A life coach named Michele Vosberg, who seems pretty savvy, wrote an interesting article for the blog Sixty and Me. She asks, “Do our personalities change with age?” and answers with a resounding “yes.”
I’ve always been suspicious of personality discussions in business. For one thing, psychologists have long questioned whether personality is a trait or state variable. A trait variable persists across situations; a state variable responds to the specific context.
These days most marketers have read Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence. He talks about the ways we are motivated to take an action. We are strongly influenced by situation. In fact, simply rephrasing a request can change responses. Personality? Not relevant.
It’s hardly surprising that people change personalities as they get older. We face different environments. A fourteen-year-old in the US (and many other countries) faces a highly structured secondary school program, with exams and requirements. You have limited choices in where and how you interact with others.
As an adult, you have choices. I’ve never been a great exam-taker. Somehow I did well on the college and grad school entrance exams. But in graduate school, I was an adult. I could ask my professors for options to write papers instead of taking exams. Many said yes.
Once in the work force, you have even more options. You’re exposed to broader views. You can spend time with a partner, go to lots of parties, and hang out at bars. You can remain happily single and spend your Saturday nights curled up with your cat. You can take painting classes, work out at the gym, and/or join a sports league…and that’s just the beginning.
You’re also going to be molded by experience. You’ll take on different kinds of jobs. You’ll move to different locations. You’ll meet new friends. Your old friends change: they get married, get divorced, develop new interests and experience highs and lows of ordinary living.
Additionally you learn new things. You gain confidence as you master new skills. You grow from experiencing success, failure and everything in between. You discover your strengths – and you have more scope for expanding strengths.
The whole premise of comparing your present self to your young self seems misguided. It makes more sense to ask every day, “If I could do anything, what would I do? What would I like to change in my life?”
It makes even more sense to ask, “What kind of personality would I like to have? Vivacious? Quiet? Hesitant? Outgoing? Confidenet?” and then follow up with, “How can I get there?”
It has to be one of the misguided articles in the New York Times. Covid’s Risk to Older Adults by David Leonhardt.
The article quotes Janet Baseman, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington and presumably an expert:
“I think the risk is not super high for relatively healthy and boosted people in their 70s,” Janet Baseman, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, told me. “I think it’s moderate at most.”
So what more do we need to know? This response echoes other comments from doctors about Covid-19. which I reported in this article. But if we stopped there, we’d have no story to fill the Times column-inches.
Baseman goes on to say “that if she were in her 70s, her primary worry would be getting moderately ill, needing standard medical care and not being able to get it at an overwhelmed hospital.”
Wait….being moderately ill isn’t the same as having moderate risk. Moderately ill patients are defined as needing hospital care but not “organ support..”
It’s not clear what’s meant by “moderate risk.” The only definition I could find refers to long-term health conditions that aren’t immediately life-threatening but could cause problems later, such as pre-diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
Regardless, we’ve got some muddy thinking here.
Even worse, the article lumps all 75-year-old women together. The author seems to have listened to “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” a few too many times. Many 75-year-old women have comorbidities. Many live in some form of assisted living or even nursing homes. Without controlling for those factors, the numbers are meaningless…and of no particular relevance to any 75-year-old reading this article. You have “older” people like Willie Murphy, the body-builder who attacked a burglar in her home. You have people like the late Olga Kotelko, who died at 93 a few weeks after competing in track and field events. You have thousands of men and women competing in senior games…and even more who are healthy and trying to stay that way, despite the best efforts of their doctors.
The 75-year-old women I know are less concerned of dying from Covid than of living long enough to end up in nursing homes, where 25-40% of the residents are abused. Every time an article gets published about the horrors of these homes, hundreds of readers write comments to express their wish for easier access to assisted dying.
They’re frustrated with doctors who treat them like children, catastrophize minor problems or dismissively ask, “What do you expect, at your age?” They’re tired of doctors who lack understanding of the physiology of people over 50 and who impose meaningless tests, such as EKG’s with an 80% false positive rate that were never intended for screening healthy people.
At a certain point in life people stop fearing death. They’re more concerned with how they will die and how to avoid. the tortures conceived by the medical industrial complex. After all, spies in World War II got cyanide pills they could use to avoid torture; nobody suggested they see a psychiatrist first. They knew torture when they saw it, and so do older people today.
Articles like this portray older people as uniformly weak and unhealthy. They make it difficult (if not impossible) for anyone over 6o to be taken seriously. I shudder to think how many well-meaning adult children will insist that their healthy parents take precautions that will do little to affect their health and well-being, but do more to take away meaning and happiness from the time they have left.
In an article appearing in the Washington Post, Teresa Guilarducci suggests that saving expenses can be as valuable for retirement as saving and investing money. That statement is true only if people invest those savings instead of spending on something else.
