Over the past few years, I’ve attended many ‘50 years young’ celebrations for girlfriends. What I’m seeing and hearing from women approaching the big 5-0 is the almost primal need to rediscover and reshape their sense of identity—the search for new individuality. No longer are women preparing to slow life down and settle into retirement. Rather, there is an energy and excitement for the possibilities that the future holds and the power women feel they have over their journey into their next coming.
These days when I speak to women who are entering mid-life, whether moderating friendship groups, during ethnographies, and especially when reading journaling exercises, I see this once mostly ignored consumer group emerging as a true force that will bring about a cultural shift in how we perceive and value aging women. Today, women approaching their late 40s are looking both inward and outward, and deciding not to let life unfold as it has for generations before. Instead, they are stoking the fire within and embracing their dreams with an almost childlike enthusiasm and optimism as they follow their hearts on a journey of reinvention and revitalization.
Let’s have a look at some of the currents that are fueling this desire for mid-life reinvention.
In 1976, only 47% of women were in the workforce, but today close to 70% of women work! And we know work provides a sense of community, independence and self-worth. Dual income families rose similarly during this same period, from 36% in 1976 to 69% in 2015 .
A 2004 AARP study showed that 66% of women over 40 are instigating divorce, often taking their husbands by surprise. And Stats Canada shows that divorce among those 50 to 64 years was up by 40% in this same period. At the same time, divorce is in decline among younger women. And it’s not just happening here in North America. It appears to be a global movement of women taking back their independence—the US, UK, France, and Japan are all seeing divorce among older adults on a significant rise. I wish I could have found stats that were more current, but if my community of women friends is any indication, I would bet these stats are holding today and likely on the rise.
I’m a sucker for Cuba Gooding Jr. but really, this generation of women over 50 are part of the lucky generation that is going to inherit their fair share of close to $750 billion over the next 10 years. Imagine the impact of an independent-minded woman, who is re-envisioning herself, with money to spend the way she wants to spend it!
Today, when I connect with this passionate generation of women, both in my work and personal life, they are eager to talk about plans to return to school, start businesses, revive old passions, embrace their fears, and step into unexplored territory. I feel the palpable excitement of the plans and possibilities for carving out a new path toward renewed self-identity. It’s an energy and excitement that is infectious and is spreading, as women share their dreams and aspirations with one another.