Have you ever wondered at what age do you become middle-aged? Or, are you considered middle aged already? Well, according to that modern source of all knowledge… Wikipedia (quoting the Oxford English Dictionary) midlife starts at age 45.
“The period between early adulthood and old age, usually considered as the years from about 45 to 65.” The US Census lists the category middle age from 45 to 65. Merriam-Webster list middle age from 45 to 64, while prominent psychologist Erik Erikson saw it starting a little earlier and defines middle adulthood as between 40 and 65. The Collins English Dictionary, list it between the ages of 40 and 60. and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – the standard diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association – used to define middle age as 40 to 60, but as of DSM-IV (1994) revised the definition upwards to 45 to 65.”
“The period between early adulthood and old age, usually considered as the years from about 45 to 65.”
But other sources give more extreme age ranges. A 2010 European survey quoted in the Telegraph indicates that Britons felt middle-age began at just 35 and ended at 58 – i.e. you begin to be “old” at 58. Yikes! But it could be even worse, the Portuguese surveyed said ‘youth’ ended (and so middle age started) at just 29, and old age began at 51. Seems to me the survey question – when does youth end – skewed the results. I wonder if many people interpret ‘youth’ not as young adulthood, but rather as extended adolescence.
Another British survey quoted by the BBC said people felt middle age didn’t start until 55 and old age didn’t begin until 70. Take this one with a grain of salt as it’s a small survey from a site selling learning tools so may be somewhat biased.
There seems to be a lot of British interest in this question of when middle age begins, but what about on this side of the pond? Well this CBS article quotes a Stanford economist’s somewhat more scientific approach to the question. He says that if your chance of dying in the next year is 1% or less you might be considered middle-aged, and if your chance of dying in the next year is 2% or more you might be considered old. By this approach, the threshold for “old” has risen from about 55 in 1975 to about 70 today in men, and about 73 for women. What is not clear from this article is when middle age begins or what the grey zone between the 1% and 2% odds represents. So, not particularly helpful to answering our question.
An April 2015 headline in The Times declared “Middle age begins at 60, researchers claim”, although the writer of this NHS article looked at both the headlines and the actual research cited and found that nowhere in the research did it actually say that. (Does that mean The Times was distributing ‘fake news’? Lol) Other newspapers cited the research under different headlines. The Telegraph declared: “Middle age now lasts until 74 as baby boomers refuse to grow old“. That headline seemed to be a little closer to the point of the research as the study focussed more on the question of when you become ‘old’. And unfortunately it didn’t seem to indicate the start of midlife was any later, only that the end of it was later: “While healthy living may contribute to longer lifespans, the study doesn’t suggest that we hit middle age later. Using the new definitions, middle age lasts longer, with old age postponed to our last decade-and-a-half of life.”
the study doesn’t suggest that we hit middle age later. Using the new definitions, middle age lasts longer
They also pour cold water on the idea that your attitude determines your relevant age: “The Daily Telegraph seems to think that living longer stops you ageing – “baby boomers refuse to grow old” – sadly, this is not the case.”
We don’t seem to be getting any closer to the question of when midlife begins. So I turned to those around me. The consensus of friends at a recent dinner party, all of whom were right around the 50 mark, was that 50 marked the start of middle age. I think most people would now agree that you are middle-aged when you are 50.
But bearing the sobering comments from the NHS article in mind – that we can try to ignore the physical/health deterioration that begins in our 40’s, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist – I think we’d be safer to stick with the definitions we started with and say midlife starts somewhere around age 45.
I’m going to revisit this in a subsequent post on ‘you know you’re middle aged when… ‘
Stay tuned. But in the meantime, leave me a comment to let me know when you think middle age begins.