Lifestages: Understanding Early Life Changers

Active Internet Users with Predictable Purchasing Patterns

March 2008

In early 2007, the IAB commissioned Simmons Market Research Bureau to conduct The IAB Lifestages Segmentation Study.  The purpose was to reveal new insights regarding the impact of major life events on consumers’ media consumption patterns and buying behaviors.

Key Findings

People who experience major life events earlier in their lives than most other people tend to be more active Internet users and to have other distinctive buying behaviors. 

• On the whole, these Early Life Changers are more actively involved with using the Internet to research and buy products and services, and they are more receptive than the average person to online advertising.

• They tend to be heavier consumers of many financial products and are more likely to own consumer electronics such as flat panel plasma TVs, satellite radio receivers, and digital video recorders. 

• This segment also has a greater propensity to use various prescription medications, and to use the Internet to research health issues. 

• Perhaps the one attitudinal measure that best sums up the attitudes and behaviors of this segment is the degree to which they significantly over-index for agreeing with the statement “I enjoy taking risks.”  This likely explains why members of this segment are among the first to dive into the pool of life.

Research Overview

In conducting the research, Simmons analyzed data from its National Consumer Study (NCS), Spring 2006, which draws on interviews with 24,438 adults age 18 and older nationwide.  As part of the National Consumer Study, Simmons tracks a battery of 29 life events, such as getting married, buying a first home, having a first child, and making a first-time financial investment.  Simmons has tracked life events for over nine years and they are now a part of the standard Simmons segmentation system. 

This study split the sample into two groups:  those who had experienced one or more of the Simmons life events in the past 12 months, and those who had not experienced any of the life events in the past 12 months.  The sample of those people who had experienced one or more of the life events was further divided into five segments based on the mean age at which respondents had experienced the life events.  For shorthand, the five segments that emerged were given names describing their pattern of experiencing life events relative to the general population: very early life changers, early life changers, mid-life changers, late life changers, and very late life changers. 

A majority of Americans (59.6%) experienced at least one life event in the last twelve months.  However, the timing of life events is not evenly distributed by age, and as a result the IAB’s LifeStage groups differ in size.

Name of LifeStage Segment Size of Segment
Very Early Life Changers 18.3%
Early Life Changers 7.3%
Mid Life Changers 13.2%
Late Life Changers 5.5%
Very Late Life Changers 13.5%
No LifeStage Event 41.4%
Total 100.0%

Simmons and the IAB then analyzed each of the segments as indexed against the set of data for those who had not experienced any of the life events in the past 12 months, in order to see how timing of life events affects people’s media consumption and buying behaviors.

The IAB hired Barbara Rice, of Barbara Rice Marketing Research Consulting, to prepare this report on the LifeStages data.

Early Life Changers have a median age of 37, and tend to range in age from 25 to 44. Beyond those broad demographics, however, members of this segment can be identified by the actions that they take earlier than the general population, including marrying early, having a child early, making first-time financial investment such as investing in a 401K plan early, and buying a first-time home early.

The study revealed that, although they constitute a relatively small segment, people who experience major life events earlier in life than the average person are significantly more likely than other segments to be active online. Indeed, Early Life Changers are the most Internet-engaged segment by a wide margin. Marketers selling goods and services related to major life events like marriage or the birth of a child, should target early life changers through online marketing efforts.

At the same time, the data show that across many categories of online activity, most or all of the five lifestage segments overindex relative to those with no life event. This underscores the pervasiveness of the Internet in people’s lives—regardless of whether they experience life events early or late, they actively go online.

Internet Attitudes and Usage of Early Life Changers

In their attitudes toward the Internet, Early Life Changers’ attitudes and behaviors are striking. They score higher than other groups in terms of their involvement with the Internet, including a greater likelihood to use the Internet to research and buy products.

• This segment over-indexes on the Simmons overall Internet involvement scale (148), which aggregates individual metrics to describe breadth of online activities, as well as on the Simmons Internet activity (commerce) scale (145), which is an aggregate metric representing the extent to which a respondent engages in activities such as making travel arrangements, banking, and purchasing goods and services online.

Early Life Changers Over-Index on Simmons Internet Involvement Scale
and On Internet Activity (Commerce) Scale
(Figures 1 and 2)

Note: All data in figures should be interpreted in terms of Non-Life-Changers as the baseline with an index of 100 for each response. Thus Early Life Changers were 48% more likely to rate as “above average” on the Simmons Internet Involvement Scale than Non Life Changers, while Late Life Changers were 23% less likely than Non Life Changers to rate as “below average” on the same scale.

