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Taking on Taboos: Menopause and the Push for Innovation in Women’s Health
By Rachel Hochberger and Niky Sampedro
Women’s Health Month gives us an opportunity to examine the state of women’s health and highlight some taboo topics that must be discussed in order to address the healthcare gaps societal stigmas help to create.
From a certain angle, things may appear promising in the world of women’s health – fields like femtech are gaining ground and monetary support, and issues related to fertility and reproductive health are increasingly part of the cultural conversation. However, at this point women’s health and reproductive health have almost become synonymous, with an estimated 65% of femtech funding going to fertility, pregnancy, and motherhood alone. And while fertility is an undoubtedly important piece of women’s health, it is not the whole story. Women’s lives and
identities do not end when their reproductive years are over.
There are many reasons other women’s health issues beyond fertility and maternity get overlooked, from minimization of female pain, to stigmas and shame that force many women into silence, to a lack of research/understanding of the female body and its inner workings. These unaddressed issues are ripe areas of opportunity, not only to innovate, but to improve the lives of women.
Menopause emerges as one commonly overlooked space that presents a $600B opportunity. One study estimates that by 2025 over 1 billion women will have gone through menopause; others indicate that with longer lifespans, women will spend 40% of their lives post-menopausal. This is a complex topic with its own set of social stigmas. As a recent New York Times article described, “The shroud of secrecy around women’s intimate bodily functions is among the many reasons experts cite for the lack of public knowledge about women’s health in midlife.”
While it is difficult to dissect the complex stigmas that currently surround menopause, the fundamental discomfort with female bodies and a youth-focused culture that often overlooks the needs, experiences, and struggles of women as they age emerge as two clear contributors. “We find [older women] kind of disposable or marginal — so it doesn’t surprise me that something that impacts older women in particular would be not only a discomfort, but a nonconcern,” noted Chris Bobel, an associate professor of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts. “If you don’t understand something, it’s very hard to have compassion about it.” Unfortunately, the social discomfort with menopause translates to a lack of understanding in the medical field. When coupled with the reality of menopause’s wide-ranging symptoms, this creates “the menopause management vacuum,” in which no
one medical specialty “owns” the treatment.
A 2013 John Hopkins study revealed that only one in five OB-GYN residencies cover menopause, and that 80% of residents surveyed say they’re “barely comfortable” discussing or treating it. Furthermore, a recent survey of internal medicine, family medicine, and gynecology residents revealed that only 7% of respondents felt prepared to treat women struggling with menopause. The result is inadequate care. A Yale University review shows that while 60% of women with significant menopausal symptoms seek medical attention, nearly three-quarters of them are left untreated.
Silenced by social stigmas and lacking guidance from medical professionals, menopause can be a stressful and isolating time for women. A huge unmet need remains in this space, both in terms of physical care and emotional support. Companies like State of Menopause, led by TV host Stacy London, are seizing on this opportunity by offering symptom-specific solutions for a range of common menopausal problems including skin dryness and sleep problems. As London noted in a recent interview, “I want to be representative of what women this age can be doing in their own lives. But also, I just knew how alienated and isolated and lost I was feeling, and that the barrier to
entry to talking about this was such an incredible sense of shame.”
Thanks to a wave of social change and prominent women like London using their platforms to demystify aging, today’s midlife women are approaching aging with a sense of empowerment and are more willing to discuss once-taboo topics, creating opportunities for brands to listen and discover where resources are falling short.
But these brands are not just important for helping to address a key unmet need; they’re tapping into a significant consumer segment. A 2018 study indicated that women over 50 account for 27% of all consumer spending, and data from Forbes and Nielsen indicates that women over 50 are the largest demographic with incomes over $100,000.
Understanding the nuanced emotions and motivations that drive the modern midlife woman will be key to connecting with this overlooked segment authentically. At Egg Strategy, we are committed to bringing sensitive topics like this to the forefront. We’ve spent the better part of two decades helping brands to better understand those they serve, identify unmet needs, and shine a light on women’s healthcare issues that demand more attention. And as a brand consultancy with experience in women’s health issues that span all stages of life, we’re here to help you have the “taboo” conversations and uncover opportunities to better serve these women.