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Are you only as old as you feel?

Updated: May 20, 2020

What constitutes "old" is an issue that plagues all societies. I'm reading an article in one of New Zealand's online papers that says older women are over 30. The article below asks some key questions about the issue. And any comments you have on the subject would be good too.

by Lucia Dore

How old is “old”? Is it when someone reaches 50 or when someone reaches 80?

The answer is not definitive. It all depends on what country you’re in and society’s perception of age. In some cultures, you’re considered old at 50; in others at 80. And some people act older at 50, while others might act younger at 80. As a consequence, it’s becoming harder to identify someone as “old”. Researchers, though, are trying to reach a more definitive answer.

For example, when researchers at the Pew Research Center put this old age question to nearly 3,000 adults, ranging in age from 18 to well over 65, unsurprisingly the definition of old age depends on who you ask.

As people age, old age moves back too. It's no surprise that the older people get, the longer they think it takes for a person to reach old age. According to Pew, on average, adults between the ages of 30 and 49 think old age begins at 69. People who are 50-64 believe old age starts at 72. Responders who are 65 and older say old age begins at 74.

Responses to the question, “When does old age begin?” also vary by sex as well as age, with women taking the more generous view. On average, women say old age begins at age 70, according to the Pew study. Men, on average, say that old age begins at 66.

The Pew study also confirms what most older people think: that old age is for other people.

The majority of people agree that old age does not apply to them.

Among the old age survey respondents who were 65-74, only 21 per cent said they feel old. Even among those who are 75 and older—an age that many of those surveyed would call “old”—just 35 per cent said they feel old.

As explained in “Growing Old in America: Expectations vs. Reality” produced 10 years ago, based on a Pew study, if you average all of the responses together to the question as to when old age begins the average answer is 68.

On the other hand, the average response of adults under 30 is that old age begins at 60. More than half of the adults in under 30 said that old age actually begins before people hit their 60th birthday.

The responses are probably not much different now.

Maybe it’s true, as the old saying goes, that you’re as young as you feel. What if you work out regularly at 60 and are fitter than you were at 20? Are you old? Maybe mentally even if not physically. Is it right to call people over 50 “old” even though no one seems to believe it?

Photo by Carole Railton (copyright) David Hare, playwright and director. Is he old at 72?

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