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Golden Girls 2.0

Maximiliane Koschyk
May 13, 2017

From Angela Merkel and Anna Wintour to Brigitte Macron: They are over 60, female and the pioneers of a new image of women. Yet their generation also faces great challenges.

Frankreich Brigitte Trogneux, Gattin von Emmanuel Macron
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Bureau

Yes, Brigitte Macron is older than her husband – not just a little, but rather 24 years older. That is one year more than the age difference between US President Donald Trump and his third wife, Melania. Nevertheless, people were less interested in the age difference between the US president and his wife during his election campaign than they were with his French counterpart's during his.

The US search engine Google recorded half as many searches for the age difference between the Trumps around the time of his inauguration in January than it did searches for the same between the Macrons last week.

Brigitte Macron addressed the topic of her own age with a certain sense of humor, ultimately making it part of her husband's campaign. The 64-year-old said that people should vote for her husband now, imploring: "Just imagine what I will look like in five years."

Scientists: 'Old' must be redefined

The double standard of age perception, as regards men and women, is certainly nothing new and is a common topic of debate. But the image of older women has changed of late. Women previously thought of as "old" are now said to still be "energetic." That is also the result of aging in Western industrialized nations in general, where life expectancy is rising, but birth rates are not keeping up. That is also true in Germany.

Recently, scientists from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna suggested that aging should not be measured by the number of years already lived, but rather by a person's remaining life expectancy. They say someone that is 60 today is no longer old, whereas 200 years ago that would have been considered a very old age. Or, to put it more casually: "70 is the new 50."

London Fashion Week 2017 - Vivienne Westwood
Vivienne Westwood: still going strong at 76.Image: Reuters/N. Hall

Mature-age consumers

Of course, this has a lot to do with consumer society. Marketing experts long ago realized that so-called "Best Agers," "Generation Gold" or "Mature Consumers" – as consumers over 60 are referred to in the marketing sector – represent a growing market.

The lifestyle and entertainment industry, more than any other, has repositioned itself to take advantage of this demographic shift. A while back, the German print publisher Gruner + Jahr launched a modern magazine for "women in the third phase of their lives," breaking away from the cliche of celebrity gossip magazines, overloaded with advertisements for stair lifts and adult diapers, that generally dominate periodicals aimed at older women.

Women over 60, such as Conde Nast's artistic director Anna Wintour, designer Vivienne Westwood and fashion icon Iris Apfel, have long been influential in the fashion industry. The US blog Advanced Style celebrates the "mature" style of older women who have no desire to go into fashion retirement.

Aging with humor: Jane Fonda and her Netflix hit

The entertainment industry has also shown a willingness to address the subject of aging. In the hit series "Grace and Frankie," produced by the online video streaming company Netflix, onetime fitness guru and Hollywood icon Jane Fonda plays a woman in her early seventies who refuses to accept her image and existence as a retiree.

"We wanted to show that a person can be energetic, sexually active and funny in the third act of life," said the 79-year-old Fonda, speaking with the Washington Post newspaper. The series thematizes romantic relationships, sexuality and professional self-fulfillment - topics that are still relevant for people over 60. "I left filmmaking when I was 50, and then returned at 65," Fonda told the Washington Post. She says that making yet another return was anything but easy, but that fact simply gave her more motivation. "I wanted to give age a cultural face."  

Goldene Kamera 2017 Jane Fonda
Giving age a cultural face: Jane Fonda, who restarted her career at 65.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Charisius

The other extreme: poor and unemployed

Nevertheless, age – especially for women – brings a lot of problems. Age discrimination is a major issue for women – above all, in the job market. A 2012 comprehensive study, prepared by Germany's Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, found that less than half of women aged 55 to 64 had jobs that afforded them social insurance.

"Age discrimination results in massive costs to society at large, for instance by failing to take advantage of the potential of some age groups in the job market," said Christine Lüders, who runs the government's Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency.

Wahlkampf CDU Schleswig-Holstein Merkel und Günther
Angela Merkel: A feminist icon?Image: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Reinhardt

At the W20 (a G20 Women's Summit) in late April, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) assured those present that she would be a strong advocate for women's financial advancement in the future. Although she sidestepped the question of whether she considered herself a feminist, Merkel is still seen as a role model for successful women over 60.

Brigitte Macron might become one as well. After becoming president, Emmanuel Macron said that his wife's age will allow her to redefine the role of presidential spouse. It will be interesting to see how the new "Premiere Dame" frames the challenges faced by her own generation.