Older Women Don’t Feel Positively Represented in Advertising

July 26, 2022

The way that ads depict women is a long-running issue, with research published 5 years ago, for example, finding half of women resenting the way they’re portrayed in TV advertising. Fast forward to the present day, and a new study [download page] from the AARP finds that women feel that many groups aren’t portrayed positively by the advertising industry.

In its survey of more than 6,600 adult women in the US, the AARP found just one-third (34%) believing that black women are portrayed positively, in general, by the ad industry. Fewer even could say the same about Hispanic/Latina women (27%) and Asian women (25%), while more than 6 in 10 (63%) believe that white women are portrayed positively, in general.

However, it’s not just a racial/ethnic divide in women’s representation in advertising: there’s a strong age gap, too. Although 63% of respondents feel that younger women are portrayed positively by the ad industry, just 20% share that belief when it comes to older women’s representation. The gap is even wider among older women themselves: 71% of respondents ages 50 and older feel that younger women are portrayed positively, 4 times higher than the 18% who feel that older women are depicted positively. In fact, women ages 50 and older are more likely to feel that older women are portrayed negatively (21%) than positively (18%) in advertising.

Other groups that few women think are portrayed positively in advertising include bi-racial or multi-racial women (31%), gay, bisexual, pansexual, queer or trans women (23%), women of diverse body types (20%), disabled women (13%), and immigrant women (13%).

Interestingly enough, when respondents were asked specifically about how advertising for the beauty industry portrays those groups, their views were uniformly either steady or slightly more positive. For example, a slightly larger share of respondents believe that beauty advertising portrays black women positively (38%) than does the advertising industry in general (34%), with the same true for Asian women (28% and 25%, respectively), Hispanic/Latina women (31% and 27%, respectively), and white women (67% and 63%, respectively).

Separately, almost 3 in 4 respondents agree that there has been a trend toward more diversity and inclusion in ads from large brands. However, by a 3:1 ratio, women believe that this is the result of large brands caring about how they appear to consumers (76% share) as opposed to their true commitment to diversity and inclusion (24%).

This issue seems destined to continue to rise in importance. At least half of women want brands to advance gender equality by accurately portraying women in advertising, which will mean getting rid of outdated stereotypes.

About the Data: The results are based on a Q4 2021 survey of 6,643 US adult women, including 3,701 women ages 18-49 and 2,942 women ages 50+.

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