Lifestyles of the Elderly: the Past, the Present and the Future

ABSTRACT - While the elderly segment of the population continues to grow in size and importance, relatively little consumer research has been focused on this group. The approach of the present study was to review demographic and lifestyle trends for the elderly. The issues that were reviewed were chosen to cover the areas that influence the size and significance of the elderly sector of the population. These issues included historical trends in life expectancy, birth rates, education, and urbanization. Life style factors such as house and automobile ownership, shopping patterns, and incomes were also reviewed. The purpose of the review was to use a historical perspective to identify the significance of this consumer segment, and to consider implications for consumer research.



Citation:

Gerald J. Gorn and John D. Claxton (1985) ,"Lifestyles of the Elderly: the Past, the Present and the Future", in SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, eds. Jagdish N. Sheth and Chin Tiong Tan, Singapore : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 288-292.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 288-292

LIFESTYLES OF THE ELDERLY: THE PAST, THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE

Gerald J. Gorn, University of British Columbia

John D. Claxton, University of British Columbia

ABSTRACT -

While the elderly segment of the population continues to grow in size and importance, relatively little consumer research has been focused on this group. The approach of the present study was to review demographic and lifestyle trends for the elderly. The issues that were reviewed were chosen to cover the areas that influence the size and significance of the elderly sector of the population. These issues included historical trends in life expectancy, birth rates, education, and urbanization. Life style factors such as house and automobile ownership, shopping patterns, and incomes were also reviewed. The purpose of the review was to use a historical perspective to identify the significance of this consumer segment, and to consider implications for consumer research.

LIFESTYLES OF THE ELDERLY: THE PAST, THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE

As the post war baby boom generation continues to age, the elderly sector will rapidly increase in proportion to the rest of the population. Those over the age of 65 already account for ten percent of the population of Canada (and 13 percent of the voting population). In the year 2031, 27% will be over 65 (Statistics Canada, 1982). Today's elderly are becoming increasingly important as a consumer segment. Marketers, who have traditionally concentrated on the youth sector over the last twenty years, are now directing their efforts towards the growing elderly community. In the U.S. senior citizens have an estimated expenditure of $60 billion whereas the  youth market spends only $20 billion (Bernhardt and Kinnear, 1976).

This paper reports on the lifestyles of the elderly. Variables which seem critical to consumer behavior are selected for analysis. The population of the elderly is growing at a much faster pace than other age segments and section I specifies historical as well as future trends in both population and living patterns. Section 11 provides a broad perspective on many aspects of the living habits of the elderly including housing, income, transportation and lifestyle factors.

It should be kept in mind that it is difficult to summarize specific lifestyles of the elderly, as in all societies diversity among people increases with age. People are less similar in all aspects of old age than they were as young adults or children (raies et .1., 1981). Consequently, overly broad gerieralizat ions about the elderly should be avoided. Researchers, managers, and policy makers should think in terms of segments of the elderly population.

SECTION I - POPULATION TRENDS

Canada's elderly, people over 65, presently account for ten percent of the total population (which was 24,343,000 in 1981) (Statistics Canada, 1982). A further 12.9 percent within the 50-64 age bracket indicate that the proportion of elderly will continue to increase through the twenty-first century. Canada has lagged behind most industrial nations in the growth of their elderly population. It is expected however that by the late 1980s the proportion of elderly in the Canadian population will be comparable to that of Europe.

There are a number of factors which influence the increase in the proportion of elderly within a population. Immigration, fertility rates and mortality rates are among the most significant of these factors. For instance immigration to Canada increased sharply after World War 11 and continued through the 60s. Moreover, the post World War Il "baby boom" which reflected the increase in fertility rates combined with immigration to provide a significant increase in the population base.

The third variable, increased life expectancy, has been an ongoing phenomenon since the turn of the century. in 1900 for instance, the average life expectancy at birth was 49 years whereas in 1972 it had increased to 72 years (Brotman, 1976). Medical technology has played a major role in the decreasing mortality rate. The result is an .. aging" older population. The median age of those over 65 increased 7.4 years from 1940 to 72.8 in 1970. By the year 2000 it is expected to have increased to 73.7 (Brotman, 1976).

