If age really is just a number, what number marks old age?
Well, the answer to that depends on how old you are now.
Millennials hold the least generous views on aging, saying that you are old beginning at just 59, according to a new study by U.S. Trust. Older groups, however, put the starting point further out.
Gen X on average bumps the beginning of old age to 65, while boomers and the silent generation both agreed that age 73 is the start.
Here’s how different groups defined “old” and “young,” according to the 2017 U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth & Worth report:
The survey of more than 800 high-net-worth households defined millennials as being between the ages of 21 and 36, Generation X as ages 37 to 52, baby boomers as people 53 to 72, and the silent generation as anyone 73 or older.
Surprisingly, 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.
Gen X and boomers see people growing up quite a bit faster. Both groups on average say youth ends at 31, while the silent generation was more lenient, bumping the figure up to 35.
Asked separately to define the 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.
For another view, the Japan Gerontological Society and Japan Geriatrics Society released a study earlier this year that concluded the term “old” best applies to those between the ages of 75 and 89. People ages 65 to 74 could be thought of as “pre-old,” while those age 90 and over earn the title “super-old,” they said.
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.
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One piece of good news: AARP has demonstrated that young people’s sense of what age is “old” can be changed pretty easily. As part of its Disrupt Aging campaign, the group questioned millennials on what age was old and then introduced them to people who were the ages they named. In an entertaining video, you can see how the youths all changed their answers to a much later age because none of the people met the millennials’ expectations of what an old person should look, act or sound like. The signs they were expecting to see? Illness, memory loss, difficulty walking, and struggles with technology.
Meanwhile, a study by Pew Research Center several years ago found that many of the markers we associate with aging–including illness, memory loss and an end to sexual activity–are experienced by fewer older adults than younger adults think.
In the end, maybe we should just take comfort in the fact that age really is just a number and that what we think of as old now may in fact not be that old.