Anyway, this article seems unnecessarily cruel. Guilarducci uses the hook of Thanksgiving dinner: an extra piece of pecan pie can lead to diabetes (if it’s part of an overall pattern of overeating, she’s careful to say). And people with diabetes spend $3470 extra per year in medical costs, for a total of “nearly $160,000.” She doesn’t say if that’s before or after insurance kicks in. That’s 46 years x $3470. I don’t know how she gets that number. When did the extra expenses kick in? How long will this 55yo diabetic live? After a certain number of years, she’ll be dead, with zero medical expenses
Then the article says diabetes is ” largely preventable by eating right and staying active…”
True: many people have managed to avoid diabetes with diet and exercise. But for some it’s hereditary and there’s nothing that can be done. Additionally, getting access to “eating right” and exercise can require a certain level of income.
Ghilarducci then tacks on an extra warning to “take your medicine.” She’d do well to note that a high percentage of prescriptions are not necessary and may even be harmful.
The real culprit is the notion of retirement. I’ve written about this elsewhere. After a certain age (which can be as low as 45 in some industries) ageism takes over. It becomes difficult or impossible to get a job at market rates. Freelancers experience discrimination when it comes to referrals for gigs. Not everyone wants to retire.
Secondarily, the health care system makes it hard to refuse treatment, even with advance directives. You should be able to make decisions that will be binding even if your human proxy can’t be reached. You should be able to choose to die rather than face years of misery in a poorly staffed institution, where there’s a 25-40% chance of being abused.
Fifty-five is still on the young side. When you get to be in your seventies and eighties, not much will affect your all-cause mortality. Have another piece of pie and add the ice cream.
Responding to Medicine’s Wellness Conundrum, by Jessica Wapner, New Yorker, November 6, 2021.
The medical establishment tends to look at alternative vs mainstream medicine as separate entities with clearly delineated boundaries. Mainstream medicine – the kind supported by insurance and taught in medical school – claims to be supported by scientific research.
The truth is, many medical practices are prescribed by MDs and reimbursed by insurance, even when published research shows those practices are useless at best and even potentially harmful.
Research shows little benefit of annual medical exams and many screening tests, including annual mammography.
Millions of dollars are spent on useless heart surgeries and procedures, yet doctors resist offering less lucrative medication options. More millions have been spent on studies, which doctors still ignore. This article sums up recent findings.
Hospitals require pre-op screenings for outpatient surgery requiring only a local anesthetic; some even require an EKG, although research shows – to EKGs for screening asymptomatic patients – not to mention an 80% false positive.
Research consistently shows no difference in outcomes between screened and unscreened patients for these surgeries. Yet insurance – including Medicare – happily pays millions for these useless procedures.
They may be worse than useless. False positives lead to more unnecessary, sometimes invasive procedures.
A large number of doctors don’t even bother with research. They go by guidelines, which can be heavily influenced by pharma companies and which certainly don’t apply across the board.
Psychological studies frequently rely on self-reports, which should be regarded with suspicion. A 2021 report revealed 51% of women in medicine reported feeling burned out compared to 36% of men. How do we know the result isn’t due to actual burnout, but the possibility that women are more comfortable admitting they are burned out?
Similarly, a lot of research reports older people feel “happier” than younger people. I always suspect a cohort effect; people in the old days were brought up to be positive and avoid complaining.
Columnist Liz Ryan addressed this topic several years ago in this Forbes article. She got a call from someone who was in shock: “The headhunter actually told me the client said I was too old for this job.”
You can’t sue, as she points out.
Does a third party say a hiring manager made a single inappropriate comment? Forget it. “Failure to hire” is almost impossible to prove, unless the company hired someone who was totally unqualified.
“I hear more examples of age discrimination than I hear of sex discrimination, racial discrimination, and every other kind put together,” she says.
Liz speculates that employers don’t see older people as “nimble.” Or they view them “overqualified and likely to bolt the minute a better job comes along.
Her advice? When you understand “what business pain you solve and can talk to hiring managers about that pain, they can’t afford to ignore you.”
I’d say that is ridiculous.
Most of the time the hiring manager won’t even hear you. All they’ll hear is your age and all they’ll see are your wrinkles and gray hair. And not every job lends itself to a discussion of “pain points.”
She admits pain interviewing isn’t a cure, “but it’ll give you a focus and an edge that will make discrimination a non-factor in your job search.”
Discrimination will always be a factor. Even if you’re hired, your age will be visible, on the line, and open to discussion.
Dan Lyons wrote a book, Disruption, about his experiences working at Hubspot. He didn’t have to go through the hiring process in the normal way. The company president invited him to work with them in a special capacity.
But once on board, he encountered many age-based frustrations — everything from being assigned a workstation with a ball instead of a chair (he got them switched) to being ignored in favor of less experienced colleagues.
