What Age Does Old Age Begin?

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When does a person transition from middle age to old age? There is no universal agreement on the starting age for old age. 

Perceptions vary based on the age of who you ask.

Younger Adults See Old Age Starting Earlier:

According to a Pew Research study on perceptions of old age, the average response when all ages were included was 68 years old. 

However, adults under 30 believed old age begins much earlier, at just 60 years old. Over half of younger respondents felt old age starts before 60.

Younger people are more likely to associate getting older with significant declines in physical and mental abilities.

They may see 60 as quite elderly since it is far from their current life stage. With less life experience, younger adults are prone to overgeneralize the ageing process.

Older Adults Associate Old Age with Higher Ages: 

Interestingly, the older people are, the higher the age they associate with old age. Adults aged 30-49 on average said 69 was the start of old age. 

For 50-64-year-olds, they put the number at 72. And respondents aged 65 and older said old age begins at 74 years old. 

As adults get older and pass the previous ages they once viewed as “old,” their perspective shifts. What once seemed elderly no longer feels so old from their current vantage point. 

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Life experience teaches them ageing is a gradual, varied process.

Women See Old Age Starting Later Than Men:

Another pattern that emerged was a gender difference in perceptions of old age. Women on average said old age begins at 70 years old. 

Men on average viewed 66 as the starting point for old age. 

Some potential reasons for women’s higher threshold could be greater longevity, later retirement, and maintaining familial caregiving roles into older ages. 

Women may resist negative cultural stereotypes of postmenopausal decline. But men also face challenges adjusting to ageing transitions.

Most Don’t Feel Old Even in Their 70s:

Interestingly, even into their 70s and 80s, the majority of respondents did not identify as feeling old. 

Only 35% of adults 75+ said they feel old, and just 21% of 65-74-year-olds described themselves as feeling old.

This suggests a disconnect between chronological age and the internal experience of ageing. Many associate old age with a disability, yet feel vigorous and engaged well into older adulthood. 

Our youth-oriented culture likely contributes to denying or resisting identifying with being old.

In the end, the question “When does old age begin?” has no definitive answer.

The start of old age depends on societal norms, personal experience, health status, culture, and individual attitudes about ageing. 

But recognizing ageist stereotypes and respecting the diversity of later life is important, whatever we label it’s beginning.

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