People think old age starts later than they used to, study finds

Older couple walking.
Older couple walking. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Euronews
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People's perception of when "old age" starts has changed over time.


Our perception of what age is considered old has increased over time, according to a new study.

Researchers found that middle-aged and older adults in Germany believe that old age begins later in life than people did previously.

They analysed data from 14,056 participants in the German Ageing Survey, which includes people born between 1911 and 1974.

Study participants were surveyed up to eight times over 25 years and asked "at what age would you describe someone as old".

They were assessed in 1996 and then re-questioned over time with new participants entering the survey later.

"This is why we can, for instance, investigate whether someone aged 40 in 2008 believes old age to start later than someone who was aged 40 in 1996," Markus Wettstein, one of the study's authors from Humboldt University in Berlin, told Euronews Health.

For instance, researchers found that when aged 65, participants born in 1911 believed old age began at 71, while participants born in 1956 said old age started at 74.

But the trend of people believing that old age begins later has slowed in recent years, with researchers saying that it may not continue in the future.

Their findings were published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

Someone's age plays a role in their perception of it

As people aged, their perception of when old age starts increased, the researchers found.

"To give an example, for a 64-year-old, the estimated perceived onset of old age was 74.7 years, whereas for a 74-year-old, the estimated perceived onset of old age was 76.8 years," the authors wrote in the study.

“Life expectancy has increased, which might contribute to a later perceived onset of old age," Wettstein said in a statement.

"Also, some aspects of health have improved over time, so that people of a certain age who were regarded as old in the past may no longer be considered old nowadays."

Women also perceived old age as beginning two years later on average than men did.

There were several limitations to the study including that the results could not be generalised to other countries due to cultural differences in how people perceive age.

Yet the researchers pointed out that the trend was still present when taking into account "sociodemographic, psychosocial, and health factors".

The authors concluded that more research is needed to understand why there is a perception toward old age starting later and its implications for "health and well-being in later life".

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