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December 17, 2019

How old is old?

Some people are old at 18 and some are young at 90. Time is a concept that humans created.” (Yoko Ono)

If you had to give a number for when old age begins what number would you give?

In a recent study by the Royal Society for Public Health, the onset of ‘old age’ was perceived to be 60 years by women and 57 years by men. It also revealed that as people age, ‘old age’ moves back. So those aged 18-34 perceived ‘old age’ to begin at 53 on average, compared to those over 65 whose average response was 64. (1) It would seem that ‘old’ is relative depending on your personal circumstances.

Another way to gauge old age could be by life events or milestones, such as reaching retirement or becoming a grandparent or your hair turning grey. But nowadays you can go to university in your sixties, be a grandparent in your 40s and the age of retirement is certainly not fixed. And as for grey hair, according to Glamour Magazine – the grey hair revolution has begun!

So the lines have become blurred – it is increasingly difficult to pinpoint when ‘old age’ begins. Perhaps, therefore, the important question should be: “is there any benefit to drawing a line in the sand between young and old? Is a focus on how old somebody is even relevant?”

We seem to be intent in placing people in ever-increasing age categories: ‘millennial’, ‘boomer’, ‘elderly’, ‘generation X’ etc – are these terms a useful way of grouping us together, of trying to make sense of our complex social structures? Or just a convenient way for journalists and policy makers to pit us against one another? Are young and old really that different from each other? And are those in the same age brackets alike in other respects?

In a recent study by ‘The Age of No Retirement’ it would seem that Age does not define us. 2,000 people were surveyed, ranging from 18-99 years old and it was revealed that “..most of us (83%) feel somewhat different to many others in our age bracket. That’s just as true whether you’re 20 or 80.” (2)

Is it time we started to move away from age related stereotypes? To focus on an individual’s talents, achievements, qualities, interests rather than making assumptions based on what age bracket they fall into?

Age Proud Leeds is a campaign to raise awareness of ageism and change negative attitudes about ageing and older people. You can sign up to hear the latest news from the campaign, order an activity pack and get involved!

(1) That Age Old Question: how attitudes to ageing affect our health and wellbeing (Royal Society for Public Health / Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 2018)

(2) Age does not define us (The Age of No Retirement, 2019)

Sarah Prescott
Time to Shine Friendly Communities Officer