My friend Gina loves to joke that she’ll receive her AARP card while her kids are still in elementary school. (AARP cards are infamous for showing up in U.S. mailboxes on or around someone’s 50th birthday.) In case you’re doing the math, Gina gave birth in her late 30s and early 40s. She enjoys the thought of getting messages for retirement at a life stage when she’s still hosting action-hero themed birthday parties and saving for college tuition. For marketers, the implications are more serious. Gina is a perfect example of how relying on age to define someone’s lifestyle and spending patterns can be misleading, especially when it comes to women.

Women often go through similar experiences throughout their lives, but not necessarily at the same ages. We joke that “50 is the new 40” and “40 is the new 30,” but there is substance behind those clichés. Household formation and marriage now occur later in life. The average age of first marriage for women in the U.S. is now nearly 27-years-old. In many countries, the average age at a first birth is close to 30 or higher. Purchasing decisions are typically based on the context of what’s happening in people’s lives at any given moment, and not necessarily their chronological age (with the notable exception of biology-related medical products.) Never has this been more true than today.

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