Middle age, edging toward old age, presents many unique challenges for men, and these momentous changes—biological, social and cultural—become greatly magnified when around 5,500 men cross the threshold of 50 every day.
For nineteen years, beginning in 1996 and until 2015, roughly two million men can be expected to traverse annually the journey across the age 50 horizon. Being 50-something and beyond can be viewed, in a sense, as an enormous population of men experiencing the same life stage at once. They are simultaneously dealing with the idiosyncratic vagaries of physiological changes (such as andropause, obesity, and diseases of aging), while confronting a social milieu that is often ageist and unaccommodating. The U.S. is evolving into a nation addressing an old age imbalance for the first time in its history.
Marketing implications include the rise of grandfathers as a market force, as well as other markets demanding new strategies from companies to take advantage of patriarchy.
Being Boomer Male and Feminism
Boomer men were and are widely supportive of feminism, especially those aspects of the social movement focused on economic equality and full participation in institutional society. Many recall early encounters with feminism during their teen years.
The experiences of feminism often served to confuse Boomer men; they wanted to please their female counterparts but did not necessarily wish to relinquish some of the privileges and territory of maleness as their fathers and grandfathers had defined it. Boomer men sometimes feel caught between opposing values about sexual roles: those celebrating full equality between the sexes, and those that honor the special privileges of manhood such as classic corporate and institutional power. Many privileges under onslaught today spring from ancient religious traditions and time-honored customs when men practiced rituals of initiation, preferred separation from females during specific periods and seasons, and developed their own language nuances and culture.
Patriarchic traditions are under siege today in the cultural narratives expressed through books and movies. For example, an article in The Atlantic described how role reversals are impacting Boomer men, once-upon-a-time large and in-charge of romantic relationships: “Up in the Air, a movie set against the backdrop of recession-era layoffs, hammers home its point about the shattered ego of the American man. A character played by George Clooney is called too old to be attractive by his younger female colleague and is later rejected by an older woman whom he falls in love with after she sleeps with him—and who turns out to be married. George Clooney! If the sexiest man alive can get twice rejected (and sexually played) in a movie, what hope is there for anyone else? The message to American men is summarized by the title of a recent offering from the romantic-comedy mill: She’s Out of My League.”
It seems that Boomer men, out of choice in youth and out of necessity in middle age, have embraced the precepts and implications of feminism. Will women in the future embrace the possibilities of maleness as it finds new expressions in elderhood?
Boomer Men versus Health and Wellness
Baby Boomer men are dichotomous with respect to health & fitness. They grew up in a time when the adult population was largely ignorant of today’s diet and health maxims. For example, I recall consuming a steady diet of high-fat foods, prepared and presented by my well-meaning mother. My mother’s refrigerator was always stocked with cheeses, bacon, whole milk, bologna, and cheese casserole leftovers.
On the contrary, this generation also discovered outdoor sports and jogging in their twenties, influenced an explosion in the fitness facilities industry throughout their thirties and forties, and escorted many diet and weight-loss fads to popular and economic prominence. Thus, when it comes to health and wellness, this is a bifurcated generation. About 40 percent are overweight or obese; a smaller but nevertheless significant percentage is dedicated to maintaining fitness, with accelerating commitment to workout regimens. A new category of master athletes has become prominent in the last few years.
Marketing to Boomer Men as Healing
Boomer men are moving into a period of their lives representing unprecedented opportunities for growth, service, community, and fraternity. Along this path, dangers lurk: irrelevance, anger, depression, lack of appropriate role models, obesity, and a general dearth of purpose. The impact can lead some men to make abrupt and unwise changes, from quitting a job to leaving a marriage.
What might be the source for these challenges of male aging? According to Jed Diamond, Ph.D., author of Male Menopause and The Irritable Male Syndrome, acting out by older males involves much more than external stresses. “Often a man’s restlessness and irritability come from the pull of his inner world, not a pull from outside. He may think he needs to leave his family, have an affair, change jobs, run away from home, leave the country. The real longing may be to fulfill his soul’s calling.”
These potential illnesses of the body and soul need healing, and this is the service that many companies in the future can provide. Marketing can be restorative when insights gleaned positively change the way men think about themselves as husbands, partners, fathers, grandfathers, and mentors. Just as marketers have been instrumental in teaching women about breast cancer, so can marketers take a leadership role in helping men understand their own needs and positive ways to address what they want through the choices they make as consumers.
Marketers can teach environmental awareness, the special role of fathers in the nation’s future, and how men and women can co-evolve, wherein both sexes share equally in the American dream.
Toward Relevance and Reinvention
Although late middle age has been traditionally associated with predictability, quiescence, and gradual withdrawal from mainstream society, Boomer men are poised to shatter these stereotypical expectations, challenging, for example, barriers to employment for those over age 50 or 60. The softer side of maturity is a quest for reinvention and self-actualization.
Boomer men have spent decades focused on their responsibilities as employers, employees, fathers, husbands, partners, and business and civic leaders. The stage of life after 50 presents renewed opportunities to reach for greater idealism and relevance in life. It’s a time to discover life anew, and this perpetually seeking cohort will pursue later life with questions, a search for meaning, and by finding ways to bring life into perspective while leaving behind meaningful contributions to society.
The above essay is an edited excerpt from Generation Reinvention: How Boomers Today Are Changing Business, Marketing, Aging and the Future. This 279-page book explores a growing body of research, arguments, insights, and speculation over how Boomers are impacting aging and commerce. Implications from my book are monetary and personal, local and international, intergenerational and multicultural. To learn why these conclusions are significant for your work and future, you can get a copy from online book retailers, including Amazon. Thank you for following my blog and, of course, your interest in Generation Reinvention.