September 18, 2012

When does "middle age" begin?

BBC reports: "Middle age starts much later than previously thought - at the age of 55, research suggests."

But the "research" is just a survey of what people think. If "middle age" begins at 55, the term is pure fluff, like saying some geezer is "95 years young!"
Although seven out of 10 early 50-somethings quizzed for the survey defined themselves as middle-aged, the average age at which the period of life was perceived to start was 54 years and 347 days old.

However, a sizeable minority, nearly one in five, thought middle age did not begin until after the age of 60.
One of the stupidest arguments I've gotten into in my entire life was with a 60ish female family member who insisted that "middle age" began at 60 (or something like that). I was in my 20s at the time and tried to be reasonable and accurate about what "middle" means in relation to the average human life span. And when I say the argument was stupid, I mean that I was stupid not to see the nature of the argument and bow out quickly.


MadisonMan said...

They should ask a bunch of 30somethings that question.

Middle age begins when your kids leave the house.

Pogo said...

"Old" has been pushed off further to the end, what geriatricians used to call "compression of morbidity".

The middle years, i.e., not youth but still robust enough and not yet frail, are not a statistical third, dependent on relative health of the individual.

My mother had over a dozen kids and so aged earlier than most. Her dad had only one child and lived well imto his 90s and healthy the whole way. Mom is quite frail in her 70s. She's old. Grandpa was not old until the very end.

ricpic said...

Depending on the person middle age can begin as early as the late twenties, though thirty five is a more realistic start. Sixty is definitely the end of middle age. It's wishful thinking for someone in their sixties to describe himself as middle aged. Considering that every year after seventy is pure gravy how can you define yourself as middle aged at sixty or over?

Matthew Sablan said...

After you die, count backwards. Er... have someone else count backwards.

Lezer said...

If middle age begins at 55, you'd expect to see many 110 or 120 year olds in your neighborhood. But there are pretty few of those, at least where I live.

EDH said...

About the only reason you'll hear me chant the words: "Four more years! Four more years!"

Hagar said...

Middle age begins when you first notice that the cops look so young and ends at 60.

John said...

With no intent to offend, may I suggest it is still a stupid argument. So why bring it up?

A more useful and relevant discussion might be found in exploring the boundaries of "middle class". To understand middle class, I first seek to define "poor". I used to know poor when I saw it. A poor person was never fat. A poor person did not have two cars or two TVs, did not have cable and often had no telephone. A poor person did not pay federal income tax...

In our welfare state, 47% (actually I think the figure is closer to 49% but I won't quibble) of our neighbors pay no federal income tax. 47% of the country is poor and dependent on the charity of the rest... or should be. But not in Obama's land... here, 47% can vote themselves more of that which I have worked for - what I have earned.

Only an idiot would think Obama offers a sustainable future. Does that then imply the 47% of the country is stupid? I bet they are seeking to define 'middle age' right now...

Lyssa said...

I would think of it as the time period when childbearing and caring for young children are solidly in the past. Perhaps not that the kids are gone, but that they are at least in their teens. So, mid-to-late 40's?

LilyBart said...

From the movie "Postcards from the Edge"

Suzanne: Ma, I'm middle-aged.

Doris: Dear, *I'm* middle-aged.

Suzanne: Really. And how many one hundred and twenty year old women do *you* know?

BrianE said...

I hear young folks bemoaning their 40th birthday as if it's some sort of penalty phase of life.
Embrace 40. It should be the full throated years.
I started noticing my body coming up short around 50, so that's when middle age began for me.
I began running, mostly 10k's but some longer distances at 60-- trying to stave off the inevitable decline.

Nathan Alexander said...

The thing is, "middle age" was always an euphemism (a euphemism?).

It was a way to say "no longer young in any way, but not old enough to be infirm".

Or even "the point where death by illness or aging disease is no longer unthinkable, even if still somewhat unlikely."

