The UK Television Landscape Report

Lifestages aren’t what they used to be

28 February 2017

As human beings we go through a constant period of change in our lives. Whether we are Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials or indeed the latest, Generation Z, one thing remains constant: we age.

And while we all age differently, in television at least, there are clear and distinct stages in our lives that can be segmented. These are often referred to as lifestages.

Alt text


Television viewing undergoes a slow decline from childhood into teenage years. It then increases again as young adults leave the family home and set out into the world. As householders in their own right, and with control of the TV set, viewing levels increase. This does come with competing pressures on time, be they social activities or other factors relating to a much more transient lifestyle.

As adults start to climb in their careers and thoughts turn to settling down, buying a house and potentially starting a family, television viewing starts to increase once more.

In recent years, with declining audiences for both children and young adults, the question has arisen as to whether previous lifestage trends in viewing behaviours are still relevant to the future. Do changes in environment, and new ways to watch television content, mean that future adults won’t be watching the TV set in the same way as their own parents did and indeed do now?

Education, Education, Education

As Tony Blair stated at the Labour Party conference in 1996, the future government’s three main priorities were all to be education. And it is fair to say, not only across the last 20 years, but indeed the last 50, the UK education system has changed significantly.

In higher education, record numbers apply and are accepted into university each year. This is also true of further education where more young adults are staying on at school after the age of 16 to learn.

Alt text

(An interactive version of this chart is available here.)

The above chart identifies that for 20-24 year olds today, 56% have stayed in education after the age of 19. In comparison, for those aged 55+, this number was only 19%.  So, as individuals, young adults today are staying in education longer than they have done in the past, staggering the transition away from living at home with their parents.

As a result the expected increase in television viewing for today’s generation of 20-24 year olds is delayed, especially in comparison to previous generations.

With this ring, I thee wed

Moving in together, or indeed getting married, is a major step in any person’s life. And while spending an evening in together watching TV may not seem like the most exciting part of this lifestage, this change has a significant effect on how we consume television.

Alt text


Across the last five years, what we see from the Establishment Survey is a demographic shift towards young adults getting married or living together at a later time in their lives. In 2010, around 15% of 16-24s were either married or living as married. However, by 2016 this figure has fallen to 11%.

This could be due to a number of external factors such as increased housing costs. But the impact on viewing levels, as with education, may mean that lifestage effects once experienced previously at these ages are now occurring at a later stage.

The patter of tiny feet

There are probably few things as disruptive to a household as the arrival of a new child. The requirements on the parents to care for their newborn are a responsibility like no other. And with new pressures on the household, downtime becomes not only a valuable commodity but a necessity.

Alt text


Television has often played an important role in this respect, and it shows: 16-34 parents watch over twice as much television daily than their counterpart householders without children. It is therefore clear that the arrival of a child impacts heavily on the television viewing habits of this age group.

So, how is this changing? Well, from Establishment Survey data, we can see at what age householders are likely to have a child and indeed how this has changed. What the data show is that there is a marked decrease in the proportion of young adult householders having children; it’s clear that parenthood is being pushed back to a later time in people’s lives.

In 2010, 30% of homes where there is a 20-24 year old head of household had a child, but by 2016 this figure had fallen to 25%. This might be a socio-economic effect. In a time of austerity, younger adults put off the move to parenthood to ensure their finances are more established. Either way, we know from viewing data, that this delay in lifestage also will have effects on overall viewing levels.

So, we’re all getting older and there is no stopping that. But how we are getting older is changing. These lifestages and experiences will ultimately impact upon how we consume media on a day by day basis.  As Walt Disney famously said, “getting old is mandatory, growing up is optional”.