For instance, a New York Times business columnist wanted to interview the company president. Dan, an experienced journalist, knew the columnist. He offered to help prepare for the interview – a rare opportunity – to gain maximum positive exposure for the company. He was ignored, while the inexperienced younger staff planned the interview.
I don’t blame Liz Ryan for suggesting upbeat, positive approaches. When you’re presenting in major media or speaking formally, you are expected to share some of the “party line.” That’s what you get here: You can overcome these obstacles if you’re just sufficiently clever.
There’s really only one way to overcome job discrimination, especially age discrimination. That means not depending on getting hired by a company, where you have minimal control in the hiring process.
Start a side hustle and let it grow into a business. Even if you end up getting hired, keep up the side hustle.
Do you fail? No problem. You’ll get better or learn for next time. You’ll approach these jobs more confidently and frankly, you won’t care if they discriminate. You’ll be able to say confidently, “It’s their loss.”
Get a start with Chris Guillebeau’s book, Side Hustle. Hang out in coworking spaces and talk to people who navigated self-employment. Consider hiring a coach or consultant.
Most of all listen to your intuition. When I interviewed 12 people about their transition from corporation to self-employment, the one consistent piece of advice was, “Listen to your intuition.”
A lot of businesses find themselves drooling over the profit potential of the over-50 set. After all, those 55 and up have 41% of the buying power of all consumers, according to an article in Insider Radio. That amounts to $3.2 trillion annually. Yet, this article reports, consumers feel “shunned” by advertisers.
It’s not just big business. If you’re a financial planner, life coach, accountant, real estate agent, organizer, you’re among the many independent professionals who frequently target buyers in this age group or even older.
5 Ridiculously Common Mistakes Marketers Make When Targeting The Senior Population
As a copywriter, I’ve discovered that many people in those fields actually make marketing decisions that work against them in trying to reach this “senior” market.
(1) Making vast, unsupported generalizations about “older” people.
As people get older, they become more diverse, although they’re often lumped together as a target marketing segment. But you don’t need an expensive research study to figure this out.
You can make a lot of accurate predictions about teens based solely on age. A 15-year-old will be able to achieve very specific levels of fitness unless she’s been injured or seriously ill. She’s almost certainly attending school, living at home, and not concerned about having a heart attack.
You can make far fewer predictions about a 45-year-old. He might be retooling for a new career or in the prime of his current one he’s almost certainly working to earn money. He might be single, married, or divorced but rarely widowed. His kids could be anywhere from toddlers to college age. He could be in perfect health or seeing the first signs of chronic illness. But he could be a couch potato, in shape to play a pro sport, or anywhere in between.
Don’t bother making age-based predictions about a 65-year old you’ve never met.
If you go to any gym you’ll see people in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s who are training to run marathons. In the same gym, you’ll find people in the same age group who are decorously walking around a circle slowly in time to music. Some work at demanding jobs; some have retired. Some understand the complexities of the Internet; others can’t send an email.
There’s a common saying among geriatricians: “If you’ve seen one eighty-year-old, you’ve seen one eighty-year-old.” That applies to ages 50, 60, and 70 also.
Unfortunately, when you assume you’re writing to one type of “senior” audience, you’ll thoroughly alienate the others who will resent the identification.
(2) Confusing age effects with cohort effects.
We often hear things like, “Older people can’t use technology.”
Someone who’s turning 70 this year will have grown up with computers. She’s using social media, building WordPress sites, and texting.
Someone who turns 70 in another ten years won’t remember an age before smartphones.
A local magazine introduces a “resources for seniors” section with a photo of a gray-haired lady clutching an old-fashioned desk telephone. I don’t know where they found one to use in the photoshoot.
(3) Don’t refer to sixty-five as a retirement age.
Many people want to keep working their whole lives. When you assume an “older” person is retired. You can’t make assumptions about work status based on any age above twelve.
(4) Assuming your offer won’t appeal to people a lot older than you are.
Assume people of all ages will be interested in your offer, unless you have a good reason to exclude them overtly. I know a number of business owners, fifty and over, who work with coaches half their age. These days people of all ages look for recreational activities based on their interest, not their age.
(5) Referring to an older woman as “grandma.”
They’re everywhere, and they’re truly cringeworthy: “the kind of sweater your grandma would wear,” or “language you can use in front of a grandma.”
Not all women above a certain age have children, let alone grandchildren. All too often, they’re wearing the same clothes as your disreputable teenage daughter. And more and more of them are swearing like sailors.
The “senior” market can be extremely lucrative, especially for certain categories of travel and finance.
But a number of independent professionals could find happy clients among this population. There’s often no need to target them, as more and more people over fifty see themselves as ageless. The key is to avoid giving offense by stereotyping and stigmatizing.
Cathy Goodwin is a copywriter and marketing strategist, helping small businesses find and tell their story. She’s working on a book, When I Get Old, I Plan To Be A Bitch.