Meaning, middle age was never a chronological calculation, but rather a social judgment of being in the middle of not young, but not yet really old.

As such, it makes perfect sense to me that middle age used to be at 35-40, but that number has moved upward not only with increased lifespan expectations, but also with generally better health and a better understanding of the importance of fitness.

Lyssa said...

but that number has moved upward not only with increased lifespan expectations, but also with generally better health and a better understanding of the importance of fitness.

Also, it has moved upwards with extended "youth" with delayed marriage and child-bearing.

One of my favorite movies of all time is "Airplane!", from 1980, but I always have to shake my head at the segment where the stewardess complains that she's "26 and not married." Most of my peers consider 26 too young to get married, if anything. (I respectfully disagree.)

bearing said...

It's kind of like "middle class."

The term "middle age" implies that there are three stages of life: youth, old age, and something in between. If you mean that life should be divided roughly in thirds, then middle age should be from age 28 or so to 56 or so, and it definitely has to start *before* 35!

But if it has more to do with passing certain "checkpoints" along the way, then we don't have to divide it up evenly. Is menopause a marker? When your children leave the house? When your AARP card arrives?

I'm 38, and I proudly claim the label "middle age," if only because it horrifies the boomers.

edutcher said...

It used to be 40 was the beginning and 60 was the end of middle age.

Now, anyone who takes care of themselves can make concepts of youth, middle age, and old age obsolete, or at least highly relative.

The Blonde often is mistaken for her youngest brother's younger sister (he's 50) and people have said I look about 10 years younger than I am. Ann looks and lives like someone 40 - and Meade also.

The fact is, as we learn more, we'll be able to attenuate not only life, but youth.

Freeman Hunt said...

I always thought of middle age as the age of my parents, but they keep getting older. (One of them, anyway.)

Larry J said...

When I was young, my grandfathers were in their 50s. They looked and acted old. However, they'd raised families during the Great Depression, one as a sharecropper and the other as a carpendar. Both had lived hard lives and were pretty worn out by the experience. One died in his 70s and the other lived to 96, but middle age for both of them probably hit when they were 35-40.

I'm now 55. My body started turning on me a few years ago so that's when I likely entered middle age.

Sorun said...

I went into middle age when I was married, but now I'm divorced and in youthful shape again. It can be reversed.

William said...

You're middle aged until you hit your first debilitating illness. Even then if you've got good hair and a thin outline, you can bluff it for a few more years......I definitely qualify as old, but my hair has not yet turned white and I remain skinny. For this reason, young people do not treat my wisdom and experience with the respect it deserves, nor do the selfish bastards offer me a seat on the bus.

Freeman Hunt said...

If my dad had known he was middle aged at twenty-nine and a half, he'd have been pissed!

David said...

Middle age is variable. My Dad died at 49 so for him it was 24. He was in Italy with USAAF.


Bender said...

There is body age (how the body functions), cognitive age (how well the brain functions), mental age (how old we perceive ourselves to be), appearance age (how old we look), cultural age (how current we are with social trends, lingo, etc.), social age (how old society deems "old" to be), and chronological age.

Middle age should, strictly speaking, be between 30 and 50, if we say the average lifespan is 80. If we look at how the body increasingly cannot do the things it used to be able to do as a teen or 20-something, that would be accurate, together with you noticing that your mind is just not as sharp as it was when you were in college.

However, given the prejudices against anything not young, society would reject 31 as middle age, even though it is chronologically. Especially since these days, many people well up into their late 40s / early 50s are still looking rather youthful, and added to that is the tendency of many to stop maturing mentally/emotionally/egotistically in their 20s - they still think many times with a 20-something mindset.

If words mean anything, and as a matter that would be better for us all as a society, it would be better to simply get over this prejudice against aging, to accept that being in the middle of one's life is not a bad thing, just a fact of life, and that we are all going to be there.

