Study: ‘Old age’ now begins at 75, according to seniors

Study: ‘Old age’ now begins at 75, according to seniorsStudy: ‘Old age’ now begins at 75, according to seniors
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A study spanning over 25 years reveals shifting perceptions of old age, with middle-aged and older adults believing it starts later in life.
Major findings: Participants in their mid-60s believe that old age begins at around 75, according to the study recently published in Psychology and Aging. Previous generations considered it to come earlier.
  • Those born from 1911 to 1935 thought that old age started earlier compared to those born after 1935. For example, at age 65, those born in 1911 set the mark for old age at 71, while those born in 1956 set it at 74.
  • The trend of pushing back the age considered “old” appears to be slowing down, with little difference in perception between those born from 1936 to 1951 and 1952 to 1974.
  • Women typically consider old age to start 2.4 years later than men, a gap that has widened among younger cohorts.
  • Factors such as loneliness, health status and regional differences also influence perceptions of old age.
How the study was conducted: Researchers from Germany and the U.S. analyzed data from 14,056 participants in the ongoing German Ageing Survey, which includes people living in Germany who were born between 1911 and 1974. They responded to survey questions up to eight times from 1996 to 2021 between the ages of 40 and 100.
What the researchers are saying: The researchers believe the shift in perception is partly influenced by improvement in life expectancy. They say their findings may also have implications for when and how people prepare for their own aging.
  • “Life expectancy has increased, which might contribute to a later perceived onset of old age,” said study co-author Markus Wettstein of Humboldt University in Berlin. “Also, some aspects of health have improved over time, so that people of a certain age who were regarded as old in the past may no longer be considered old nowadays.”
The big picture: This evolving perception of old age reflects broader social and historical changes, including adjustments in retirement age and medical advancements. Cultural attitudes toward aging and the stigma associated with being old also play significant roles in shaping these perceptions.
What’s next: Researchers suggest further studies to explore if these perceptions would continue to change and how they might differ in non-Western contexts. A focus in Asia could be particularly helpful as it is currently home to countries with the world’s oldest populations.
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