Since Roman times, we have conceptualized various stages of the human life cycle. In 17th century New England, those stages consisted of childhood, youth, middle age, and old age. By the late 19th century, it was no longer “youth” but adolescence, which led to the popularization of the term “teenager” in the 1950s.
The way we’ve defined life stages has changed as society has changed. As we moved from an agrarian society to the modern workforce, the economic underpinnings holding a family together were no longer present in the same way. Which means that we now define adulthood as independence — moving out of the family home to strike out on your own.
Where we once had “old age,” which encompassed retirement, the gold watch, a move to Florida and a quick decline, we have entered a new era, one of the New Life Stage, which stands between adulthood and old age. Meanwhile, “old age” is split into two subcategories — Slowing Down and Service Needy, which are dependent on health and mobility.
Because we are living longer, healthier lives (on the whole), we have more productive, generative years, and this gives rise to the New Life Stage. As opposed to feeling shuttled through a series of obligations, the New Life Stage offers a moment to step back and to decide if things are on the right path. We are no longer satisfied with survival; we want to thrive.
The New Life Stage is full of paradoxes. We can no longer depend on pensions or be satisfied by a single role at a particular corporation, carrying us from adulthood to retirement. Most of us will jump from company to company, or even from career to career. As we make those transitions in our work lives, we might also experience them in our personal lives too — both bankruptcy and divorce are on the rise for those 50 years older and up.
That might sound negative, but the key takeaway is that the New Life Stage is a time of great shifts and opportunities. What’s driving those shifts is partially economic instability and partially the pursuit of happiness. This is when people start yearning for purpose — what does it all mean? And it’s certainly not a time when anyone feels old.
In fact, that’s the point. It’s time for innovators to discard their outdated notions of the 50+ crowd and explore who they are, what they’re going through and what they want. Once someone becomes service-needy, or has truly lost their independence, the New Life Stage no longer applies. But there could be thirty or even forty years of the “New Life Stage” before that happens, which is a long stretch to miss as marketers and creators.
No matter your age, don’t let yourself be blinded by these preconceptions. If this New Life Stage applies to you, find ways to explore purpose in life. It’s not only meaningful, but has noticeable health benefits. And if you’re looking to create something for this cohort, open your eyes to who they are, not who you think they are, and offer them something they want.