How We Visually Portray People Over 50 Is Changing (Finally), but There's More to Be Done

The search for more authentic representations of aging

SilviaJansen/Getty Images

Here are the facts: Adults 50 and up are living increasingly full lives. They're working longer, starting businesses later, raising children of all ages and serving as caregivers themselves. They're physically active and embrace technology, because—here's the catch—age is a number, not a lifestyle. Everyone drinks coffee. Everyone spends time with friends. Everyone loves. Their lives are just as multidimensional as someone in their 30s or 40s. 

But you wouldn't always know that from some of the imagery that surrounds us. Like the older man in his well-worn recliner, or the woman smiling, seated next to her grandchild. Both feature ageist stereotypes which couldn't be further from the reality of aging today.

The good news? We're moving away from that. Slowly but surely—both in terms of what we at Getty Images are making available and what's in demand. In terms of the latter, a brief look at our top-selling images of "senior/s" over the past decade reveals a positive trend away from such stereotypes and toward real, authentic representations of aging. 

I'm referring to the fact that in 2008, the top-selling image of "seniors" on was of a Caucasian couple looking fondly into the distance—a stereotypical, "go-to" retirement image, both in subject matter and in setting. But in 2018, our top-seller featured a group of senior female friends practicing yoga together—a group of older women socializing, demonstrating their physical fitness and also enjoying themselves. By tying into concepts related to friendship, activity, community and fun, we achieved something more relevant to a modern audience, and customers noticed and responded in kind. 

What we're also seeing is that the demand for content featuring the "over 50" set more generally is on the increase, and we couldn't be more pleased. We can see this in the changes in search data over the last year alone. Not just in searches related to people being more physically active, but also being more active in business, highlighting intellectual interaction and positive mental health. This is also reflected in the content that our customers choose to license—again, a meaningful trend gaining ground. 

For instance, searches for "diverse seniors" saw a 250 percent increase year-over-year from June 2018 to June 2019. "Seniors having fun" similarly saw a 165 percent increase over the same period, whereas "senior exercise" spiked 158 percent and "senior selfie" was up 238 percent. Taken together, the interest in this kind of relatable, authentic content is clear. Which means we need more of it.

No single U.S. organization knows the 50+ community better than AARP, which is why we partnered with them to build The Disrupt Aging Collection, a collection of 1,000-plus images depicting aging in a positive and inclusive way. Our aim? To make more authentic content available to further fuel the demand we're seeing. More of a good thing, you might say. 

But we also know the power visuals have to fuel brand growth, as well. Thanks to AARP's research, we know that two-thirds of adults aged 50 and up believe media images are ageist, and 80 percent of the same group said marketers assume their lifestyle based on stereotypes. Those surveyed simply didn't feel heard or seen—with 51 percent of women aged 50 and up stating they felt "invisible" in ads. That last figure is particularly striking when you consider that visuals that authentically reflect and include the audiences they serve are more successful from a brand standpoint, as well. 

Given that there are 114 million Americans over the age of 50 contributing roughly $7.6 trillion in annual spending, brands can't afford to miss an opportunity to communicate and resonate with this audience. In this way, authentic visuals are not just a nice to have, they're a need. 

Here's the call to action, moving forward: Let's continue to actively produce and choose imagery which all at once combats ageism and dispels stereotypes. Let's make the top selling "senior" images of 2020 and beyond ones which take things even further in terms of diversity and inclusivity. Let's move the trend forward and upward.

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Rebecca Swift
Rebecca Swift is global head of creative insights at Getty Images.

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