In the greeting card aisle, you’re bombarded with gallows humor and ageist jokes starting at age 30. But some niche brands are starting to change the conversation about aging, offering menopause cards and age-friendly birthday cards that celebrate – rather than denigrate – growing older.
Jan Golden founded card company Age-Friendly Vibes in 2021 with a line of greeting cards boasting positive commentary on age. There are 55 designs for multiple occasions.
“Ageism is a socially acceptable ‘ism’ People dismiss it as even being an issue,” Golden said. “But ageism and negative views and commentary on aging gets internalized and really harms the individual.”
“People want to see representation. Snarky cards that make fun of age are still very popular. My goal is to provide an alternative to the ‘Damn, you’re old’ cards,” Golden said.
Credit: Age-Friendly Vibes
Americans purchase about 6.5 billion greeting cards each year, with 90% of households buying cards each year, according to the Greeting Card Association. Annual retail sales of greeting cards are estimated between $7 and $8 billion. (Sales of the anti-ageist market aren’t tracked, but the cards are mostly niche brands and represent a small part of the overall card market.)
Most card-buyers are between 35 and 60, which is the age range when consumers know the most people, older and younger, and are in life stages that include buying homes, getting married and having kids, the association said.
Em & Friends last year launched a line of menopause-themed cards to talk with humor and honestly about a health issue that can last 10 years and affects half the human population, said Emily McDowell, founder Em & Friends. Retailers as large as Barnes & Noble have been selling them, as well as smaller card boutiques.
“We’re committed to making cards about the lives we’re really living and the conversations we’re really having,” said McDowell. “It’s important to represent the actual human experience.”
The collection of four menopause cards, which is being promoted by actress Naomi Watts to coincide with her new menopause wellness brand called Stripes, will help raise money through the end of October for the Alliance for Period Supplies.
“There’s an evolution of the greeting card industry. When you see a card about transitioning or divorce or loss, it normalizes these things,” McDowell said. “The menopause cards grew out of conversations I was having with my friends and I said ‘Let’s make cards and normalize this.’”
While baby boomers continue to buy the most greeting card units, millennials have spent the most money on greeting cards since 2015, outspending boomers, the association said.
Credit: Em & Friends
Janine Vanderburg, director and chief catalyst of the Changing the Narrative anti-ageism campaign in Colorado, wants to further change the card conversation by commissioning card artists and designers to create age-friendly birthday cards.
Age-friendly cards are still a small part of the overall industry, but as people live longer, embrace growing older and a bigger light is shined on ageism, some say it could mean an opportunity for growth.
“In this longevity economy, there’s a huge market for 50 and over that’s tired of being made fun of,” Vanderburg said. “There’s awful cards out there that reflect the stereotypes and reinforce the stereotypes. We hope to change that, spark the conversation and raise awareness.”
Changing the Narrative launched a campaign in 2020 with age-friendly greeting cards sold on its website. Now, it’s seeking 10 greeting card designers to create additional cards that will be sold in stores and online. The artists will get $500 and promotional support from Changing the Narrative.
“Having age-friendly cards in the same aisle as all the other cards could help start conversations and show there’s a different way to talk about aging,” Vanderburg said. “Society in general is ageist. We’re always talking about fighting aging. Battling aging. People buy antiaging creams. The stereotype is that we all decline, deteriorate and are technologically-impaired. But there’s different conversations to have.”
Golden, who also participated in the Changing the Narrative pilot card project, said the caustic jokes about aging really took off with the launch of Hallmark’s Maxine character in the 1980s. The exaggerated older character took a curmudgeonly dig at aging.
Sarah Schwartz, editor in chief of Stationery Trends Magazine, said “over the hill” cards have been the norm and that concept wasn’t challenged until recently.
“Everyone is supposed to take it well and just accept it and no one ever thought about it,” Schwartz said. “Age-Friendly Vibes was the first to really verbalize that this was not such a great thing.”
“The conversation is changing. But cultural changes take a while,” Schwartz said. “The momentum is building. There seems to be a real push to redefine age.”
“Cards are micro-conversations. With one card, and one person you can evolve your perspective,” Schwartz said. “People are leaning in in times of social upset and while the world might seem terrifying at times, a lot of people collectively evolved.”