The statement of “age is just a number” could be just that.
As life expectancy for humans increases, so does our perception of what age we consider ‘old’.
We have better medicine, lifestyle, and disease prevention than ever before. We have more science promoting healthy life practices that keep us younger for longer.
So, when are you considered old?
The World Health Organisation believes that most developed world countries characterise old age starting at 60 years and above.
However, this definition isn’t adaptable to a place like Africa, where the more traditional definition of an elder, or elderly person, starts between 50 to 65 years of age.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has recently defined old age through a new measure called “prospective age” which looks at the average number of years people have left to live. So according to WEF, being old doesn’t start at age 65, rather when people have an average of 15 more years left to live.
What age is considered “old” in other countries?
Most of Europe have similar views of old age to the World Health Organisation, believing old age starts at 65 years of age.
In America, one researcher found that you are considered old at 70 to 71 years of age for men and 73 to 73 for women.
Just under a decade ago in Britain, people believed old age started at 59. However, research undertaken in 2018 found that British people believed you were considered old at 70.
A decade ago, Turkey considered 55 the beginning of old age, because the country’s average life expectancy at the time was 72. Now, however, with an unexpected boom in people over the age of 65, you are considered old when you reach the age of 70.
In developing countries, the age you are considered old is around when you can start receiving some form of pension.
In China, the retirement age is 60 for men and 50 for female workers, or for female civil servants, 55. China’s retirement age is considered one of the bigger gaps in retirement age.
Whereas, India has one of the lowest retirement ages in Asia, with 58 considered the age to retire.
In Libya, a country in Africa, the retirement age was raised from 65 to 70 years.
In many cases, it seems that the common idea of what old has either raised or lowered to a similar mark, around 65-70 years of age.
In Australia, the current retirement age is 67, however, that is expected to rise over the next few years. The Government is also pushing for older people to remain working for longer, so there has been a shift in what the Government believes is old.
What younger generations consider old?
A 2018 survey in the United States found that female participants, between the ages of 16-34, thought 61 was when old age started, whereas young males identified 56 as the age when you were considered old.
There were a lot of extra false perceptions around what young people thought were true about older people.
The false, but popular, belief that older people were bad drivers had around 72 percent of participants thinking this myth was true.
This perception is in line with other popular beliefs, like older people losing touch with modern technology. Around 55 percent of participants believed that was a true statement, even though it was found not to be true.
However, younger people were correct around the belief that older people are lonelier, like their bodies less as they age, and their physical and general health and mobility decline.
Age vs perception
Another US study found that young adults have a different view of what is considered old, many believe old age hits at 50 and middle age starts at 30.
The principal researcher of the study thought it was interesting that so many younger people had a skewed perception of ageing.
The study found that the perception of old age changes as you age. So the older you get, the more likely you are to feel younger.
Additionally, the older you become, the more likely you are to shift towards a youthful idea of how you look, the interests you have and the activities you participate in.
This study believes this move to believing you are younger than you are may be due to the stigmatisation of older people.
So older people will tend to disassociate themselves from the older age group, so they don’t experience the negative stereotypes of being old.
The main finding of the study was that people don’t want to associate themselves as being in an older adult group because of the stigma they have had from younger ages towards older people.
A market research company, Ipsos, surveyed 30 countries to see how the perceptions of age differ between the countries.
The survey found that Australians perceive old age nearly the same as when you can begin receiving the age pension.
While Australia has a high life expectancy, the country is also very negative towards ageing.
About 29 percent of Australians are optimistic about ageing. This is lower than the global average, 33 percent. Just over half of Australians are worried about ageing, 51 percent.
And around 71 percent of participants believed they were prepared for old age.
Australians did agree, 61 percent, that our elders did not receive enough respect.
How media and modern society portray older people
The perception in our media, whether that is film, television, books or news, seem to continue perpetuating ageist stereotypes.
One of the biggest is around computer literacy. Whilst the perception is the older you are the less familiar you’ll be with modern technology, a large portion of older people are able to use computers and quite well.
A large number of YouTube consumers are retirees with around 36 percent of users clicking on the plethora of free entertainment and informational videos.
Additionally, one of Facebook’s biggest demographics are people over the age of 50. It’s the most commonly used social media by older people.
Dementia is nothing to joke about. However, many jokes in the media we consume poke fun at older adults and their memory loss.
Along with perceptions of older people having memory loss, is the continued stereotype of older adults being mean and rude.
Everyone can be mean and rude, those behaviours aren’t reserved from every older person, and studies have found that those stereotypes can further push ageist views and leave older people feeling excluded and neglected from society.
One study even found that elderly people are usually depicted very negatively in literature and not often cast in major roles in books or do not have fully developed characters.
You’re only as old as you feel
Depending on who you ask, the definition of what old is can differ depending on opinion and the age of the person being asked.
Searching for what is considered “old” can seem irrelevant when you will always receive a subjective answer.
If a 95 year old Finnish woman can be one of the oldest person to bungee jump, or a 80 year old can be the oldest person to reach the summit of Mount Everest even after four open-heart surgeries and suffering a shattered pelvis, who really gets to decide if you are too old to do something?
With life expectancy growing every year in Australia, currently at 82.5 years, it seems a little bit ambitious to say goodbye to your youth in your mid-30s and welcome old age before you blow the candles out at 60.
These days it seems age has become just that, a number, and it’s more about how you are feeling physically and mentally which determines whether you are old.
We’re interested to know what age you believe is “old”, or do you feel age is just a number? Let us know by commenting in the box below.
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Age Periods during Late Adulthood
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Question: Government data show that 6% of the American population are at least 75 years of age and that about 52% of Americans are women.
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