My brother is four years older than me, which means he was a senior when I was a freshman in high school. At the time, I felt like a complete baby compared to him and his friends: they were practically adults about to embark on college and the real world, while I was stuck with a boring 15-year-old life.
I often daydreamed about my life as an 18-year-old. At 18, I’d have everything figured out: a clear career path, a newfound independence, fun college experiences. And by 23, I’d be financially stable, married, and with child—boy, was I in for a surprise.
I have approximately two weeks to become financially stable, get married, and have a baby to fulfill my 15-year-old self’s dreams. Yeah, that’s not going to happen. When I was just a teen, 23 sounded so old. I’ll surely be married and have a baby by then, I thought to myself. But as I’ve gotten older, my idea of “old” has changed. And now that I’m on the brink of 23, I still feel so young. Thirty—on the other hand—is unmistakably old… at least in my present opinion. New research says this idea will probably change as well, due to our ever-changing perceptions of old age.
This study from Michigan State University, “Age Differences in Age Perceptions and Developmental Transitions,” says the older we get, the younger we feel. So while 20 may sound old when we’re 15, it’s common for that perception to change as we approach 20. The same goes for 20-year-olds who view 30 as old until they actually reach the age of 30… and the cycle continues. However, the researchers found that young people in particular have a skewed view of aging.
They reached these findings after studying over half a million Americans and their opinions on old age. According to the researchers, nearly 30,000 study subjects reported that middle age starts around 30 years—despite the fact that life expectancy in the U.S. has increased from 70 to 79 years since 1965. “I find it interesting that there’s a ton of people who have skewed perceptions about aging—mostly young adults,” said William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology and principal investigator of the research.
The study participants—who ranged from 10 to 89 years in age—went on to answer questions about how long they wished to live. And interestingly enough, different age groups gave different answers: while kids and young adults hoped to live into their 90s, the majority of 30 and 40-year old subjects reported an ideal age of 88. The number then steadily increased among 50-year-olds and reached a max age of 93 among the 80-year-olds.
“I think the most interesting findings of this study is that our perceptions of aging aren’t static—they change as we change ourselves. What you consider to be old changes as you become old yourself,” Chopik says. He goes on to explain why this might be: we view older age as a negative experience, and therefore despise thinking about it—so we try our best not to. “But, of course, older adults actually have really enriching lives and some studies suggest that they’re happier than young adults,” Chopik concludes.
Michigan State University (2018, February 28). Perceptions of Old Age Change As We Age. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved February 28, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/aging-perceptions-8575/
Chopik, W. J., Bremner, R. H., & Johnson, D. J. (2018, February 1). Age Differences in Age Perceptions and Developmental Transitions. Frontiers in Psychology. Retrieved on February 28, 2018 from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00067/full