Some apps have leaned into this new demographic. After noticing the rising numbers of men, Foley decided to target them in online marketing drives on the two Purple sites. It worked, he says. “We’ve seen, even in the last year, that the percentage of men has quadrupled”.
Co-Star, an app which has a scientific-looking, gender-neutral design, says it uses NASA data for its charts, which are then interpreted by a team of astrologers. It says that the percentage of men on the app has been shifting steadily towards 30 per cent. According to internal data from the app market research company Sensor Tower, Co-Star’s revenue has more than tripled from $210,000 in 2019 to $699k in 2020.
Though most of these apps favour gender neutral language, presumably to make the astrology predictions less specific, they also cater to a generation moving away from rigid gender categorisation. And the trend is also indicative of other societal changes.
There’s been anecdotal evidence that in the past moments of communal anxiety have led to increased interest in the paranormal as people look elsewhere for reassurance and control. SirCheo dates a shift towards increasing numbers of male clients to 2016. “Politics got injected at some point along the way,” he says. “Media and politics together I think created a certain kind of high emotional reaction from people.” The pandemic has turbocharged this feeling. Sean Foley says Covid has “opened the door to men”.
Traditional tools men might use to negotiate stress, such as meeting friends or playing sport, have been curtailed by lockdowns. “Everyone’s really struggled, but particularly my male clients,” says Paul Mollitt, a London-based therapist and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). Men have been confronted by life and death during Covid, says Ronald Levant, psychology professor and former head of the American Psychological Association. “Men get more severe infections, and they die at a greater rate than women,” he says.
But Levant attributes the rise in interest in psychic services to more sinister trends: “I think there’s just more generally, a belief in improbable occurrences in the United States,” he says, referencing both QAnon and anti-vaxxers. “There’s been a real assault on truth, and evidence, and scientific epistemology.” This phenomenon may be gendered; a 2020 study from the University of Delaware showed that men are more likely than women to endorse Covid-19 conspiracies. The OkCupid survey asked users whether they considered astrology a “legitimate science”; the percentage of men who said yes has increased 20 per cent in the past three years.
After news of a $3m fundraise by astrology app Sanctuary World, which also offers one-to-one consultations with psychics, entrepreneur Josh Wolfe voiced his disapproval: “Seriously shame on anyone funding or encouraging this bullshit” he tweeted. “No doubt there is demand – but this isn’t peddling entertainment, it’s encouraging slippery slope snake oil flapdoodle.” Ross Clark, the founder of Sanctuary World, is sanguine about these criticisms. “I had a tremendous amount of inbound inquiries from VCs, and I think that’ll be very helpful for our next raise.” The apps’s investors have also put money into Masterclass, Goop, Headspace and Daily Harvest.
Clark is not surprised by the recent investments in the psychic services industry. “It’s a very misunderstood category,” he says. “This is a market that is three to four times the size of the meditation space which has now minted two unicorns and a number of other successful companies.” Driving the investor interest, Clark says, “is the broad appeal and how rapidly growing the space is particularly with millennial and Gen Z audiences”.
There’s certainly money to be made. On Keen, Sara has customers who can spend tens of thousands of dollars a year calling her. Ingenio says it sets spending limits for new customers and operate a pay-as-you-go system which it hopes acts as a self-regulating mechanism. But as Sara says: “If they don’t call me they’re going to call someone else.”
Psychologists worry about these relationships and the influence psychics and astrologers can exert. “It really hinges on how seriously the person takes it, and how they use it to guide their lives. If they do that to a greater extent, they’re in greater danger,” says Levant.
Mollitt worries that isolated men may be more vulnerable to unhealthy attachments. “Men crave intimacy as much as anybody else and much as women,” Mollitt says. “But they’re more susceptible, I think, to being taken down the wrong path.”
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