Consumer Insights: Understanding Women’s Life Stages

April 20, 2016 Patricia West Doyle


Understanding the underlying needs of a consumer during different life stages greatly impacts how you communicate the benefits of your product, from advertising to all product design cues.

While cohorts and life-stages are often considered stereotypes (and you will always find individuals who do not fit neatly into them) they present a broad narrative insight into a large group of consumers – a group who might be your target consumer.

While much is published on various cohorts – Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials being the primary groups on everyone’s radar – another important element of deeply understanding your target consumer is an understanding of their life-stage.

The Differentiation of Life-stages Compared to Age

Life-stage is different than age bracket or cohort. Life-stages are life-event dependent. And while life events do often correspond to age, there are many events that are more age independent, especially with the diversity in modern lifestyles.

This difference between age and life stage became apparent to me in talking with mothers of toddlers. Take this example:

  • 20 year old working woman with a primary care of a 2 year old (cohort Millennial)
  • 32 year old working woman with a primary care of a 2 year old (cohort Gen X)
  • 55 year old working woman with primary care of a 2 year old (cohort Baby Boomer; yes, many have primary care of grandchildren)

These three women actually have more life needs in common than basic age breaks or cohort analysis would indicate.

Let's examine 5 main life stages of adult women to gain a further understanding how we can design and position our products to meet their needs:


In Self-Discovery, life is in the present with a sense of invincibility and the belief all things are possible. "I can do or be anything." The primary need of this life stage is to find out who I really am and what I want to do with my life. This life stage is about independence – completing the separation from parents, yet often bonding with other females, a new tribe. There can be a sense of wildness (counter culture beliefs/dress, figuring out gender and partnerships) and/or the challenge of body image (gap versus ideal causes loss of self-esteem).

Modern women in this stage of Self-Discovery are tech savvy, globally aware, have a desire to challenge the status quo, yet still view either family/search for a mate or career as primary determinant in their first life structure.

Transition into the next life stage happens when children appear and/or a high focus is placed on career advancement.

Busy Years

While in our culture, everyone claims to be busy because being busy is a sign of self-importance/self-worth, the Busy Years Mom is truly busy. And still, most women are having children, so this life stage is predominantly a “mom” life stage. [Note: career-only focused women do have a bit of the busy-year life stage as they often put their nurturing into work creations, extended families, and/or volunteering.]

The Busy Years woman is balancing significant responsibility – parenthood, career development, household management. And in today’s world, kids are a 100% time job. She is others-focus with limited or no time for self; time management is her primary life need.

Transition to the next stage coincides with children gaining independence or personally hitting career level.

Holding On/Holding Off

I usually say when a woman finally has time to look in the mirror at herself she hits this next life stage, which is primarily about maintaining power. This life stage has recognition of body betrayal and wanting to overpower sins of past; to reclaim past (missed) glory and hold off the decline. "I want my old life back." 

There might still be responsibilities (mid-life leadership positions, un-launched children, aging parents), but there is more time for “me.” While a bit cliché, there is a reality of mid-life – everything from anti-aging and weight management to divorce and career changes to find my real self.

Transition to next stage often comes with menopause, retirement, grandchildren, or a major illness wake-up call.


This life stage has always been around, but now so many more people are in it for a longer time with the increased life expectancy and size of the Baby Boomer cohort. This life stage has been called the “use it or lose it” stage and is one of wisdom, vitality and re-invention. A key element of this stage is the dichotomy of recognition of physical changes with an awareness of still moving forward with more years to experience. "I know things have changed but I want to do whatever I can."

There is an increased health focus and an amazing zest for life – a desire for continued independence, continued learning, and comfort. This is not the original concept of retirement years!

Transition to next stage comes with loss of independence due to physical or mental decline.


This life stage is more synonymous with the old concept of retirement. In this stage of life, one comes to terms with approaching death, often managing through declining health and immune system failure. There is spiritual preparation and life simplification. Because of declining health, women are often more sedentary and dependent (cared for).

Now that we understand these life-stages, how can we utilize this knowledge to design products and services to gain a sustainable competitive advantage in our target market?

Utilizing Life-stages to Target Consumers

Before you use your consumer insights to better target your consumers, you must find out which life-stage your customers are in and which ones you want to put a priority on when targeting. As a company, you must answer these questions:

As you dig into deep consumer understanding, what life-stage(s) are you targeting? Is there growth opportunity in your consumer product category to target different life-stages?

Once you determine which is the best life-stage to target, you can use your consumer insights to better position your products, leading your company towards a further sustainable competitive advantage compared to your competitors. 

For more ideas on how you can best utilize your company's consumer insights and spur innovation within your company, click here to watch Shekar Mitra's webinar "New Models for Breakthrough Innovation." 

Patricia (Pat) West Doyle is an expert in insight discovery and technical brand building. During her 32 years with P&G, she specialized in Franchise Products Research and achieved the level of Research Fellow. Since retiring in 2014, Pat consults through YourEncore, has vigorously explored retirement transition success, and has become a Certified Retirement Coach.


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