Life Transitions, but How Old is “Old”?

Calendar with pages turning graphic.

When do we officially become “old”? I know almost no one who has passed multiple life transitions who will admit to having reached old age. On the time line of life, we all travel from birth to death. That’s an unbreakable rule. However between those points, the time line is a slide rule. When are we no longer children? And when are we officially, universally and personally considered “old?”

Calendar with pages turning graphic.


The Slide Rule of Aging

40-60 overlaps with 56-76 overlaps with 72-92 overlaps with 88-?

In fact, life happens along a progressive continuum of broad, flexible eras. The phrase “60 is the new 50” makes sense. Why? Because in either decade (our 50’s or 60’s) similar milestones may punctuate our life transitions. We shift our career expectations. Pressures grow from our responsibilities for the generations before and after our own. Our sexual desires and abilities are as quixotic as in adolescence.

Our perception of age and behaviors influenced by those perceptions are more impacted by biological and psychological measures of time than by turning calendar pages. The decade of our “fifties” lie within both 40 – 60 and 56 – 76. Cultural stereotypes of aging begin to harass us externally and internally from 40 (maybe even age 30) on. Some people retire at 50-55; some wait until age 70+. You may be like the Frenchman Robert Marchand, still breaking cycling speed records at 105. Or you may end up in a wheelchair by 50. As we remain healthier longer, outdated notions of chronological age become less and less valid.

Chronological Age Doesn’t Mean What It Used To…

This excellent article, “Is 75 the new 65?”, by Andrew Scott, suggests we should pay increased attention to the individual realities of aging. He explains when and how society began applying chronological age, like 65 being “retirement age,” to make policy and practice decisions. He also reminds us that “the average U.S. citizen has never been older, but also has never had so long left to live.” Think on that for a moment.

…and Why That Matters

A shift from chronological to a biological sense of age undermines lazy, age-based stereotypes and helps us to understand better how our own efforts may influence the aging process. This shift also forces governments and corporations to rethink education, retirement and pension policies, as well as employment practices.

Is 75 the New 65? How the Definition of Aging Is Changing, by Andrew Scott, Economics professor and author, in Next Avenue, March 22, 2019.

Scott further elaborates, “Our relationship with time changes when we have more of it. Lacking role models for how to live such long lives, we are —  all of us — currently engaged in a huge, new and long-lasting social experiment. This moment provides an opportunity to free ourselves from the numerical determinism of chronological age and revisit a more humane concept based on an individual’s physical and mental characteristics.” I’m with him.

How Will You Deal With Life Transitions?

A bit of clear, creative thinking, individual and collective action can produce a more age-friendly society that will enable all ages to reap the benefits of the global upward shift in demographics.