OPINION19 August 2022

Nothing but a number: What age tells us

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Crawford Hollingworth examines what age can tell researchers, and where its limitations lie.

black and white image on an older buinsess woman taking a phone call at her desk

We watch David Attenborough, who is well into his 90s. We see Naomi Campbell – a new mother aged 50-plus – walk down the catwalk with girls less than half her age. In these cases, and many more, chronological age has little relevance and reflects only the passage of time.

Despite such salient role models and heroes, our industry can still be over-reliant on chronological age to guide consumer research and recruitment. Many researchers believe there is a need for a more sensitive and enlightened approach to thinking about age, and to give more weight to factors such as lifestyle, quality of life, experience, life stage and even how old people feel, rather than how many years we’ve been around.

A recent review found that a lot of research is still conducted using chronological age. Yet, we’ve known for ever such a long time that chronological age is an unhelpful way of categorising people; in fact, many in the industry now ...