If not, then those who are middle age end up acting and looking like idiots, trying to look hip and cool and young, like the junior high guidance counsellor in my school who went around in unbuttoned disco shirts, collar over the top of his hideous 70s jacket.

Paddy O said...


I have a few more years.

Precisely why turning forty is such a big deal to many people.

"Middle age begins when your kids leave the house."

Well, that's arguing for 55 or 60 then, or later...

Bender said...

Don't trust anyone over 30!

Darrell said...

There's an episode of the old Naked City from 1961 where Lois Nettleton is a twenty-something spinster that in desperation puts all her money into finding a husband at a dating service. Believing that she has at last found a potential husband and all is right in the world, she discovers that the creep is married and he has been seeing her while his wife is pregnant (when people at a restaurant recogonize him and talk to her). He accidentally runs into a knife she is holding when the swinging doors of the restaurant kitchen hit him in the back and she is on the run from police. And suicidal--not only because of the potential murder charge but because her life is over as an old maid.

Peter said...

Middle age is what happens when one is no longer youthful.

Yet popular culture continues to insist that if you're not youthful then you're not relevent. So, why would be be surprised that people continue to describe themselves as not-yet-middle-aged (i.e., still youthful) practically forever?

Of course, it's a lie. Then again, does the mandate to cover children up to age 26 on their parent's insurance imply that childhood/adolescence extends to that age?

As for old age, there are the young-old and the old-old. The young-old are the elderly who are still in reasonably robust physical condition. Old-old is what happens after some major health issue manifests.

"What 's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet-and-twenty!
Youth 's a stuff will not endure."

-- Wm Shakespeare

BarryD said...

Well, if we have a whole generation that's unlikely to be able to afford the things people used to have in their late 20s (e.g. a modest house with a mortgage and a car that actually runs reliably), until they reach about 45, then we'd best move the goalposts a bit, right?

Jane said...

"middle aged = 55"? That's crazy talk. You can't simultaneously be a member of the AARP and middle-aged at the same time. We've pushed forward the definition of senior citizen with senior discounts, early retirement, etc., though maybe that's coming to an end.

How about this:
Middle aged starts when you can't read the fine print any longer. It ends when you retire/become eligible for Medicare/start asking for the senior discount.

Nomennovum said...

Middle age begins at 35 for women and 50 for men.

Middle age should be defined as the age at which the majority "hit the wall."

Sorry ladies, but it's a fact of nature. Any exceptions you bring up only prove the rule.

Col Mustard said...

Lots of ways to label age. If you must insist on lables.

How many years-to-go seems more import than how manys years have past.

Physical abilities/limitations.

Whether you can still pull off looking decent, at least at a distance :-)

"Real Youth" ends when it dawns on you that people a couple of years older than you aren't all stupid, evil or icky.

This is followed by a period of "active life" which may extend for many, many years.

"Old" is when you stock-up on batteries for the TV remote, buy yourself a recliner with a cupholder, start riding around the supermarket in one of those powered shopping carts and decide that people a couple of years younger than you are stupid, evil and icky. Full circle.

Col Mustard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Freeman Hunt said...

I thought "middle age" meant the age in the middle, between taking care of children and being partially or fully taken care of by others.

Freeman Hunt said...

More of a stage than a number. I know a woman who is about fifty, but she has a lot of children at home, so she doesn't seem to be middle aged.

davis,br said...

At 35 I was in my mid-life crisis, sort of ...what with too-young girl friends and a still robust sexual appetite (I'd been divorced for 5 years or so).

I knew I was middle-aged though: the then current one of those too-young cuties reached up during a pillow talk session, and caressed the wrinkles around my eyes and asked "Do those hurt?". So ...I knew.

Now I'm 60, and I've been happily married two decades and ...well, I ain't 35 anymore.

...and the super-market baggers have quit asking me (if they don't know me) if I'd like help out with my groceries: they always just assume it so.

So ...I know.

But as to how I feel?

