Where Are the Midlife Heroines in Romance Novels?--Kathleen Jones

Older Couple

Where Are the Midlife Heroines in Romance Novels? By Kathleen Jones, The Quirky Novelist

Novel after novel, they’re all the same: flawlessly beautiful, impeccably dressed, sweet, naïve. And young, really young, never over the age of 30—and usually under 25 or even 20.

The great majority of romance novels concern the love lives of gorgeous young women. For the most part, readers accept this old-fashioned convention uncritically. Why? Because, dear reader, everyone knows that romance for women ends at 30. Doesn’t it?

Err, no. At least not in the real world we mere mortals live in…


Where Are the Midlife Heroines in Romance Novels?

By Kathleen Jones, The Quirky Novelist

Novel after novel, they’re all the same: flawlessly beautiful, impeccably dressed, sweet, naïve. And young, really young, never over the age of 30—and usually under 25 or even 20.

The great majority of romance novels concern the love lives of gorgeous young women. For the most part, readers accept this old-fashioned convention uncritically. Why? Because, dear reader, everyone knows that romance for women ends at 30. Doesn’t it?

Err, no. At least not in the real world we mere mortals live in. Mid-life women—defined, for these purposes as women over 40—actually do care about romance. If they’re no longer interested in it, it’s news to them.

In the real world, there are more midlife women in the dating pool than ever before. More of them are getting divorced; according to the American Psychological Association, about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the U.S. divorce. The 2006 Canadian census found that 4 in 10 first marriages in Canada end in divorce. And that growing pool of divorced people is graying. The Pew Research Center discovered that the divorce rate for U.S. adults aged 50 and older has roughly doubled since the 1990s. The U.S. divorce rate for people ages 65 and older has roughly tripled since 1990; in 2015, it was 6 people per 1,000 married persons. The Institute of Marriage and Family, Canada found that in 2008, the median age of women divorcing in Canada was 41 years old.

Despite these disheartening statistics, there is little evidence that midlifers have lost their appetite for romance. In fact, AARP’s 2009 survey of nearly 1,700 Americans age 45 and older, “Sex, Romance and Relationships,” found that midlife Americans value it highly. Respondents said that they needed a sexual partner and regular intercourse (once a week or more) to be satisfied.

And midlifers’ keen interest in romance and sex often leads to remarriage. In fact, remarriage among Americans aged 55 to 64 is a growing trend, thanks to increasing life spans and the greater incidence of divorce, as the Pew Research Center discovered. In 1960, 55% of previously married adults in that age group had remarried; by 2013, that figure had swelled to 67%.

Okay, so there are a lot of single, horny, midlife women out there who love romance. Many of them are remarrying and getting a second (or third) chance at love. But . . . are these midlife women the exact same people who are snapping up romance novels?

Surprisingly, the answer to that question is a resounding YES. A readership survey by the Romance Writers of America (RWA) stated that most of the women devouring these books are 30 to 54 years of age. Furthermore, the e-book revolution has been dominated by middle-aged female fans of romance novels. According to research by ebook retailer Kobo, 75% of the most active e-readers are women over 45. The genre these midlife women chose most often? Romance! The retailer reported that unit sales in romance was more than twice the number of unit sales in the second most popular category, general fiction.

But there seems to be a serious disconnect between midlife female romance novel fans and the publishers of the books they love. The average age of a heroine in U.S. romance novels is 24 to 26, according to DearAuthor.com. It’s clear that the publishers of romance novels are seriously out of touch with their biggest audience!

While romances featuring young women always seem to sell, there’s a real hunger among midlife female fans for heroines their own age. Over-45 blogger Janga, while admitting that she enjoyed romance novels with heroines in their 20s, lamented the lack of older heroines. As she stated, “I also like to see mature female characters who mirror the women I know in their 40s, 50s, and beyond who are vital, passionate, and fully engaged in life.” (https://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/blogs/2011/07/older-women-in-secondary-romances-still-sexy-after-all-these-years) Novelist Sandra Antonelli, who undertook a PhD in romance fiction,  wrote a dissertation on the lack of heroines over 40, “Cougars, Grannies, Evil Stepmothers, and Menopausal Hot Flashers: Roles, Representations of Age and the Non-Traditional Romance Heroine” (https://eprints.qut.edu.au/72686/). The paucity of romance novels featuring them frustrated her. “I am not interested in couples under 40. I am not interested in couples who are secondary characters. I want characters who are IN their forties, fifties, or beyond, characters who are the LEADS!” Romance novelist Trish Wylie had a more wistful take on the situation. “But while it might be nice to re-live a smidge of our youth in the pages of a romance novel, I think we’re missing out on a lot of story potential by dismissing the more mature heroine.” (https://www.pinkheartsociety.com/single-post/May2017/ViveLaDifference)

It’s not that romance novels featuring midlife heroines don’t exist. Goodreads lists a number of them on a site titled “Best Women Over 40 Erotic Romance Books” (http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/29590.Best_Women_over_40_Erotic_Romance_Books). Many of these titles have decent reader ratings of 4 or 5 stars, so it looks that midlife romance novels can attract enthusiastic audiences. However, a great many of these books were self-published. While I have nothing against self-published books—I have read and reviewed several well-written, self-published romance novels—they aren’t as widely distributed as traditionally published books and are rarely sold in bookstores.

Clearly, the reason behind the lack of romance novels with midlfe heroines is the reluctance of publishers to publish them. Unfortunately, publishers, like everyone else, are not immune to our culture’s bias against older women, who are not considered sexy and lust-worthy. After all, according to conventional wisdom, who fantasizes about women with gray hair and wrinkles?

But the audience for midlife romance novels already exists, and—as the population ages and late in life divorce and remarriage become increasingly common—it will continue to grow. Publishers, already struggling to stay in business, can no longer afford to ignore them.