As the population has aged the proportion of women has increased. In 1961 there were equal numbers of men and women among the elderly. However, by 1971 the ratio had become five women to four men and by the year 2001 it is forecast to be seven women to four men (Tales et al., 1981). This ratio increases sharply with age, for example in the 75 to 79 age group the ratio is 179 women to 100 men (U.S.). Factors such as the World Wars and work related accidents being more prevalent among me n have influenced this increasing imbalance. In 1901, men were expected to live 48 years while women had a life expectancy of 51 years. By 1971 those figures had changed to 69 and 76 respectively emphasizing the increasing disparity.

There are also urban-rural differences in the elderly population. in 1976, 77 percent of those over the age of 65 lived in urban areas. Over 50 percent lived in areas of 100,000 people or more, 20 percent resided in rural nonfarm locations and less than three percent resided on rural farms (Stone ana 1980). In the various regions of Canada, consistently more elderly women than men lived in urban areas whereas men tended to live in rural areas (Tales et al., 1981). Many minority groups find themselves concentrated in particular areas as well. This may be attributed minority groups find themselves concentrated in particular areas as well. This may be attributed to social, language, and educational barriers. Vancouver "'Chinatown" and "Little Italy" are two good examples of this phenomenon. Many of the elderly feel secure by living within a cultural area they are familiar with. Many of the elderly today have lived in rural and small urban areas during the earlier stages of their lives. An observed shift towards urbanization among the elderly has therefore developed since the early part of the century and is expected to continue.

An increasing elderly population is forecast to continue well into the twenty-first century, when the baby boom begins to enter the senior citizen category (approximately 2006) (Stone and Fletcher, 1980). By 2031, unless there is a change in the birth rate or the immigration trends, there will be approximately 33 older adults to every 100 younger adults, thus increasing our dependency ratio (the number of nonworking adults being supported by working adults) to .33 (from the present .15).

Growth in the elderly population proportion is expected to peak at over 18 percent in Canada, and 14 percent in the United States. This will take place by around 2030 (Stone and Fletcher, 1980). Starting in 2031, the proportion of the elderly who are 74 and above will increase, and by the year 2041 the over 75 group will account for 50-55 percent of the elderly. At present this group accounts for approximately 37 percent of the elderly (Statistics Canada, 1982).

As Canada grows older, so does its population. Tomorrow's elderly segment will prove to be an intriguing blend of modern lifestyles never observed in earlier generations of the aged.

Section II - Lifestyles and the Elderly

In all societies, a point is reached in the aging process, at which further usefulness is over and the person is regarded as a living liability. In previous historical ages, very few lived to this stage of life. Today, many live to this stage and beyond. There are two points at which an individual could be defined as a living liability. One is based on physical disability, when the burden of life for the older person outweighs the potential release through death. The second is based on societal values. In urban and modern societies, this point is reached when the productivity required by younger persons to maintain an older person, exceeds the older person's value as a potential resource of tradition and wisdom (Tales et al., 1981).

Unfortunately the latter of the two statements is more often than not regarded as the norm in North American society It is unjust to stereotype those people over the age of 65 as deteriorating, mindless entities. As the technological revolution evolves, and cultural values continue to change, stereotypes fail away, and what we are left with is a new generation of elderly whose wants, needs, and offerings differ from those of their ancestors 50 years ago.

Today, education levels of those individuals presently over 65 fall short of those individual, in the 15-64 age bracket. Only 2.6 percent of today's elderly hold university degrees while another 4.5 percent have some university. A further 34.1 percent have secondary education, and a total of 58.9 percent have no more than elementary schooling. Comparable figures for those in the 25-64 age bracket are 6.8% university, 8.9 percent some university, 60.4 percent secondary, and only 23.9 percent elementary (Statistics Canada, 1979). (U.S. statistics indicate that one-in-eight people over the age of 65 have less than five years of schooling, (Brotman, 1976).) Thus, one can see that many of the elderly population lack the education which makes it easier to deal with our increasingly technological society.

Future predictions (given present enrollment in academic institutions) indicate this situation will not continue. By the year 2011, the percentage of elderly men with post-secondary education will climb to 19 percent while for elderly women it will be eleven percent. Over 50 percent of men and 65 percent of women will have secondary education, while those with only elementary schooling will drop to 31 and 24 percent. In other words the future will lead to higher levels of education for both men and women (Tales et al., 1981).

