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Consumer Research


Jo Rigby: Role of the over-50s in the family

Jo Rigby: Role of the over-50s in the family

We are always looking for new areas to explore within U.F.O. which will add colour and depth to the consumer often called ‘Grey’.

One such route in the last wave was to look at the older consumer within the context of other generations of their family.

We felt that treating the 50+ consumer as an isolated generation was to ignore the influence that they have on younger and older family members, and the influence which these people have on them.

Our approach was to interview a selection of the U.F.O. participants with their children, who in some cases were in their late forties themselves!  We also placed some relevant questions on the quantitative survey.

Here’s some of the insights we drew from this research.

1. The over 50’s have a significant amount of influence on the brand choices which their children make.

Take cars as an example, the ‘children’ we spoke to, aged 18 – 44 all cited their parents as people they would or had discussed purchasing a new car with.

The ‘children’ recognised that their parents had more experience in this area and respected their opinions when it came to which brands to consider.

This also worked the other way, with a couple of respondents taking their children with them to the dealership to check out what was on offer.  We also saw this influence operating within the financial services category.

Amongst our Live Wires around 40 per cent had helped their children to buy their first home and had been actively involved in discussions around mortgage and insurance providers.

We also saw this influence manifest itself around holidays, electronic products, films worth seeing and TV programmes that they had enjoyed. 

2. Grandparents are playing an increased role within the family unit as more women return to work after having children.

We saw that a quarter of all grandparents are looking after their grandchildren whilst their parents are at work.  The grandparents we spoke to were making decisions about where to take their grandchildren for treats e.g. eating out, theme parks.

This suggests that grandparents should be considered as the target audience for communicating child-orientated brands, as well as parents.

3. The kids are coming back home!

Of the 10 families we spoke to, two of them had children who had moved back to the family home in their 30’s and 40’s.  One of the sons had got divorced and could not afford to buy his own home, the other had decided to retrain and was living at home to save money.

We observed that the relationship of parent and child was quickly re-established, with mum doing cooking and cleaning, and son ‘treating the place like a hotel’.  This phenomenon is referred to as Boomerang Kids, and is a growing trend with interesting implications on purchasing behaviour.  

5. Women had much wider social networks than their husbands, and spend time and money on cultivating these networks.

The older women were incredibly active in going out to spend time with their friends, joining local groups to meet more people, and learning new skills where they could meet new people.  Over 25% of our Live Wire females had contacted an old school friend through Friends Reunited.

One of the common threads running through our qualitative groups was the worry amongst females that their partners weren’t interested in having a social life, in fact one of the most overheard phrases from the women about their husbands was ‘I wish he’d get himself a hobby’!

This observation has implications on brands as we can see that it was the women who were generating WOM about brands and products amongst their social networks, the men seem to be on the periphery.

6. Looking after elderly parents is an issue which affects many 50+ consumers, often as they are looking forward to the freedom of retirement themselves.

Many of our U.F.O. participants were responsible for providing care for elderly relatives, either in their own home or in their parents home.  The question over ‘what to do with dad’ is a common one, and one which is reassessed frequently as circumstances change.

This generation are the first to have to deal with the issue of parents living into a very old age on such a mass scale.

It has huge financial implications for our 50+ consumer who either see their inheritance earmarked for long term care, or who are having to make financial commitments themselves to help provide their parents with quality of life.

OMD Insight have produced a booklet which describes all U.F.O. segments in detail.

Comment or feedback? Please contact

Jo Rigby is the Head of OMD Insight .

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