Tuesday, June 25, 2019
That's the age-old (pun intended) question, isn't it? I know my students perceive me as old, but I know in my mind I'm not as old as my chronological age would denote. So the Washington Post tackled the "how old is old?" question in a recent story, An ageless question: When is someone ‘old’?
Typically, people decide who is “old” based on how many years someone has already lived, not how many more years they can expect to live, or even how physically or cognitively healthy they are. I will soon turn 62. What does that actually tell you? Not very much, which is why, like many of my sexagenarian friends, I’m apt to claim, “Yes, age is just a number.”
So what does “old” really mean these days?
All of us who teach elder law know that asking how old is old is valid and important. It impacts eligibility for programs and benefits, for example. It's also important for the purpose of policymakers who have to make plans for aging populations, the article explains. In the U.S. we still see the use of 60 or 65 as a threshold to "old."
The United Nations historically has defined older persons as people 60 years or over (sometimes 65). It didn’t matter whether you lived in the United States, China or Senegal, even though life expectancy is drastically different in each of those countries. Nor did it depend on an individual’s functional or cognitive abilities, which can also be widely divergent. Everyone became old at 60. It was as though you walked through a door at midnight on the last day of 59, emerging a completely different person the next morning: an old person.
Two experts quoted in the article, demographers, discuss the different between chronological age and prospective age, that is "'chronological age 'tells us how long we’ve lived so far. In contrast, prospective age is concerned about the future. Everyone with the same prospective age has the same expected remaining years of life.'” One of them is quoted as saying you are old when you have a "specific life expectancy is 15 years or less. That .. is when most people will start to exhibit the signs of aging, which is to say when quality of life takes a turn for the worse." By this measure I'm not old yet but by golly I'm close.
The expert when on to elaborate
[For] ... folks in the United States... When are we considered old? For women, the old age threshold is about 73; for men, 70.... [The expert] layers his concept of prospective age with another quality, which he calls “characteristic aging.”... “It depends upon the characteristics of people, in which sense they are old,” he says. “Are they cognitively old? Are they physically old? Are they old in terms of their disabilities? It depends.”
Old is not a one-size fits all and not only are there variations within the U.S. there are by country. The article is really fascinating-read it and figure out how long before you are "old."
Thanks to Professor Naomi Cahn for sending the article.