40-plus women: Putting age before reason

Women over 40 are largely ignored by marketers. With research showing they control 80 per cent of the UK’s wealth, companies dismiss them at their peril.

Women over 40 are tech-savvy and one in two is the chief earner

Mature women are often overlooked by brands, which tend to target a younger, seemingly more stylish demographic. But when you consider that 93 per cent of women aged 40 to 60 make all or most of the financial decisions in households, it might be time to reassess.

It is often said that age is only a number and nothing could be truer of today’s middle-aged women, according to the latest research carried out by IPC Media as part of its GenerationYNot! initiative, which finds that there are 8.5 million women in this category, spending an average of £92bn annually.

“It’s all about attitude,” says IPC director of insight Amanda Wigginton. “Women over 40 are not dinosaurs. They are very switched on and incredibly tech savvy. One in two is the chief income earner in their household and they are 90 per cent more likely [than those under 40] to earn over £40,000.

“They are responsible for 80 per cent of the UK’s wealth, so it is a huge demographic. And as we’re an ageing population, their importance is only going to increase.”

Older women are also twice as likely to have an opinion about the economy. Since many have been through a recession before, they are less worried than those who are younger: 44 per cent of women aged 40 to 60 say they are “worried” compared with 47 per cent of women in general.

This category is also realistic about the rate of recovery, with only 12 per cent expecting the economic situation to be better next year and 34 per cent anticipating their family finances will remain the same.

“These are confident women,” says Wigginton. “They are very much in control of their spending and finances. And because they are so financially aware they have a very pragmatic and practical view of the economy.”

Woman’s view

The study involved more than 2,000 women and comprised a series of in-depth interviews, live home tours and focus groups, as well as using SeeMe cameras, which take photos every 10-15 seconds to record shopping behaviour.


More than half (58 per cent) say they are always on top of their household spending, compared with 44 per cent of under-40s, while 62 per cent decide how the household budget is spent, next to 45 per cent of younger women.

“It’s not just food and the weekly grocery shop that women are responsible for,” says Wigginton. “They also have an effect on big purchase decisions like cars and technology. And while women do buy for themselves, they also influence decision-making for the whole family and are often the key purchase maker.”

Indeed, 96 per cent are solely or jointly responsible for big spending decisions. Women over 40 are 38 per cent more likely than those younger to be influential in buying a new car, 39 per cent more likely to buy large appliances for the home and 21 per cent more likely to make decisions about TVs, stereos and computers.

Technology helps this group of women stay in control of the family finances, with many relying on internet banking, while planning also plays a crucial role. Lists are essential and the majority (72 per cent) determine what they are going to buy before they leave the house, which Wigginton says is a result of the economic downturn and wanting budgets to go further.

“It is also because they’re more financially astute,” she adds. “They do not like having the wool pulled over their eyes and are cynical about promotions. They will always make sure they get the best deal but many women say they are getting bored of in-store promotions and aren’t getting much inspiration from them.”

As part of the planning process, women over 40 are 80 per cent more likely than those under 40 to shop around to find the best deals, with 58 per cent using price comparison sites.



When women find a good deal, they are more likely to share that knowledge with friends and family, with 66 per cent passing on information about bargains. And “family” is no longer limited to those directly related; some include godchildren, neighbours and even pets within the family unit.

Changing labels

The notion of being a housewife is also outdated. Instead, respondents use terms such as decision-maker, breadwinner, consultant, organiser and financial adviser to describe themselves – IPC’s initial GenerationYNot! research coined the phrase ‘family CEO’.

Spending and saving are not mutually exclusive, because women over 40 have more disposable income. Treats are not seen as a guilty pleasure but a necessity. Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) say it is important to treat themselves, while 60 per cent say they deserve to do so once in a while.

Saving is important and spending is done with caution as these women want to be prepared for the future, but that does not mean they compromise on spending on themselves. They will get their nails done while watching the pennies in terms of food.”

Going to the hairdresser, beauty products, wine and books are all more important to women over 40 than they are to younger women, the research finds.

The financial crisis has affected this group’s perception of financial services companies. Wigginton says: “These women are very cautious and savvy. The thing that comes through is that brands are absolutely fundamental. They don’t trust financial institutions in the way they used to. Price is always going to be the number one consideration [when choosing financial products] but it needs to be backed up by trust in a brand or company.”

Looking at the main influencers, value for money (78 per cent) and return on investment (73 per cent) remain key in the decision-making process, but familiarity and trust are also vital. Around 71 per cent of women say they are more influenced by a company they trust, 56 per cent lean towards brands they already deal with and 46 per cent will go for a brand they recognise.

Recommendations also play a pivotal role, with 47 per cent stating friends and family influence their financial purchasing decisions, while 32 per cent refer to price comparison sites.

