I happened upon an article about America’s perception of aging in the current issue of the AARP magazine, that I found really eye opening. Before I share some of their fascinating findings, just let me say, I had to be led kicking and screaming to anything even close to AARP.
They started sending me membership announcements when I was still a spring chicken (I always wondered which of my friends thought this would be funny) – so there is a part of me that has been actively avoiding even acknowledging their existence, much less listening to what they have to say.
As I am aging, and I might add happily so, I’ve been astounded by the misconceptions and preconceived notions I had about the process. And as anyone who has been called ma’am by the checkout clerk, the police officer, or the good looking guy at the bar can attest, we start to be perceived as old when we are still relatively young.
What I found intriguing about the article was how our perception of age differs not only depending on our age, but our gender and ethnicity. The 1,800 people who were polled struck down some previously held stereotypical concepts, in addition to painting a much rosier picture of their attitudes about growing older. The respondents ranged in age from 40 to 90 with a whopping 85% saying they were not old yet. In fact, one 90-year old woman said she wouldn’t be old until she hit 95. You go girl!!
When asked at what age is a person old, people in their 40s said it was the age 63. People in their 50s think you are old if you are 68. The individuals who are in their 60s definitely don’t think you’ve jumped the shark until you reach 73, while folks in their 70s think 75 sort of marks the final frontier.
Both men and women agree that a man is old when he hits 70. Those same people were split when it comes to their opinion of when a woman is old. Men think a woman is past her prime when she blows out 68 candles on her birthday cake. Women (oh, we are so wise) think we are still young until we reach age 75.
It’s also surprising that as we age our perception of the problems associated with aging diminishes rather than flourishes. The answers to the following questions have some surprising results:
• Problems with my physical health do not hold me back from doing what I want
58% of 40-year-olds agreed with this statement. 63% of 50-somethings agreed. And, are you ready?
69% of 60- and 70-year-olds hold this belief.
• Growing older has been easier than I thought
39% of those 40-year-old youngsters agree, while 48% of the 50-year-olds concurred. By the time they’ve reached 60, 59% felt this to be true, and 55% of 70-year-olds think it’s less burdensome.
• I have more energy now than I expected for my age
Only 24% of 40-year-olds are buying into this, but by the time they reach their 50s, 47% agree. And it just gets better from there. 54% of people in their 60s feel more energized than they’d anticipated, and 64% of 70-year-olds are jumping for joy.
The younger we are, the more respect we think the elderly deserve, which may be attributable to the fact that as we age we realize respect is earned, not just a right of passage.
African Americans not only are more likely to feel there are many pleasant things about growing older, but they are also more inclined to feel their life has made a difference. They are also less likely to feel that old age is a time of loneliness than their Hispanic, Caucasian or Asian American counterparts.
And finally, our optimism about sex stays fairly consistent regardless of age, although men of all ages seem to think they will continue to enjoy it to a higher degree than women. Of those polled, 71% of men and 51% of women said they believe age has nothing to do with enthusiasm.
I will leave you with a quote from Whoopi Goldberg (who happens to be 58) that appeared in the article:
“There’s only one alternative to getting older, so suck it up.”