What Does Generation Midult Want?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you too will be a midult some day.
Don’t talk to Laura Gaffney about millennials — she’s heard enough, thank you very much. That’s because she can’t escape them. No matter which magazine she opens or TV channel she surfs to, it’s always “millennials, millennials, millennials!” The 49-year-old San Francisco–based vice president for publishing and biz dev at Prohaska Consulting doesn’t want to read about Cosmo’s “Position of the Day” or “Top 10 Bootie Shorts,” but that doesn’t mean this Gen Xer is ready to swap cocktails for cocoa.
Instead, please think of her as a midult. “It’s a term for someone who’s middle age but doesn’t want to be thought of as a senior,” she says. But she can’t find any content that resonates with her. “I’m at a time in my life where my kids are grown and I can do things for me again,” she says. “I’m tech-savvy, I have disposable income. … Why is every publication targeting millennials or sending me adverts for hearing aids?”
Gaffney is not an outlier: She’s part of the growing number of Gen Xers who feel underserved when it comes to content, digital or otherwise. Gaffney belongs to the generation born between 1965 and 1980, give or take (opinions vary). In the U.S., this demographic bulge numbers about 66 million, or 10 million fewer than millennials, but it wields the most spending power of all generations — and it’s feeling left out. In response, a number of digital properties have been created specifically for the digitally savvy midult movement. These include The Pool, created in 2015 and based in London, and a pair of 2016 launches, The Midult, also from London and Maximum Middle Age (MMA), straight outta Prospect, Kentucky. “We may be old, but we ain’t dead yet,” reads the About page on MMA’s site. “Just because you live past the age of 30 doesn’t mean you stop caring about pop culture and beauty and style and women’s issues.”
“The numbers on your birth certificate should not dictate the way you live or dress.” — Emma Peach, Style Splash blogger
“Anyone over 35 is interested in the same things as a younger audience is but through a different lens,” says Eve Vawter, 47, MMA’s founding editor. On her website you’ll find coloring book pages for Badass Divorcees, an ode to The Bachelor and a recipe for ketchup cupcakes. She tackles real issues too: how to deal with aging parents, reentering the workforce as a “mature” person and managing living alone. “We’re less interested in what a 25-year-old celebrity is wearing than we are in the person who made the dress,” she says. Vawter created the site to address the frustration she felt from continually reading content that ignored her generation.
And it’s not just mainstream media that ignores midults; the fashion blogging world is famous for fetishizing youth. When Style Splash’s Emma Peach started blogging at 41, she felt intimidated by all the flawless 20-something bloggers. But that’s exactly why she needed to blog — to get her views out there. “The numbers on your birth certificate should not dictate the way you live or dress,” she says. “You can wear what you want at any age.” With firebox red hair and a penchant for pencil skirts and heels, she’s happy to render beige cardigan stereotypes obsolete.
She’s part of a new community of bloggers with the tagline: “For bloggers above 30 who don’t just want to talk about parenting.” In May 2016, Peach drove from her home in Cheshire to London for the first 30-40+ blogger meetup and discussed ageism and style over Champagne and cupcakes. Present were blogging luminaries from Not Dressed as a Lamb and The Mutton Club. Peach left with a gift bag stuffed with Burt’s Bees products and Laura Geller makeup — free samples provided by the companies. “Brands are starting to realize that [older] bloggers are becoming a major influence,” she says. “After all, Gen X has more disposable income.”
And Gen X has more life experience too, not just in midlife career changes and exotic holidays but under the sheets. They’re the most active generation on Tinder, with 66 percent of all users age 34 and older, according to IBISWorld. Studies show they have more sexual partners than millennials too. “Just because you’re a certain age doesn’t mean you don’t care about nail polish or know what Beyoncé’s up to,” Vawter says. “Older women are using Instagram, and everyone watches the same shows on HBO and Netflix.”
Data backs up the MMA founder. According to GlobalWebIndex, 81 percent of midults have Facebook accounts, compared to 88 percent of millennials, and they’re just as likely to own an iPad or a Kindle. Ninety-two percent have cellphones compared to 95 percent of millennials, and early Gen X adopters — unlike their younger cohorts — actually can afford to buy the tech that appeals to them. Vawter has preordered a VR headset, and Gaffney is checking out the Tesla Model 3.
But do midults really need new media outlets when, arguably, some already exist? Over the past few years, AARP The Magazine has gone from staid and fussy to cover shoots of Dr. Dre (2015) and Cyndi Lauper (2016). And the redesign of Good Housekeeping in 2013 makes it a sassier destination. But Gaffney says these brands still are associated with “the olds,” and there’s no primary destination for her demo. And if new websites such as Vocativ and — dare we say it? — OZY can carve a path for millennials, why shouldn’t midults have new spaces too? As Mark Twain noted, “Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.”