When it comes to marketing, women over 40 are often ignored, but brands would be wise to give this category a second look, because if the message is right the potential is huge.

The frontline

We ask marketers whether our ‘trends’ research matches their experience on the ground

Elizabeth Lonergan

Elizabeth Lonergan
Senior consumer insights manager
Nokia UK and Ireland

The technology sector generally takes the classic marketing approach of advertising to the more ‘influential’ 16-24 year old category. However, we are acutely aware at Nokia UK that while this group is important in terms of aspiration, we also need to address a more balanced audience who are settled in their life, may have families, are juggling many commitments and have higher incomes, which lends itself well to women aged 40+.

This group is also influential among their friends and family and more likely to recommend a brand based on positive experiences.

Our Remarkable Women Community is designed to engage with women of all ages who are challenging conventions and breaking down barriers in terms of their work. Recent studies suggest that if females feel targeted by marketing, they turn off, preferring to be engaged by brands on their own terms, which is what we have brought to the community.

On top of this, in above-the-line communications it is important to understand the needs of this group and focus on the benefits of products instead of the technical specifications that on the whole do not appeal.

Marketers approach middle age and above as being commercially stale, which is such a shame. Technology is crucial to our everyday lives, it is impossible not to be ‘tech-savvy’ as everything is digital. Shopping is increasingly online based, social networks are offering a different way to stay in touch with family, price comparison is much more convenient and women are embracing this even more so than men.

We hold the purse strings, we are budget-conscious and check price comparison sites and great customer service is worth telling our friends about. Marketers should take into consideration the entire purchase journey, from research and sale to the after-care to ensure that we remain loyal.

Research shows that women feel underserved by brands, so they need to understand the challenges that we face. Understand our lives, listen and work on something that makes our lives easier and design specifically for us – and I’m not talking about turning a product pink. Finally, beware of stereotypes and avoid being patronising.

Amanda Newman

Amanda Newman
Marketing director
M&S Bank

M&S Bank and the M&S current account have been developed specifically for the regular M&S shopper, and women within this demographic are absolutely core. The

tone and style of our advertising is tailored as such and our channel decisions are based on how strongly they index against this profile.

It is important to remember that all purchasing decisions are based on emotional as well as rational influences, so we maintain a subtle aspirational feel in our advertising to this demographic, demonstrating a strong proposition that meets both their financial and lifestyle needs. It needs to tick both boxes.

The fact that women shop around and research before making a purchase demonstrates how savvy they are. This is something that should not be undermined, and it is particularly important that advertising is clear, upfront and gimmick-free.

With a strong understanding of the economy, women within this age group expect products and services to not just meet but also exceed their expectations. This is something we’ve considered when developing our products.

For example, our current account has been developed to deliver value for money for the regular M&S shopper and includes a whole range of M&S benefits worth up to £600 a year plus a £100 gift card on account opening.

In addition to retail rewards, the account offers our customers a transparent account structure; we do not have any overdraft fees, arrangement fees, return or default fees.

In any sector, a trusted brand can help a customer move from consideration to purchase. Some purchasing decisions are more impulse led, however financial products are more considered and a strong brand is incredibly important to give customers the confidence they need to make that decision.

People feel comfortable with a retail brand that, from personal experience, they know can be trusted to deliver on its brand values. M&S Bank has been developed to bring the trusted Marks & Spencer brand values to banking, offering customers a new choice of bank on the high street.

Belinda Parma

Belinda Parmar
Founder and chief executive
Lady Geek

Older women and men are an under-exploited and ignored audience. It is not seen as sexy for many marketers, despite the commercial gain, because often the

people creating the marketing are men in their 30s and therefore unconscious bias means they are developing marketing and advertising for themselves.

The perceptions advertisers have of older people is 20 years out of date, which leads to clichéd, lazy marketing.

A high proportion of older women and men have a tablet and they are using it to connect with their world, but they often do not think of it as technology. Gaming is a good example; one in three women over 55 play games but they do not think of themselves as gamers. They are more focused on social gaming on a PC rather than using a console.

Women are empowered by technology, so to ignore this group, which has lots of cash and spare time, is shortsighted. Women want to know how technology can help them. Forget about the spec, gigahertz, the difference between ROM and RAM, and instead focus on the role technology plays and how it can make a difference.

Reassurance also plays a vital role when speaking to an older audience because they have not grown up with technology. Offering women reassurance and peace of mind about how something works and what to do if it goes wrong is incredibly important.

Brands often make the mistake of separating marketing by channel, so they have a retail strategy, online strategy and social media strategy, but if you are a 50-year-old woman, you just want a good customer experience where all these aspects are joined up – that’s the big opportunity for marketers.

Women are very liberated. Technology companies need to end their obsession with the young male market. The industry can no longer afford to ignore this goldmine of an audience.