Don’t Trust Anyone Over…71? Poll Reveals Americans’ Views on Aging

Most Americans believe that being “old” means being age 71 or older and wish they themselves were still under age 40.

A poll by the MetLife Mature Market Institute conducted by Zogby International shows that 60 percent of Americans believe “old” is age 71 and over, but that 65 percent also wish they were under 40.

“This data shows that the phrase from the 1960’s, ‘don’t trust anyone over 30,’ may have gone the way of flower power and groovy,” said Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

“Since the population is aging and there are more people in middle age than ever before, the idea that old begins at 30 is outdated and people are not considered old until much later in life.”

The study indicates that even younger people, those between 18 and 24, have adjusted their idea of old. A majority, 59 percent in that age group, refers to old as someone over 60. Furthermore, though most people over 35 say they wish they were younger and there is a clear desire to be young, there are a significant number of older people, 31 percent of those over 70, who are content with their current age.

“The implications for workforce participation and social involvement will be far-reaching,” Timmermann predicted. “As time goes on, changed attitudes will result in increased numbers of older people who will continue to work, to start their own businesses, or to join with younger generations to help meet community needs. No longer will there be social pressure to ‘hang it up’ at a certain age.”

How Old is Old?
Thirty-two percent of respondents to the poll say the ages between 71 and 80 are old. Eighteen percent say 81 to 90 is old and 12 percent say old is between 41 and 60.

Respondents living in the west (37%) were the most likely to say old is 71 to 80, while southerners (23%) were most likely to put “old” in the 61 to 70 range.

As might be expected, as age increases, so does the answer to the question, “how old is old?” Thirty percent of those under 30 say 61 to 70 is old, while more than one in three 50 to 64-year-olds say 71 to 80 is old.

Whites are slightly more likely than African Americans and Hispanics to choose a younger age as old.

In general, single respondents are more likely than married ones to choose a younger age as old, while those who are married are more likely to choose an older age.

Displaying a distinct difference between the sexes, men are more likely than women to say an age under 60 is old (22% of men vs. 8% of women).

How Old Do You Wish You Were?
According to the survey’s second question, “how old do you wish you were?,” 35% of respondents say they would like to be between 21 and 30. Another 17% wish they were between 31 and 40. There is a small group of six and five percent, respectively, who would like to be between 51 and 60 and 61 and 70, reflecting people who are content with their current age. Almost no one wants to be over 81.

Men are more likely than women to wish they were an age under 30. One in five women (20%) wish they were between 31 and 40, compared to 13% of men with that desire.

Eighteen to 29-year-olds are the most satisfied with their current age, or close to it, as 62% say they would like to be 21 to 30. Two in five (40%) 30 to 49-year-olds wish they were in their twenties, nearly twice as many of that age group who wish they were in their thirties. Fifty to 64-year-old are closely divided between wishing they were 21 to 30 (24%) or 51 to 60 (21%) and respondents 65 and older are closely divided in wishing they were 21 to 50 and 61 to 80.

Americans are now expected to live to age 77. The median age of those in the U.S. is now 35.3, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There were 36.3 million people 65 and over in the United States on July 1, 2004. This age group accounts for 12 percent of the total population. Between 2003 and 2004, 351,000 people moved into this age group.

The Zogby International survey of likely voters was conducted between June 20 and June 22, 2005 with questions posed to a random sample of 1,000 people. There is a margin of error of +/-3.2 percentage points.
The MetLife Mature Market Institute is MetLife’s information and policy resource center on issues related to aging, retirement, long-term care and the mature market.