Older adults read newspapers and magazines more frequently than other age groups, and their preferred television viewing includes news and sports programs. Older shoppers also rely more on mass media and salespersons than younger shoppers.

Many businesses offer discounts ranging from 5% to 30% of the usual purchase price of goods and services to older consumers who are members of the American Association of Retired Persons. Lifetime passes to national historical sites, monuments, forests, and parks are also available to individuals aged 62 and over. Taking advantage of the many discounted products, permits, and fares that are offered can save older adults a great deal of money, contribute to their pleasure, and thus add life to years.

The extent to which consumer products add years to life and life to years depends, of course, on how safe those products are. Every year, nearly a million Americans over age 65 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with products they use every day. The death rate for older adults is approximately five times that of younger adults for unintentional injuries involving motor vehicles and other consumer products. Falls in bathrooms, on stairs, on stepstools, and on floors are particularly common. To reduce the frequency of such accidents, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends the use of grab-bars and nonslip mats by bathtubs, handrails on both sides of stairs, and slip-resistant carpets and rugs. CPSC also recommends that older adults have smoke detectors installed on every floor of their homes, that they use nightwear that resists flames, and that they turn the temperature of their water heaters down to 120 degrees to prevent scalding.3

Because children may be accidentally poisoned by medicines prescribed for adults, the packages are intentionally made to be "child-resistant.'' But many older adults have difficulty opening child-resistant packages, so the CPSC also recommends that pharmaceutical manufacturers develop innovative closures that appeal to the cognitive skills of older people rather than to their physical strength (U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, 1994).

3A free brochure, Home Safety Checklist for Older Consumers, describing the hazards in each room of the home and recommended ways of avoiding injury can be obtained by sending a postcard to Home Safety checklist, CPSC, Washington, DC 20207. Another brochure, What Smart Shoppers Know about Nightwear Safety, can be obtained from AARP, 610 E Street NW, Washington, DC 20049.

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