At 35, I was cycling a couple of hundred miles a week, doing 150 situps and 200 pushups twice a day: I could probably run circles around the majority of the teens & 20-somethings of the time.

At 60 - and after recovering from a bout with Lyme disease 4 years ago (where I felt and was old and arthritic: classic symptoms of Lyme)- I can easily manage a 10-15 mile daily ride (and could push myself to do a 25-40 if I had the time and inclination), but usually keep it to 6-10 maybe 4-5 times a week (no point in wearing out the already well-used equipment, after all), and after a hiatus in my 50's (no time, no time ...priorities, sigh), I've realized that situps & pushups are probably still a good idea (and I'm working my way back to 100 each, twice a day): I see plenty of 40 somethings who I doubt could keep up.

But I see the handwriting on the wall.

...but given the current care I take for my aging physical equipment, my suspicion (my hope!) is that I can probably keep this up for another 20-25 years, before I hit a "true" decline.

But, I do know I'm looking old ...because, well those baggers don't ask, they assume, LOL.

External is all about the appearances a point. I've not - yet! - reached the point.

I'm also milking it for all it's worth.

Because, sometimes it's just *nice* to have a pretty young 20 something girl walk you out to your car, and chat with you while she helps you put your groceries in, and pushes the cart back into the store.

...some things never change, LOL.

deborah said...

When I was around 12 and my mom around 35, I referred to her as middle-aged and she laughed.

I think Ed nailed it:

"Now, anyone who takes care of themselves can make concepts of youth, middle age, and old age obsolete, or at least highly relative."

Nothing will age you or compromise your health like smoking, PALLADIAN.

For a loose definition, middle age is between about 50 and 70. After that, you're one day older than dirt lolol

AllieOop said...

My oldest daughter is 40, I turned sixty in January. I first started feeling old when I saw how many candles were on her cake. But since I have every intention of living to 120, I'm middle aged and my daughter is a spring chicken.

Recently was hospitalized with a flare up of an autoimmune issue more common in younger people. My nearsightedness keeps getting worse, I thought older folks became farsighted, what gives?

Michael said...

I am not kidding myself about the "middle age" any longer. I am 66 and in excellent health and shape and work hard at keeping both. It is terrifying to think that I might have another 66 years to go before I meet my maker. I have planned for thirty more but am happy to take ten and am satisfied that I get out of bed every morning. Attitudinally I am probably more middle aged than geezer but then I have a caboose that is a sophomore in high school and that impacts outlook in a profound way.

Robert Cook said...

If one has to specify a set age at which middle age begins, I'd say 35 as a good bet. If we want to be less specific, more broad, it cannot be any later than "mid-to-late 30s."

Any who say it begins any later is kidding themselves.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Middle Age absolutely cannot start in the mid or late 30s. Hell, I didn't really feel like I was an adult until I was 40 (by which time i'd been married 11 years and had two rugrats). I just turned 56, and I'm starting to feel middle-aged.
I'll tell you how you know for sure: It's when you start attending more funerals than weddings. Including, horribly, funerals for the younger generation. Sigh.

AllieOop said...

Another clue is when husbands start dying, mine died very young, but in the past 5 years I've had 4 friends who have lost their husbands.

deborah said...

How about this. Middle age is when you realize the unending string of graduations, showers, marriages, batisms, first communions, and confirmations you will have to attend.

deborah said...

Middle age is when your aunts and uncles are dying off, and you dread being without them, but realize you will now be the older generation that the new ones will look to.

Astro said...

I've always considered that the first 20 years don't really count since nearly eveyone is dependent and ignorant until they're past 21. At 40 most people are just hitting their stride; life is finally (usually) coming under control.
So since I figure on living until I'm at least 110 (and my grandparents were long-lived, so it's possible), I figure for me middle age is 65. And yes I'm serious. I figure I've got another 5 years till middle age, then another 45 years after that. I plan on seeing the return of Halley's Comet.
(Yes, ...that sound you hear may be god laughing.)

Clyde said...

