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At What Age Do We Become “Old”? 4 Generations, 4 Different Answers

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We’ve all heard the expression “You’re as old as you feel.” We’ve also heard people say that “Age is just a number,” and “70 is the new 50” (something aging boomers tell themselves on a regular basis). But that does raise an interesting question: at what age are we officially “old”?

We ran across this fun and fascinating article on the Time magazine “Money” website. The article asks the question, “If age really is just a number, what number marks old age?” The answer, not surprisingly, is that your definition of “old” depends largely on how old you are now. According to the Time article, those who are least “generous” in their definition of the beginning of old age are the millennials, who are presently (according to the survey) between age 21 and 36. These youngsters say you’re official old when you turn 59. For the Generation X group (age 37 to 52) who themselves are starting to grow past middle age, “old” begins at 65.

We were amused by the answer given by the baby boomers, that vast generation currently between the ages of 53 and 72. For boomers old age always starts “next year,” in this case at age 73. As for the silent generation, age 73 or older, the survey suggests they all feel they’ve pretty much arrived: their answer for the starting age of “old” was the same as the boomers, age 73.

This same survey also asked about the opposite end of the age spectrum: according to each generational group, when does youth officially end?  “Surprisingly,” writes Time magazine, “millennials were the most inclusive when it came to defining who is young, saying that only at age 40 does youth end. Of course, this means they think middle age spans only 19 years.”  The Generation X and baby boomer cohorts offered matching answers, each claiming that the state of being “young” ends at age 31, while the silent generation remembers things differently: they say youth ends at age 35.

All this was based on a study of more than 800 high net worth households in the U.S.Trust “Insights on Wealth and Worth” report. You can access a report summary by clicking here.

If those arbitrary bookends define what “old” and “young” mean in the minds of these various generations, what age could be defined as the prime of life?  In the words of the Time article, “Asked separately to define the age at which someone hits the prime of life, in terms of a person’s resources, potential, capacity and influence, millennials put that at 36. Older respondents – all already past 36 themselves – felt the prime of life came later. Gen X said age 47 was the prime, while boomers put it at 50 and the silent generation selected age 52 as best.”

Apart from fun cocktail party chatter, preconceived ideas like these about aging can have serious consequences, especially (says the Time article) in the workplace. “Negative opinions about aging can be a significant impediment to older workers who are looking to find new jobs or advance in their careers. That’s a particular problem as longer lifespans and savings shortfalls have many people looking to delay retirement or work part time after they stop full-time work.” An aging boomer-generation worker with a millennial boss, for example, may have to work extra diligently to demonstrate that he or she is still able to handle the demands of the job. It might help that older worker if he or she could gain a better understanding of what the younger boss might be thinking.

The good news in all this is that perceptions about “old” – or in this case, misperceptions – can be changed. The AARP has developed a campaign called Disrupt Aging that demonstrates how a young person’s sense of what “old” means can be pretty easily adjusted.  We encourage you to watch this wonderful AARP video in which millennials were asked what age “old” is (and what “old” looks like) – then were introduced to men and women who matched that age. None of the stereotypes the millennials expected to see, including confusion, memory loss, general feebleness and struggles with technology was proven true. As a result of these lively encounters, every millennial adjusted his or her definition of “old” higher by 30 or 40 years. It’s worth watching.

At AgingOptions we have never believed in a definition of “old.” We’ve encountered people in their 30s who seem far less energetic, healthy, curious and “alive” than people we know in their 70s and 80s. When it comes to aging, there are some things we may not be able to control, but there’s a lot we can control, and a big part of aging well means taking charge of your life and living with intentionality and purpose. Aging well also means planning for your retirement future, and that in turn means an AgingOptions LifePlan. What makes a LifePlan so indispensable? It’s the only retirement plan we know of in which all the critical elements of your future planning work together interdependently: your financial plan, your legal plan, your medical plan, your housing plan, even your plan to involve your family. A LifePlan from AgingOptions allows you to look forward to retirement knowing you’ll be able to preserve your assets, avoid becoming a burden to those you love, and escape the trap of being forced against your will into institutional care. Imagine the confidence such a plan will bring!

You don’t have to imagine it – instead you can experience it for yourself, at an upcoming AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. We offer these popular events throughout the region, so why not invest a few hours at this free, no-obligation seminar and see for yourself? Click here for details and online registration, or contact us during the week and we’ll gladly assist you.

Remember, age is little more than a number – so, as we like to say, “Age on!”

(originally reported at

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