Which Checkbox is Predictive?
I’ve been thinking a lot about employment categories, because I’ve filled out a few surveys lately that ask about them. It’s really clear these were designed by people who have never been charged with primary care of home or others. I studied marketing – I do understand that these demographics are about targeting consumers likely to purchase whatever one has on offer. But I think the categories still in use are archaic.
I no longer draw a paycheck. I have a little business still, which occasionally does a paid project. But mostly, I am engaged with managing my home, (a thing that I am competent with but has never really sparked my imagination, and hence is pretty much done to a minimum viable standard) caring for my husband (who is able-bodied and still works but likes to have food in the house an a dinner cooked for him and laundry done and various other supplies purchased for him because I have more time for this work than he does) and caring for my aging parents, who live independently mostly due to the heroic efforts of my 86-year-old mother.
I, like most women who no longer draw a paycheck, definitely work. I just do less work than when I was doing all the domestic stuff in addition to tasks and travel for my employer.
So, when corporate America asks me to choose between “retired” and “homemaker” and “self-employed” I am not sure what to answer. For the moment, anyway, I have a LOT more leisure time and disposable income than I did when I was a young mom, caring for kids full time. I was more frantic when raising teens and working full time than I am now, too. I’m not really putting a lot of effort into building my little business. I have been putting a lot of time into preparing for hubby’s retirement, thinking about how and where we are going to want to live, and putting things like our investments in position to facilitate that.
The reality is that FEW women retire the way men do. The mental load of caring for the home and the people in it continues. The housework continues. My mom has some part-time help with my mobility-impaired 91-year-old dad, but she still manages their home, plans their meals and cooks them. Additionally, now that neither of them drive, she arranges transportation to Dad’s numerous medical appointments, and for her own errand running. She works HARD, every single day. And she thinks hard about what sort of products they need to consume, and where they can be purchased for the best value.
One of the major values for her these days is being able to have things delivered to her home. She has not caved on grocery delivery yet, but has become a big fan of Amazon for stuff she’d otherwise have to search all over town for.
Enter me. Neither of my folks has ever become comfortable with online shopping. So I do that for them. It is lovely to get a call from Mom asking me to order something, while I happen to be out and about myself, and be able to place that order, from my phone, before I forget!
Dad’s administrative skills are not what they were, so I do things like arrange for auto payment of his bills, shop with him for health insurance, set up his pills in the sorter, and reconcile the checking account. I travel to their home every other week to do the pills and any of the other miscellaneous tasks that need doing, usually involving changing high lightbulbs or running an extra errands. Mom works hard to keep my list short, in part because she knows my sisters and I are concerned that her workload is too heavy. Her duties of care for dad mean she does not ever get a full night’s sleep, and she is not comfortable leaving him alone for longer than 2 hours, which has put a serious crimp in her formerly vibrant social life. My sisters try to be as helpful as they can, but I am the “local” daughter, who lives a 3 hour drive away. My sisters are on the West Coast.
It is in part in response to the growing needs of our parents for care that my husband and I bought a second home closer to them. (At the time, we also were seeking to permit our young adult children to live rent-free while in grad school) We’ve recently moved from that place to another closer to the newlyweds who are expecting a baby in the spring. Son-in-law’s parents live in far-away Arizona, and we’d like to be the support for the new parents that our far-away daughter-in-law’s folks have been for her and our son and their two tiny kids.
So I dunno, U.S. Marketers… I am a sixty-something retiree, who absolutely enjoys rocking my grandkids on the porch and cooking up yummy treats. I’m a former banker and system administrator who manages the networks at my parents’ home and my own. I’m a tech enthusiast. I manage the financial portfolio shared with my husband and oversee the one shared by my parents. I do the occasional web design gig, sometimes pro-bono. I spend six hours every other week in the car, driving the interstate highway system while consuming music and podcasts. I teach karate and enjoy group fitness classes at the YMCA. I keep online subscriptions to newspapers, have an eclectic set of streaming TV subscriptions, and like to read books on my Kindle.
I am, like so many women in my cohort, semi-retired/care-giving/home-making/sometimes-working. Giving me one checkbox to choose from and then imagining that my consumption habits and my engagement in the market place is fully described by that checkbox doesn’t really capture the story marketers are attempting to gather with such surveys. Maybe it’s time to get real, by asking questions on a much more granular level!