Marketing to Seniors: The Weight of Time Affluence

January 29, 2024


“Time” is a universal commodity. It is a limited resource everyone must work with. During our working (and child-rearing) years, time is at a premium, because demands for our time are great, with little precious time for leisure and relaxation.

Then comes retirement…

Like a tidal wave, new retirees are awash with leisure time. Call it time affluence – time without demands on how one’s time must be spent.

7.5 Hours of Free Time a Day

According to a 2016 Merrill Lynch/Age Wave study, retired Americans, 65+, are suddenly endowed a boatload of leisure time to fill – 7.5 hours a day, giving them the freedom and flexibility to do what they want, when they want to do it.[1]

However, this influx of sudden free time may not be all that great! At least, not at first. We may crave the freedom of unlimited time, but most of us function better with defined boundaries, structures, and deadlines. Furthermore, for many, their identity had been defined by their work and families. After all, how often have you asked a new acquaintance what they did, anticipating they would tell you about their primary vocation, whether that was work, child-rearing or whatever else might constitute a time-consuming commitment?

A 2021 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study found having too much time can cause adverse effects. Too much time is linked to lower subjective well-being.[2] So, how much is too much leisure time? According to a 2015 Gallup poll, the threshold appears to be around five hours per day at which point a person’s level of happiness begins to decrease.[3] Who woulda thunk?

Savvy Marketers Can Come to the Rescue!

While it is safe to assume most retirees reach an equilibrium at some point as they come to terms with their new-found time affluence, that first year or so can be pretty tough. But it can be good news for marketers, if they can help retirees fill the void created by the absence of their careers and settle into their new lives! And these new retirees can afford the help. Boomers transitioning into retirement are bringing an estimated $4.6-trillion dollars with them over the next two decades.[4]

So, how can marketers profit by helping seniors transition into retirement? Here are three areas to investigate:

  1. Enhanced Relationships: According to the Merrill Lynch/Age Wave study mentioned above, retirees place a premium on relationships. Who they spend time with (61%) is far more important than what they do (39%).[5] They simply want to be with family and friends. Whether it is participation in competitive sports, playing with grandchildren, or watching TV together, retirees thrive when spending time with others. Marketers who can deliver products or services that enhance retirees’ relationships will find willing customers.
  2. Self-Discovery: As recent retirees transition from their self-perceptions which had previously been defined by careers, etc., they may feel unsettled, bored, and maybe even guilty about not using their newfound time affluence productively. This can lead to a new focus on self-discovery; that is, how their lives can be redefined by their new reality. That redefinition can lead to interest in new activities that provide personal growth, whether it be a new hobby, a new focus on personal health, leisure travel, or a fresh commitment to volunteerism.
  3. The “Bucket List”: Most retirees have certain things they want to do, from international travel to taking up a new hobby to learning a new language – bucket-list items. Their new wealth of time provides new opportunities to begin checking these items off their bucket lists. The incentive to address these desires makes retirees receptive prospects for marketers who can help them achieve their bucket-list goals.

Experiences, Not “Things”

There is a consistent thread that runs through these observations: they are experiential. Generally speaking, retirees already have acquired most of the physical possessions they want in life – a house, home furnishings, car(s), apparel, etc. Consequently, they tend to be more focused on self-discovery and are more apt to spend their money on experiences, like travel, education, entertainment, or simply doing things with family and friends.

By identifying and providing ways to help retirees pursue these avenues to fill their newly found leisure time, marketers can enjoy this fertile customer segment for decades to come.

[1] Leisure in Retirement: Beyond the Bucket List; Merrill Lynch/Age Wave; ©2016 Bank of America

[2] Sharif, M.A., Mogilner, C., Hershfield, H.E.; “Having too much or too little time is linked to lower subjective well-being;” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 2021

[3] Lashbrooke, Barnaby; “This Is The Key To Achieving ‘Time Affluence’;” 2022

[4] Leisure in Retirement: Beyond the Bucket List; Merrill Lynch/Age Wave; ©2016 Bank of America

[5] Ibid.