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What age is considered old?

Last Updated at April 14th 2022
There's a running joke about feeling "old", whether it's hearing a song from your youth or groaning every time you get out of a chair. And while most people agree that age is just a number, what age is considered old can be quite divisive!

Key points:

  • In many countries, you are considered "old" when you start receiving the Age Pension
  • Media and modern society don't necessarily portray age and being old accurately, but rather focus on extremes
  • Age and feeling old can differ from person to person
Older woman going for a surf
​Depending on who you ask, the definition of what old is can differ depending on opinion and the age of the person being asked. [Source: Shutterstock]

Ageing and what is considered old can be different from person to person and your thoughts around ageing and age can change as you get older.

Professor Joseph Ibrahim, Head of the Health Law and Ageing Research Unit at Victoria's Monash University, believes that 'old' is a concept that younger people think and worry about more than older people do.

"The 90 year olds are far more comfortable being 90 than the 70 year olds being 70," says Professor Ibrahim.

"And the under 60s all have this belief they are going to be someone else, someone better and grander with time. I don't think anyone under 50 really recognises themselves for who they are, but they see themselves as someone they could be."

When are you considered old?

Professor Ibrahim says that 'old' used to be defined as when you stopped working. However, with many people working later in life, in Australia the definition has changed to indicate someone around the age of 75 - 80.

The World Health Organisation suggests that most developed world countries characterise old age starting at 60 years and above.

Whereas the World Economic Forum (WEF) defines old age through a specific measure called "prospective age", which doesn't look at how old you have become, but when you have an average of 15 more years left to live.

However, the perception of what is considered old can depend largely on where you live. For instance, the more traditional definition of an Elder in Africa starts between 50 to 65 years of age.

And culture can play a part in it too. First Nations people in Australia view people as Elders not based on age but whether the person, of any age, is respected within their community, has thorough knowledge and understanding of their culture, and has permission to speak about their culture.

If you turn to countries within Europe, many believe that old age begins at 65, whereas some developing countries believe old age begins when you start receiving a pension.

And the perception of what is considered old can change quite quickly. Over a decade ago, people in Britain believed old age started when you turned 59. The perception of age jumped to 70 by 2018.

Worldwide it seems there has been a similar shift to viewing old age as around 65-70 years of age.

Currently in Australia, people can retire and receive the Age Pension at 67. But older people are being encouraged to work for longer by the Government, which may change the Government's own definition of what age is considered old.

How media and modern society portray older people

Media has played some role in how older people are viewed, however, it does beg the question, "Does media lead public opinion or does media reflect public opinion?"

Professor Ibrahim explains, "The representation of older people in the media and news tends to focus very much on the most vulnerable and the most frail, and the news often forgets to remind people that the vast majority of older people live at home and stay at home.

"So, of those over 65, 19 out of 20 would be living at home in the community. It's only really five percent that would be in aged care homes."

He adds that media can lead perception of older people by either highlighting the dramatic and ghastly, or reporting on the amazing things people can do at 100 years old.

There is quite a difference in the ageing perspective because "normal" doesn't sell, and people don't want to read about normal. They want to read the dramatic or the exciting, which is why stereotypes of ageing and being old can develop from.

You’re only as old as you feel

Depending on who you ask, the definition of what old is can differ from person to person.

"As people get older in years they don't tend to think of themselves as old until they can't do something they really want to that they used to be able to do," says Professor Ibrahim.

"I will have patients who are in their 90s that get really insulted about being in an aged care ward and seeing a geriatrician because they don't feel old."

Far more older Australians are living longer and healthier lives, which is changing everyone's perception on what age is old.

These days, age seems to be less about counting the numbers and more about your health, wellbeing, and living your life as you wish.

What age do you believe is “old” or do you feel age is just a number? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

Top health concerns for older people
Keeping healthy physically in your old age
Keeping your brain healthy as you age

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