Madonna turns 60: Why she's more relevant than ever

AARP's Patricia Lippe Davis shares insights for marketers about women over the age of 60.

Since she first burst onto the cultural scene in the early 1980s with her signature hair ribbon, armful of black rubber bracelets and instantly iconic pop songs, Madonna has spent her career challenging expectations and preconceived notions about women. 

Now she’s going to do the same for women over 60.

Madonna’s 60th birthday is today (August 16) and will be a major pop culture event. Here’s why marketers should take note.

The power of 60-plus women
Women age 60+ represent a major opportunity for marketers because of the demographic’s size and spending power.

Americans age 60-69 represent the nation’s fastest-growing age bracket. Currently at 37 million, the 60-69 demographic is expected to grow by an additional four million in the next 20 years, while 20-somethings will decline by over 800,000. Meanwhile, after years of dramatic growth, the spending power of 50+ females now accounts for an astonishing 27 percent of all consumer spending.

Today’s 60-plus women, however, are markedly different than past generations. Marketers must understand these women in order to reach them with effective messages. At 60, Madonna exemplifies many things marketers need to know about this key demographic.

What Madonna shows us
In a recent interview with New York Magazine’s The Cut,  Madonna reflected, "In the beginning of my career, I got so much flak for using sexuality as part of my creativity…What I am going through now is ageism...I mean, who made those rules? Who says? I'm going to keep fighting it. Ten to 20 years from now, it’s going to be normal. People are going to shut up."

Madonna isn’t the first or only celebrity to refuse to conform to society’s image of how women of a certain age should behave. Other women turning 60 this year include Sharon Stone, Joan Jett, Andie MacDowell and Angela Bassett.  These women are also breaking ground as sexy, vibrant women who refuse to make concessions to age.

These celebrities are not really that different from other women their age. In fact, we find that, like Madonna, women over 60 in general aren’t ready to retreat from life either.

Here are three things marketers can learn from Madonna about women ages 60-plus:
They are actively involved with their children and grandchildren. Madonna is a hands-on mother to her young children, who range in age from five to 21. 

While other women her age might not be self-professed "soccer moms" running after two 12-year-olds and five-year-old twins, women of Madonna’s generation are highly engaged with their children and grandchildren. They may have their adult children living with them at home, and also embrace their roles as "enhanced grandparents," staying actively involved in their grandchildren’s lives.

They seek new adventures. Madonna recently embarked on a new life in Portugal, telling The Cut, "I keep pushing myself into uncomfortable positions and taken [sic] risks. I moved to Lisbon with my four children. I could have stayed in NYC with my comfortable life, but I didn’t. If you keep putting yourself in challenging, new adventurous situations, then you keep yourself alive and youthful."

Women in their 60s might not be moving to new countries, performing onstage or starring in spreads in Vogue Italia, but they are seeking new adventures, whether it's traveling, learning new skills or exploring new career opportunities. In fact, nearly half (40 percent) of the 60-plus demographic is still working and, according to MRI (Market Research Institute), earning on average $61,500 annually, which is well above the national average.

They are passionate about making a difference. A devoted philanthropist, Madonna recently announced a fundraiser in honor of her 60th birthday benefiting the nonprofit she founded, Raising Malawi. She says, "For my birthday, I can think of no better gift than connecting my global family with this beautiful country and the children who need our help most." Other women her age are also committed to supporting charities and social causes. In fact, a new study found that Boomers gave the most to charity -- contributions of $58.6 billion were given to nonprofits last year, with the average age of donors at 64.

The bottom line
Since the launch of her eponymous debut album in 1983, Madonna has been challenging audiences to reconsider their views of women. As she continues to reinvent herself, fight ageism and break new ground, the occasion of Madonna’s 60th birthday is a great time for marketers to rethink how they view women ages 60 and up.

By paying attention to Madonna's example, marketers can better reach this active, engaged demographic. These efforts will have a positive impact on their bottom lines, also something to celebrate.

Patricia Lippe Davis is the VP of marketing for AARP Media Sales.

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