Publishers . . . are you listening?

Kathleen Jones is the author of an upcoming midlife romance novel set in the world of stand-up comedy. Visit her at https://kathleenjones.org/ or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/joneslepidas and sign up for free updates at ‪http://eepurl.com/ceSobT 

Photo credit: Geoff Livingston, “Love in Winter,” via photopin (license)

29 Responses to Where Are the Midlife Heroines in Romance Novels?–Kathleen Jones

  1. Alisha

    Thank you for writing this. As a woman in my late 40’s, I have a hard time finding something to read as the female lead charachter is in her early 20’s, height is around 5’6”, 36 C, with long, thick, flowing blonde, red, or jet black, shiny hair. They are either in college or just out of college. I get tired of seeing/reading those type of books and am on a search for a more mature, romance (or paranormal) book/series.

  2. Hetty Lacey

    Totally agree! While it’s always fun to read about first loves and heroines in their 20s, I would dearly love to see that age range expand to older women with their second (or third!) loves. I am a huge fan of historical romance and the extremely young heroine is a trope of the genre. I’d love to see more widows or on-the-shelf heroines. Maybe I should write one…add it to the list of projects!

  3. Lola

    I went online looking for the possibility that there could be midlife romance novels out there & stumbled across this website. Thank you for writing this article & including the statistics, as well as the replies from others that assures me that it is possible to write a story featuring midlife romance.

  4. Peter Perrin

    What a delight to see so much interest in older romances. My debut novel “Not Too Old for Love: Grace’s Turmoil’ is to be published (hopefully in November or January). It features a 68 year old heroine and a 71 year old hero. And all the characters are over 60 as it’s set in an upmarket retirement village in England. This is my debut novel and was accepted by Devine Destinies on my first submission to anybody so perhaps the timing was right for the change in the market. I’m 73 btw.

  5. Nicola Marsh

    Fascinating article, Kathleen. In my women’s fiction release Saving Sara, I deliberately wanted to feature a romance plot for a more mature woman. Cilla is 60 and battles insecurities, judgement and fear of her own body when she’s pursued by a 42 year old doctor, who used to be her daughter’s crush! I tried to portray a real-life struggle I envisaged a woman her age would face.
    Interestingly, some readers loved the storyline, others thought it improbable, but I loved exploring it!

  6. Sandra antonelli

    The reason I started writing romance is because there were so few heroines over 40. Thank you for drawing attention to this situation and to the audience who want to read romantic stories about women of a certain age, who are not brain dead or dead below the waist simply because they cross an invisible line that renders them suddenly invisible. All my books feature people over 40 as lead characters. Authors like us write for readers who want to see themselves at all ages not just under 40!

  7. Jennifer Theriot

    AWESOME article! This is exactly why I started writing back in 2012. There were very few contemporary romance reads out there with main characters over the age of 50. We still have active sex lives and crave romance, so why not write about it?
    I have a 3-book series out, called Out of the Box (Awakening, Regifted and Everlasting) My hero is 60 and heroine is 57. Great to see there IS an audience for ‘seasoned romance’ writers! xoxo

  8. Morgan Malone

    I am an author of several romances all of which feature heroes and heroines ranging from 35-50. Our Facebook group Seasoned Romance has been a great force in making our work known to readers and established publishers. But as you know, numbers talk. If you want to see mire love stories about silver foxes and the women who tame them, please buy and read the excellent books that are available featuring Seasoned Romance!

  9. Freya Barker

    Fabulous post and right up my alley. It is one of the reasons I started writing. Was tired of reading about the young and the perky, when I had enough of the angst that comes with that age at home, from my own kids. I crave older protagonists, they make for much deeper, complex and layered characters, and with a virtual lifetime of experience under the belt, they offer stories that resonate deeply.
    I love writing my mature characters, and my readers love reading about them.

  10. JoAnn

    As a 56 year old romance reader, I applaud this article!! I am always looking to buy books where the heroine/hero are 35+ and includes all the messiness that comes with midlife – kids, parents, jobs…and (still) sexy relationships with a significant other!

  11. Bonnie Edwards

    I’ve been writing seasoned romance and didn’t know until recently that that’s what it was called. I’m a new member of the FB Group Seasoned Romance and love whole vibe. My entire Christmas Collection series has older than 30 heroines. The first is 47, her daughter is 30 and in love with a younger man, and the next one has a couple mid-thirties, both single parents who live in different countries! They make it work!

  12. Nancy Kay

    Finally! My publisher may be small, but they’re open to many diverse topics, including ‘seasoned romance’. I currently have two such novels out and am working on a third. As a ‘seasoned’ author, I think I have a lot of insight and experience to create characters over 40, and even some past the half-century mark! Let’s keep this ball rolling! “www.nancykayauthor.com”>

  13. Mary Cooney-Glazer

    So glad you wrote this, Kathleen. My novel, “This Time Forever,” features a 54 yo heroine getting a second chance at love. I’m getting it ready for Betas now, hoping for late September-early October debut. Informal research tells me there’s an audience for this kind of story. Your article is encouraging.. Thanks again.

  14. Karen Booth

    Great post, Kathleen. As the instigator of the Seasoned Romance group on Facebook, this is an issue very close to my heart. I think we are making strides, but it’s a slow process. Shows like Grace & Frankie are changing the incorrect perception that characters over 40 don’t care about love or sex. Publishers need to catch up and start leading the way. There are lots of indie books with these characters, but too few traditionally published titles. Thanks for bringing attention to the struggle!

  15. Marie Harte

    Great post, Kathleen. And so true. I know a few houses are looking to expand their lines to encompass a more diverse readership. Entangled, for one. 🙂

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