Social interaction is an important part of any individual's life, particularly for those people over the age of 65. The ability to maintain an active social life in old age depends upon accessibility to family and friends as well as access to recreational and cultural activities. Two key ingredients of psychological health which are enhanced by mobility are freedom from isolation and the ability to choose one's range of activities (Wachs, 1979).

A research study of the retired indicated that social interaction with family and friends is important to both retired and working people (Health and Welfare Canada, 1977). It could be that given the lifestyle they already have, retired people may be more aware of the need to see friends and family. However, it is known that there is a general trend towards individualism and a move away from the nuclear family confirmed by younger active worker's attitudes. The same study also noted the importance of living area to a retiree. Given that a good proportion of their time is spent at home, the immediate environment and consequently the type of home and neighbourhood appears to be an important factor to retired people.

From the same study it was also suggested that working respondents' expectations in performing activities such as bowling, jogging, swimming, working, etc., were much higher than those of retirees. This might result from a perception of the physical ability and health needed to do such things. However, it may also indicate an increasing trend among young people towards energetic and health oriented activities. One pattern which certainly emerged was that most working respondents' expectations were higher than those of the retired, involving a great deal more mobility and specifically transportation in order to take part in the activity.

A U. S. based study indicated the following participation in leisure activities by the elderly: 43% read books, 58% attend church activities, 51% go out to eat, 65% are heavy users of long distance telephone, 32% use taxis, 43% use mass transit, 23% use laudromats (Bernhardt and Kinnear, 1976). Again, the implication is that a certain degree of mobility is needed. The 23% using laundromats indicated that a relatively large proportion of elderly do their washing at home or with an apartment's facilities. Reading was an important activity to the elderly with over 50 percent reading daily newspapers and over 70 percent reading the Sunday paper (Bernhardt and Kinnear, 1976). This was higher than the under 35 age group but slightly less than the 35-64 age group. Overall, the elderly appear to read selectively and prefer to get their news from newspapers and broadcast media.

Elderly people exhibit certain shopping patterns which distinguish them from other groups. For instance, only one in six elderly possess a store credit card while other age categories have at least twice this proportion. Gas credit cards are utilized somewhat more with 25 percent of the elderly possessing one. However, other age groups vary from 37 to 48 percent (Bernhardt and Kinnear, 1976). There is also a general trend-towards the elderly buying/utilizing automobiles as a mode of transport (see Transport).

Elderly consumers exhibit more cautious buying behaviour than their younger counterparts. They are generally more set in their preferences and buy nationally advertised brands ("The Power of Aging," 1976). However they do shop comparatively and this may explain why they are willing to travel to the downtown shopping district where the much-favored large-chain department stores are located (Bernhardt and Kinnear, 1976).

The buying decision process is often difficult for the elderly, and common variables such as income, education level, or occupation, have frequently been used to predict receptivity to new products. However, Howard and Sheth found that, in the case of the elderly, time pressure was more important than any of these (Bickson et al., 1976). Because the decision to make a new choice requires more time, this pressure may lead to repetitive product choices, perhaps resulting in brand loyalty.

Another factor which leads to the difficulty experienced in decision making is the lack of feedback from other individuals. Older consumers of ten do not know where to obtain reliable consumer information or help with consumer problems. Most people consult a spouse or children or the experience of friends/neighbors in order to help eliminate unwise decisions. Older people however, are often isolated from communication opportunities of this type (Waddell, 1976). In fact personal judgment and experience are among the most relied upon sources of consumer information for old people (Schultz, Baird and Hawkes, 1976).

Income. Not all elderly are fully retired, with at least ten percent still working full or part-time. Thus, social security or pensions are not the only source of income for those above the age of 65. The following chart indicates that 50 percent of all elderly men have income provided principally by government transfer payments (73 percent for women) (Tales et al., 1981).

TABLE

Of those dependent primarily on government transfer payments, 21 percent of the men and 51 percent of the women depend solely on this source. It is significant to note that 25 percent of men have employment as their major source of income, while 24 percent obtain revenue from other sources, namely private pensions.

Women are quite obviously more dependent on government support than are men. This might be explained by the lack of employment opportunities for elderly women during the last 50 years. Possibly, dependence on government transfer payments might decline in the future for both men and women, with the increase in private pension plans. Furthermore, the trend towards female participation in the labor force -will also provide increased revenue for that particular segment of the population.

