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What a difference a year makes: UTSA researcher delves into milestone ages

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(July 27, 2015) -- It’s hard for most people to look ahead to the next milestone age without cringing. According to a new study by UTSA marketing assistant professor Rajesh Bhargave, though, milestone ages aren’t just a time to look in the mirror and dread another wrinkle. Most people use them to take a long hard look at their health.

“I started thinking about the role of milestone ages,” Bhargave said. “A 50 year-old and a 51 year-old are not that different in any way, aside from one is at a milestone age and one isn’t. They’re looking at their lives very differently.”

Bhargave co-wrote a study with marketing professor Talya Miron-Shatz, director of the Center for Medical Decision Making at Israel's Ono Academic College. Miron-Shatz looked at health and decision-making, and together the two studied data sets of people ages 18-75 who were polled about overall life happiness. Noting that someone at 20 doesn’t have much in common with someone at 70, they decided to narrow it down to one factor: milestone age.

“People make a big deal out of milestone ages, from a marketing standpoint,” he said. “Birthday cards are one thing, but then you get a bunch of mailers talking about retirement when you turn 60. So we thought that might affect how people look at their lives, not just in the moment but over the course of the year.”

On any other birthday, Bhargave said, people measure their happiness largely based on day-to-day emotions. At milestone ages, people care plenty about their income and possessions, especially in comparison to those around them, but they also take stock of their health, both in regards to appearance and general comfort.

"Just like a colonoscopy became associated with age 50," says Miron-Shatz, “milestone ages are a point where people pause and seriously consider their health. It's amazing, though, how at 51, this effect evaporates. This makes public health campaigns so much more effective."

“When most people turn a milestone age, they realize they’re going through this aging process,” Bhargave said.

He hopes, however, that it’s not just companies pedaling BOTOX® that will take note of his study.

“If you want to market to people to make important changes, it’s very hard to shake someone and tell them they have to alter their lifestyle,” Bhargave noted. “But it’s easy to find out who’s turning a milestone age. They can get them at those times, right on that birthday even, when they’re likely to be receptive to those marketing messages.”

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