Census data reveal a new, masculine trend in eldercare

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Nina Dunn
Nina Dunn
It is a well-known fact that our nation is aging rapidly. However, a recently released census brief "Age and Sex Composition: 2010" revealed remarkable findings. The study found that in the last decade, the male population grew much faster than the female population in the 60-plus age group. The number of males between the ages of 60 and 74 increased by more than 35%, while their female counterparts increased by only 29%.

As the life expectancy of men reaches that of women, it will, for the first time, create a gender balance among our seniors. This newly found equality — paired with the shift toward smaller families that the country has experienced over the past six decades — will alter the dynamic of caregiving from a primarily female burden to a shared responsibility.

By the end of 2009, nearly 40% —or more than 17 million — of adults who provided care to ill and elderly family members were men, up from 19% in 1996. In addition, over the same period, more men than women provided long-distance care. This data leads one to expect that the number of men who roll up their sleeves and provide care for their aging loved ones will only continue to grow.

This demographic swing creates new opportunities for eldercare companies looking to expand beyond their traditional customer base. Today's male caregivers are among the most affluent consumers. The boomer generation accounts for the highest median weekly income, and boomer men, in particular, spend over $1 trillion yearly, according to Natural Marketing Institute. Sheer demographics alone will necessitate that in the coming years, smart businesses involved in long-term care will need to start winning the loyalty and spending power of male caregivers.

If you decide to engage this growing audience, it is vital before developing any marketing strategies to understand that men and women approach caregiving responsibilities differently. This will require distinct messages to attract and keep their attention.

New needs for men

When men assume the role of caregiver, they are being forced to deal with problems they have never faced before, from providing or coordinating care to organizing daily activities for their spouses or aging parents. Unaccustomed to new responsibilities, men are more likely than their female counterparts to delegate these duties or hire outside assistance. Also, significantly more men continue working full-time, while providing care for their ill or aging loved ones.

Many male caregivers are uncomfortable and even embarrassed about helping their sick wives or aging parents with daily activities and personal hygiene. They often feel irritable and angry for not being able to fix every problem associated with caregiving.

Family caregivers often feel isolated, and this is especially true for male caretakers. As society expects them to always be confident and brave, men struggle with sharing their experiences with co-workers, friends and healthcare professionals. They are also unfamiliar with the programs and services available to support them through these difficult times, and as a result, they often internalize their problems, leading to their own health issues.

Today, males already represent a substantial segment of caregiving market, and as the 2010 census confirms, this number is set to increase. However, most eldercare companies still disproportionately target females, often alienating male caregivers. Long-term providers who want to tap into this growing market will need to create male-centric or unisex messages with relevant images.

Stronger branding required

Boomer men are attracted to well-known brands and are willing to spend more for trusted names. So, the first, and maybe the most crucial, step on the way to winning the hearts of this audience is to raise your brand recognition and position your company as an expert in the industry. To establish your company as a trusted and credible expert, you will need to select your niche: you can't be everything to everybody. Your LTC business can specialize in long-distance care or helping husbands care for their terminally ill wives, but whatever your eldercare services or products, you should be the best. Your marketing campaign will reinforce your priorities and establish you as the go-to source on everything in that field.

Mature men are experienced and choosy consumers: the majority of men avoid advertising (51% of men skip TV ads), and they see through nearly all promotional materials (34% of men trash direct mailings before reading them). Marketers who target male caregivers should either get creative or consider taking advantage of another communications tactic, such as public relations.

Receiving publicity for your brand in reputable media is not easy, but having your company positively featured on the evening news, in print articles or even in documentaries is the most effective way to communicate with men who are caregivers. This means looking beyond trade media to publications that men read every day. This could be business newspapers, sports magazines or other special interest outlets. 

Another way to reach male caregivers is through positive word of mouth. Peer recommendations are still considered one of the most influential ways to connect with your target audience. Today, word of mouth includes viral videos, blogs and social media, and gives an opportunity to generate third-party endorsements that are more credible than traditional forms of marketing. LTC providers should engage with male caregivers where they are open to conversations — on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or even LinkedIn.

Even though men and women resent stereotypes, essential gender differences that affect how we search for information and select an eldercare option can play a key role in the success of LTC companies.

The 2010 census figures reflect the social changes that eldercare providers will face in the coming years. We can expect that more men will get involved in providing care for their aging loved ones, and as they age, they will become care recipients themselves. LTC companies that recognize these demographic shifts, understand the needs of male caregivers and effectively market to this affluent audience have a unique opportunity to dominate this eldercare sector.

Nina Dunn is a communications and media relations specialist at Spector & Associates, a New York-based public relations firm specializing in healthcare and technology. She can be followed at @Spector_Health.

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