As stated earlier, most post-retirement incomes are approximately one-half to two-thirds of pre-retirement incomes. In fact, the U.S. average is only 47 percent (Waddell, 1976). In order to maintain a comparable standard of living to pre-retirement, a retiree should have an income around 62 percent of that earned prior to retiring (Waddell, 1976). It is apparent that the elderly live well below the standards of most Canadians. One should however point out that reliable income figures may be difficult to obtain from the elderly. Some elderly may be living off capital or interest f rom capital. The latter amount unlike salary, may be a difficult annual figure to come up with when a fairly quick response is demanded in a questionnaire. Also many elderly live in mortgage free homes. Thus, there may be a segment of elderly whose standard of living is higher then statistics would suggest.

In 1977 the poverty level for an individual in Canada was $4083, and $5752 for couples (Tales et al. , 1981). While 37 percent of the total population of unattached individuals were in this low income bracket, over 51 percent of those aged 65-69, and a full 61% of those 70 and over, were living under the poverty level (women being the hardest hit). The same pattern emerges for two person families, though the proportions are significantly less. Only 23 percent of those 70+ living with a spouse are below tile poverty level. Thus, it appears easier for the elderly to manage if they are living as couples.

A further observation can be made with regard to urban versus rural living. For retired individuals living in urban areas of 100,000 or more population, 33 percent of men and 52 percent of women had income of less than $3000 (1977) (Health and Welfare Canada, 1977). However these figures change dramatically for those living in rural areas, where 49 percent of men and 71 percent of women have incomes in this range. Thus, it appears that an elderly person living in a rural area is more likely to be living below the poverty level.

Individuals living in urban areas of 100,000 or more population, 33 percent of men and 52 percent of women had income of less than $3000 (1977) (Health and Welfare Canada, 1977). However these figures change dramatically for those living in rural areas, where 49 percent of men and 71 percent of women have incomes in this range. Thus, it appears that an elderly person living in a rural area is more likely to be living below the poverty level.

This data suggests that the elderly would suffer from inflation and other economic effects much more than other segments of the population. In the U.S. the number of families living below the poverty level ($2662 in 1973) fell from 11.6 percent to 10.5 percent in 1974 ("Facts and Figures," 1976). Of these poor, the elderly segment fell from 37.1 percent to 31.9 percent ("Facts and Figures," 1976). One might attribute such a significant drop to substantial increases in government transfer payments, but it is dif f icult to say without further evidence. However it does seem apparent that the proportion of elderly poor is gradually declining. Similarly, in 1971 the U.S. elderly had approximately eleven percent disposable income. In 1980 that proportion was estimated to have increased to 14 percent (Linden, 1976). -This fact further emphasizes the trend towards slightly better purchasing power for the elderly in the future. However, it is reasonable to say that as long as this segment continues to depend on fixed income as the greatest portion of their revenue, they will always remain the most financially deprived, self-supporting age group in society.

SUMMARY OF FACTS AND INFERENCES

General observations of relevance to marketers

- Canada's present proportion of elderly (9.7 percent) will grow to 19 percent by 2030

- the elderly population will age to the point where over 50 percent will be above the age of 75

- there are more elderly women than elderly men in Canada and this disparity will continue to increase (although it will level off after the year 2000),

- the dependency ratio (those people not in the workforce being supported by those who are working) is expected to continue to increase, indicating an increased burden on the working people

- there has been a trend towards urban migration by the elderly

- education levels of senior citizens are far below the national average

The following observations are put forward on the basis of an analysis of primarily Statistics Canada data.

Housing and Transportation

Housing:

- a large proportion of the elderly (57.1 percent) live in single detached homes

- homeownership by the elderly is slightly higher than for other groups. This trend reverses after the age of 75.