Middle age begins when you get your first gray hair. Usually it's given to you by your children or spouse.

Alternatively, it begins when you first begin to experience aches and pains. Young people are healthy and roll out of bed feeling just fine. The first signs of impending mortality are when that is no longer the case. When I was young, I wondered why old people moved so slowly. Now I know why!

paul a'barge said...

One of the stupidest arguments I've gotten into in my entire life was with a 60ish female family member

That's a thing women do (stupid arguments).

sleepless nights said...

It starts around 38.

You people are kidding yourselves.

I'm 41 and I look about 35ish compared to others in my family. I also was immature for a long time. It doesn't stop middle age from starting when it starts.

And the idea that is starts at 55 - jesus christ. You CANNOT be MIDDLE AGED and POST MENOPAUSAL. That's just insane.

Freaking boomers. Monica Lewisnky is in early middle age.

Rich B said...

Vanity, all is vanity. I am 61, middle age is far gone. I am 'pre-elderly'.

Joe said...

40, on average.

It starts when your body starts to betray you in an almost continuous fashion.

How someone behaves varies. My former grandmother-in-law was the same age as my father, but acted older than his mother who lived into her 90s.

BTW, according to my sixteen-year-old daughter, I'm old at fifty.

Anglelyne said...

Middle age arrives when you look at frail old people and know in your bones that you will be old, too. When you're twenty you don't really believe in your bones that that will ever happen to you.

No forty year old really believes he's immortal the way a twenty year old does, and feeling immortal is the hallmark of youth. When that's gone, youth is gone. What kind of shape your body or cognitive functions are in isn't relevant. So please, forty year olds, stop telling us that you're not middle-aged. You're middle-aged.

You could be living it up, instead of being the sort of undignified pussy desperately insisting on your "youth". All you're doing is creeping out the real young people.

Robert Cook said...

"Middle Age absolutely cannot start in the mid or late 30s. Hell, I didn't really feel like I was an adult until I was 40 (by which time i'd been married 11 years and had two rugrats). I just turned 56, and I'm starting to feel middle-aged."

"Middle age" is not a function of how old one feels, it is a marker of where in one's expected average lifespan one is. As most of us still do not reach 80, middle age begins by mid-30s at latest. This is not a matter of opinion but of statistical reality.

Joe said...

Another observation: I enjoy car racing and have found that few drivers last competitively past 40. Many don't get past 35, especially in open wheel and motorcycle racing. Oh, the best can still drive way better than most, but they hesitate ever so slightly and don't quite push the limit. It seems to be part biological and part psychological.

DEEBEE said...

We unecessarily complicate things when we bring in fuzzy notions about what we feel. Words, extremely, extensible tend to lose meaning. I find this "confusion" also on what is middle class.

IMO middle raises the image of equal number on either side. Thus the middle is the center 1/3rd. ANything else is just adding salt and pepper to your taste and allowing politicians to "fairly" define it for you.

creeley23 said...

My father used to play the Kingston Trio -- they were his favorite group back then. Recently I listened to much of their work and ran across the song "It Was a Very Good Year" (also recorded by Frank Sinatra). In it the narrator recounts his romantic adventures at 17, 21, and 35. I was struck that in that song one's last sexual hurrah is 35, followed apparently by a quick slide into autumn:

When I was thirty-five
It was a very good year
It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls
Of independent means
We'd ride in limousines
Their chauffeurs would drive
When I was thirty-five

But now the days grow short
I'm in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
from fine old kegs
from the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

It was a mess of good years

Meade Skelton Haufe said...

Middle age is not the same as Old Age. Middle aged mean you're no longer young, but you're not old, either. I think around 45 is middle aged- socially and numerically. Yes average life span is 77 for American men, but many obituaries I read show a lot of people in their 80s and 90s and beyond. So really, its relative. 35 is definitely not middle aged. I would say 35 is like 29 used to be. Sort of the very late edge of youth.