Middle aged women enjoying their time alone

May 15

There’s an increasing need for companies to look carefully at catering to older Japanese. There are already 16 million households over 65, of whom more than 5 million live alone. With the number of permanently single people in their 40s and 50s continuing to grow, this is a new, important segment and one that’s not going to disappear over the next two decades. But what do they want?

Single, older people are the wave of the future. According to forecasts formulated late last year, the number of households where the head is 65 or older will expand from 16.2 million in 2010 to 20.2 million by 2035. This means that older households, which already make up more than 30% of the total, will account for 40.8% in the next 20 years. This is an amazing statistic and one that emphasises how  consumption will become dominated by seniors  in coming years. Even the country’s main marketing journal has recently introduced special sections on ‘Senior Business’.

One of the ways consumer demographics will further change is the increasing number of single person households. By 2035, 7.62 million of these older households will be single people living alone, a market segment all of its own. Catering to active, in many cases reasonably well off, consumers looking for entertainment and fulfilling ways to spend their later years is an opportunity to be grabbed.

A recent survey of 1,000 single women currently aged 45-54, the so-called ‘around 50s’, examined how they saw their consumption patterns now and in coming years. In the survey an overwhelming 68% said that living independently would be their main goal even when they got old. Not all of these women have given up on a long-term relationship, but the vast majority have indeed given up on marriage and actually want to remain single.

The survey found that the most popular pastimes were reading and watching movies or listening to music at home. Those earning more than ¥4 million a year also liked sports and fitness and musicals or live performances.

For consumption related activities, the most popular for this age group now is eating out with friends (see Chart). Online shopping came a reasonably close second, followed by desserts, socialising with relatives, fashion and home cooking. A quarter also like to eat out alone, with around the same proportion, just 24.5%, saying they enjoyed shopping.

Even in their 40s, 58% said they had already begun thinking about their own health and welfare in old age, at the very least beginning to budget for their later years. Although only speculative, respondents said their ideal lifestyle in old age would be more relaxed, living alone but socialising a lot. Fewer thought they’d spend as much time shopping online, or buying fashion, and cosmetics use drops completely off the radar – although plenty of companies will still bet that single older women will want to spend on youth creams.

Most said they look forward to more home cooking, but also eating out alone more too. They would like to travel more, and generally enjoy all the freedom they don’t currently have because work takes up so much time.

More companies are looking to understand the senior market, including the current 50 year olds who will soon become the next round of retirees. It will be a major shift in marketing to target this new segment, possibly requiring completely separate marketing strategies and even entirely new products, but the size and importance of the market means it is inevitable that more companies will focus on it. What seniors want more than anything else, whether single or not, is a life lived on their own terms, with opportunities for companionship even if they want to actually live alone. Companies helping to provide this should do well.