- the number of elderly homeowners is increasing

- most of the elderly's homes are owned mortgage-free. This is correlated with the fact that they live in older (less energy efficient) homes

- fuel and water expenditures have been taking an increasing proportion of the elderly's budget (1969-1976)

- the elderly apportion twice the amount of their budget to water and fuel, as compared to those people in the 45-64 age group

- the, elderly own proportionately less energy using amenities (washing machines, dryers, freezers, etc.) than those in the 45-64 age group

- however, an increasing percentage of the elderly population is purchasing energy using amenities (1969-1976)

Transportation:

- transport expenditures presently decrease with age

- the elderly own fewer autos than younger age groups

- auto ownership is increasing among the elderly

- personal transport (specifically auto) is the most preferred form of transport for the elderly

- two person elderly families use autos in their old age (75+) much more than elderly individuals

THE ELDERLY OF TOMORROW

There are a number of factors which will affect the lifestyles of the elderly in the future. The importance of owning a home and the ability to purchase one may decrease in the future. Few people may be able to afford to buy and upkeep a house. This may increase the numbers who live in townhouses, apartments and condominiums.

The people who enter the elderly category through the early stages of the twenty-first century may live in single detached homes. The elderly of tomorrow (young people today) may also have a greater number of cars, freezers, washers, etc., than the elderly today. The use of transport-related energy may also increase in the future. The elderly show a tendency to purchase more cars (except for the 75+). They also will maintain a more active lifestyle involving more driving than the elderly of today. In addition, the elderly will be more educated and urban. Of great importance is that it is likely that a higher proportion of the elderly will continue to work after age 65. There will therefore be more commuting probably by car for many people. An increasing number of women in the labor force also means more cars and more income (income increases many forms of energy consumption).

Social service programs, property tax relief, income supplements, pharmacare and other programs should increase the total and perhaps discretionary income or at least the standard of living of the elderly in the future. However, it is impossible to firmly say the elderly will be better off in the future, since inflation tends to hit the elderly particularly hard.

REFERENCES

Bernhardt, Kenneth L. and Thomas C. Kinnear (1976), "Profiling the Senior Citizen Market," in The Elderly Consumer, ed. Fred E. Waddell. Columbia, Maryland: The Human Ecology Center, Antioch College.

Bickson, Tora K. et al (1976), "Decision Making Processes Among Elderly Consumers: A Research Proposal" in The Elderly Consumer, ed. Fred E. Waddell, Columbia, Maryland: The Human Ecology Center, Antioch College.

Brotman, Herman B. (1976), "Who are the Aged?" in The Elderly Consumer, ed. Fred E. Waddell, Columbia, Maryland: The Human Ecology Center, Antioch College.

Canada Statistics Can. 1979 "Canada's Elderly" 1976 Census, Cat. #98-800E. Ottawa: Ministry of Supply and Services.

Canada Statistics Can. 1982 "Population" 1981 Census, Cat. #92-901. Ottawa Ministry of Supply: and Services.

"Facts and Figures on Older Americans' Income and Poverty in 1973" (1976), in The Elderly Consumer, ed. Fred E. Waddell, Columbia, Maryland: The Human Ecology Center, Antioch College.

Health and Welfare Canada (1977), "Retirement in Canada: Summary Report", Social Security Reports #3, Health and Welfare Canada, Policy Research and Long Range Planning, March.

Linden Fabian (1976), "The $200 Billion Middle-Aged Market," in The Elderly Consumer, ed. Fred E. Waddell, Columbia, Maryland: The Human Ecology Center, Antioch College.

Schultz, Howard, Pamela Baird and Glem Hawkes (1979), Lifestyles and Consumer Behavior of Older Americans, New York: Praeger Publ.

Stone, L.E. and S. Fletcher (1980), A Profile of Canada's Older Population, Montreal: Institute for Research on Public Policy.

Tales, A. et al. (1981), Contexts of Aging in Canada, Institute for Studies in Education. Ontario: Oise Press.

"The Power of the Aging in the Marketplace" (1976), in The Elderly Consumer, ed. Fred E. Waddell, Columbia, Maryland: The Human Ecology Center, Antioch College.

Wach, Martin. (1979), Transport for the Elderly, Changing Lifestyles, Changing Needs, Berkley: University of California Press.

Waddell, Fred E. (1976), "Consumer Research and Programs for the Elderly: The Forgotten Dimension," in The Elderly Consumer, ed. Fred E. Waddell, Columbia, Maryland: The Human Ecology Center, Antioch College.

----------------------------------------

Authors

Gerald J. Gorn, University of British Columbia
John D. Claxton, University of British Columbia



Volume

SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives | 1985



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