'Sunday Night Football' Among Most-Watched Programs for Women Over 50 (Exclusive)

Lady Danbury, Grace-and-Frankie, The-Crown
Netflix(3)/Courtesy Everett Collection

A new Nielsen media consumption and representation report finds older women increased their primetime Internet connected device usage time by around 50 percent in the past year, even as they only comprise 8 percent of onscreen time.

Women over 50 are spending more time than ever online, even as the media they consume continues to exclude them, according to a new Nielsen study.

In "Shattering Stereotypes: How Today's Women Over 50 are Redefining What's Possible On-Screen, At Work and At Home," the latest installment in the company's Diverse Intelligence Series, the company's Gracenote Inclusion Analytics tool provides the latest numbers in the unsurprising finding that the underrepresentation of women onscreen is only exacerbated as they grow older. Whereas women in general take up 38 percent of onscreen time on television, the share for women over 50 shrinks to 8 percent, even though they are 20 percent of the population. (In other words, they are 60 percent less likely to see themselves represented on television compared to walking around in real life.)

Among the top 15 programs on broadcast, cable and streaming, women over 50 make up just 4 percent, 7 percent and 5 percent of the cast, respectively—less than half (and in some cases closer to a third or a quarter) of their male counterparts. Half of the top 100 shows on cable featured at least one man over 50, but less than one-third included a woman over the same age.

In terms of how women of a certain age are portrayed on television, Nielsen found that once they turn 50, their storylines are predominantly centered around motherly or matriarchal themes (on the flip side, one of the most common plots concerning younger women is the ominous "getting away"). "Women 50+ rarely see themselves in content, and when they do, they often find a reflection of a woman that doesn't match their multi-faceted relevance, or reality," the report said.

The Nielsen study grows a lot more diverse once it turns from representation to consumption. From January 2020 to January 2021, usage of internet-connected devices during primetime grew 41 percent among women 50-64 and 51 percent among women 65 and older—outpacing the 21 percent increased usage among all women 18+ (presumably, younger women are more likely to already have high usage habits). Older women's favorite streaming shows include general favorites like Bridgerton, The Crown and WandaVision, but Netflix's Grace and Frankie and Virgin River uniquely landed in the top 10 for women over 65.

But the TV tastes of older women are anything but stereotypical—or monolithic. The most viewed programs among the overall age demo include Sunday Night Football, red carpet events, talent shows and the Jeopardy all-star specials, and the group favors programs with diverse and gender-balanced casts. Getting intersectional, same-sex couples included All Rise and Tommy (which both feature lesbian leads) among their top broadcasts shows; Black women and Black Latinas favor the NFL, talent shows and primetime dramas led by Black women; Hispanic women turned to Spanish-language unscripted and scripted programming; Asian women watched the most news programs and white women went the other way, with no news series among their broadcast favorites. "This suggests that when white women are tuning in, they are looking for entertainment to escape the day's headlines," the report explained.

Elsewhere in the report, Nielsen describes the spending and investment habits of women over 50 and profiles their educational, professional and household status. For more information and to view the full report, visit Nielsen's Inclusion Analytics website.