We’ve always said that women in our age group are multi-dimensional and difficult to stereotype, though God knows everyone tries. A new Nielsen study demonstrates this, at the same time it confirms some disappointing facts about the culture’s treatment of women over 50.
The study, Shattering Stereotypes: How Today’s Women Over 50 are Redefining What’s Possible On-Screen, At Work and At Home,” the latest installment in the Nielsen’s Diverse Intelligence Series, pinpoints the most watched TV shows by older women.
Among our favorites are shows that are popular across age ranges, including Bridgerton, The Crown, and WandaVision. Netflix’s Grace and Frankie and Virgin River uniquely landed in the top 10 for women over 65.
We also are big on shows that let us see some competition, including the stereotype-busting Sunday Night Football, red carpet events, talent shows and the Jeopardy all-star specials. “The TV tastes of older women are anything but stereotypical—or monolithic,” commented Rebecca Sun in The Hollywood Reporter.
When Nielsen divided preferences by race they found that Black women over 50 were most likely watching weekly NFL kickoffs, talent competitions, and primetime dramas with Black female leads. Asian women watched the most news-related programs, compared to their counterparts from other racial or ethnic backgrounds. White women were least likely to watch news programs. “This suggests that when white women are tuning in, they are looking for entertainment to escape the day’s headlines,” the report stated.
Watching TV More…
The pandemic has certainly had an impact on our viewing habits. From January 2020 to January 2021, usage of internet-connected devices during primetime grew 41 percent among women 50 to 64 and 51 percent among women 65 and older.
The discouraging element of the study shows that women like us are still not seeing ourselves on screen in meaningful ways. Men are on-screen more than women (62 percent screen time vs. 38 percent), even though women make up more than half of the U.S. population. But for women over age 50, who represent 20 percent of the population, the share of time on-screen plummets to just eight percent.
This means that women our age are 60 percent less likely to see themselves in programming than they are walking around town.
…And Seeing Ourselves Less
“In the world of TV programming, middle-aged women are largely absent, and when they are present on-screen, they most often appear in stereotypical roles,” the report finds. “Reflective of the ageism in many parts of our media culture, we found that when women over 50 are cast in shows, the stories often center around matriarchal and motherly themes.”
What makes it a bit more painful is that younger women on screen are being shown in more realistic and/or positive ways. The top themes for programming that includes younger women are intrigue, getting away, mysterious situations, interviews, and custody disputes. Plus, among the top cable shows, viewers were three times more likely to see men over 50 than women over 50.
“Women 50+ rarely see themselves in content,” the report states, “and when they do, they often find a reflection of a woman that doesn’t match their multi-faceted relevance or reality.”
We say bring on more shows like Grace and Frankie. NextTribe is certainly trying to help that happen. Last Fall, 12 NextTribe women presented their ideas for TV shows to Marta Kauffman, the co-creator of Friends and Grace and Frankie, who is on the look out for voices and themes that aren’t often represented on television. We’re hoping that very soon we’ll be seeing a show (or two!) that reflects the sensibility and experience of a NextTribe reader just like you.