I’ve been having an interesting ongoing conversation with people lately revolving around the simple question, “What Is Middle Age?”
I pose this open ended query to people and see what they say. It’s led to some fascinating discussion and insight into people’s thoughts on definitions and labels, as well as thoughts on health and wellness throughout life.
What Is Middle Age?
First let me share my thoughts on age definitions/categories/labels. I take a very pragmatic approach to creating age groups. I see middle age as ~30-60. My rationale is to use a (generous) lifespan of 90 and split it into thirds, resulting in 3 equal groups: Young 0-30, Middle 31-60 and Old 61-90.
Observation: people do NOT like this classification system. 32 year olds don’t like being “middle aged” and 63 year olds definitely object to being in the old category.
Observation: people get way too wrapped up into what those labels imply or the connotation of the status “middle aged” or an “older” adult. We seem to feel defined by our age and/or age category.
People also want to start shifting the numbers later. If we use 100 as the lifespan you get young as 0-33, middle 34-66 and old 67-100, which still isn’t good enough for most people. So if we take out childhood and use 18 as the starting point and 90 as the end, then you get young as 18-42, middle as 43-66 and old as 67-90. Strangely enough it still isn’t good for most people.
What People Want Middle Age To Be
It seems that people want to be considered young until at least 45, if not early 50s, then middle aged from 50 or 55 to 75 or so and older only after 75 or 80. I guess that makes sense but it leaves me with a few thoughts…
Your age seems to determine how you feel about these categories. The older the person was the more they pushed the start of the old category without much concern over when middle age started, while the younger people were very much interested in pushing back the start of middle aged without much concern for when old age started.
Why are people so concerned with being labeled middle age or old? And why is everyone trying to deny or delay being in the “next” category?
Your location, neighborhood or history also likely determines how you think about all this. So does your maturity- the more mature your life has made you the more likely you are to see the definitions differently.
The average life expectancy in the U.S. is somewhere right around 80. If we use that number to calculate our groups it changes things even more against the desired outcome.
Mid life crises often happen between 40-50. These mostly happen in middle aged people.
Senior citizens are 55 and older. How could we have middle age not start until a few years before or at the receipt of senior discounts?
Retirement age is at 62. Should this also give us a clue as to moving into a new phase of life?
Most pressing to me: Why are we so down on middle age?
My “Middle Age”
After careful consideration, here’s how I see the age categories:
I’m 37 which means I consider myself middle aged. Not only do I not fight the label, I embrace it. Why? Because I think it’s a much sweeter spot to be than people give it credit for.
Youth, as it’s often stated, is wasted on the young. I see young adults as having great vitality in body and spirit but very little wisdom, patience and history. Older adults have great wisdom, experience, perspective and understanding but a declining body. Middle aged adults have the best of both worlds. Bodies that are still strong and capable paired with a growing collection of experience, wisdom, patience and understanding. The question should be, why wouldn’t you want to be middle aged?
We need to redefine how we look at middle-age and create a good feeling around it. Being middle-aged means you are in the prime of life, it doesn’t mean you are already on the decline. As for those of you in the “older” adult category, by the time you reach 60 or 65 you should be wise enough to know that some age category thought experiment made up by a middle-aged 37-year-old doesn’t really matter all that much. 🙂
Thanks for reading, have a great day!
**Update 11-3-14: had a conversation today that inspired me to suggest an adjusted breakdown…
Bonus Time: 80+
P.S. The picture at the top was the first image that popped up from a Google search for “middle aged” and was from an article on Health.com titled 11 Mistakes Women Make in Middle Age.
Wikipedia tells me:
Middle age is the period of age beyond young adulthood but before the onset of old age. Various attempts have been made to define this age, which is around the third quarter of the average life span of human beings.
Check out the full Wikipedia article for other definitions of middle age.