• Early Life Changers are also more likely to have access to the Internet during the workday, over-indexing in particular for being on the Internet between noon and 6 pm (167). Marketers should reach this valuable segment of workplace users with daytime targeting via the Internet, given that they are more likely than other groups to be online during the workday.

Early Life Changers Over-Index For Accessing the Internet Between 12 Noon and 6 pm
(Figure 3)

• Early Life Changers are also quick to acknowledge that the Internet has changed the way they spend their free time (index of 140) – including less TV-watching (143). They tend to say the Internet has changed the way they shop for products and services (177), and they have among the strongest propensities to use the Internet to plan their shopping trips (144).

Attitudes and Opinions about the Internet: Any Agree
(Figure 4)

Early Life Changers Over-Index for Using the Internet to Plan Shopping Trips
(Figure 5)

• Their behaviors are consistent with their attitudes. Early life changers are more likely to have made online purchases in the past 30 days (145), checked real estate listings online (236), and engaged in online banking (209). They also over-index for having high-speed (DSL or cable) Internet access at home (index of 130 for cable modem and 141 for DSL).

Early Life Changes Over-Index for Online Shopping Activities in Past 30 Days
(Figure 6)

Early Life Changers Over-Index for Online Financial Activities in Past 30 Days
(Figure 7)

Early Life Changers Over-Index for Having Cable Modem or DSL Internet Access at Home
(Figure 8)

• In line with this openness toward new things and being first, this leading edge segment also over-indexes for being receptive to Internet advertising.   Simmons uses an Internet advertising receptivity scale to gauge people’s receptiveness to advertising online.  While no group claims to be highly receptive, the Early Life Changers segment is the most receptive, with an index of 126.  This is a signal to marketers that people who are in the market to buy, as this segment is, are also more likely to be open to seeing ads that help them make their buying decisions.

Early Life Changers Over-Index on the Simmons Internet Advertising Receptivity Scale
(Figure 9)

Key Early Life Changer Spending Categories

While their online savvy makes them a prime target for marketers, several other key characteristics of Early Life Changers make them particularly appealing targets for specific industries. Based on the LifeStages data, Early Life Changers are a strong group for consumer electronics, financial services, and health.

Consumer Electronics

• Early Life Changers are keen purchasers of consumer electronics. They overindex for owning devices including flat panel plasma TVs (an index of 161, compared to people who have not experienced any of the life events) and LCD TVs (202), digital cameras (159), digital video recorders (122), camcorders (148), MP3 players (156), and satellite radio receivers (161).

Early Life Changers Over-Index for Owning Flat Panel TVs, both Plasma and LCD
(Figure 10)

Early Life Changers Over-Index for Owning Digital Cameras
(Figure 11)

• They index high (145) for believing that they are always the first among their friends to have the latest electronic equipment; however, as might be expected, the Very Early Life Changers index even higher on this category (158).

Attitudes / Opinions About Technology:  Any Agree
(Figure 12)

Financial Services

• Early Life Changers also over-index for owning many financial products, such as 401Ks (index of 166, similar to Mid Life Changers at 163), credit monitoring services (152), and high-value life insurance policies (over $500,000) (243).

Early Life Changers Over-Index for 401K Investments
and High-Value Life Insurance Policies
(Figures 13 & 14)

Health and Fitness

• In the area of health, this ahead-of-the-curve segment also has a higher propensity to have bought home fitness equipment in the last year (240), to use allergy medicine (140) or sinus medicine (143), as well as to use prescription drugs to relieve migraine headaches (192), depression (143) and insomnia (158).  This group also shows a strong propensity to gather health information from websites (145), outpaced only by the typically older Late Life Changers.

Early Life Changes Over-Index for Having Bought Any Home Fitness Equipment in Last Year
(Figure 15)

Early Life Changes Over-Index for Having Bought Allergy and Sinus Medications
(Figure 16)

Early Life Changers Also Over-Index for Taking Certain Prescription Drugs
(Figure 17)

Early Life Changers Over-Index for Gathering Health Information from Websites
(Figure 18)


It is important to acknowledge that Early Life Changers represent a thin slice of the general population – just 7%.  This is a small but high-value group, worth the effort it would require for marketers to reach at the particular point in their lives when change is greatest.  Other LifeStage segments, too, show significant propensities to embrace change, and to turn to the Internet to help them make the most of it.