No one can avoid aging, but aging well and with purpose is something else — our raison d’être at Jumble & Flow.
But first things first: Who gets to decide when you’re officially old? We’ve all heard that age is just a number — we’ll plus-one that — but we’re also open-minded about medical research and data.
Not surprisingly, the answer to this age-old age question seems to be “it depends on who you ask.” A 2017 study by U.S. Trust reports that American millennials defined old starting at age 59. Gen Xers said old age begins at 65, while baby boomers and the silent generation agreed that you’re not really old until you hit age 73.
But that was several years go. According to a 2020 survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by Let’s Get Checked, 57 is commonly thought of as “officially old.”
Looking back, when I was 20 I probably would have agreed with the numbers in both of these studies. I realize this is cliche, but now that I’m in my 40s and 57 isn’t that far off, 57 seems like middle age to me.
Once again, sources vary a bit, but in general, here’s how the books define our generations:
According to a 2021 Harris Poll conducted exclusively for Fast Company, the period of time between youth and old age is in flux. The study found that younger millennials consider median middle age to be between 35 and 50 years old. That’s a contrast to Generation X’s perception of middle age — 45 to 55 years old — and baby boomers, who consider middle age to be 45 to 60 years old.
Merriam Webster — our go-to dictionary and one of the most-read websites in the world — defines middle age as “the period of life from about 45 to about 64.”
According to that definition, I’m entering middle age this year, which I’m cool with. But according to a palm reader who’s accurately predicted my life milestones starting at age 32, 44 was actually my official midlife. By that, I mean the tarot reader said I’d live to be 88 — and, well, 88 divided in half is 44.
As time moves forward and people break new aging records, I predict our definitions of middle age and oldness will continue to evolve. Case in point: Way back in 1985, Bob Greene wrote in the Chicago Tribune that “I think middle age starts at 36. …When you’re 35, you can kid yourself that you’re in your ‘mid-30s.’ But when you’re 36, there’s no getting around it: You’re a middle-aged person.”
Times have changed since the year Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie wrote “We Are the World.” People are living longer.
Greene did get one thing right, or at least something I’ll root for. He ended his essay by writing “It’s not very likely, but it could happen: It may become cool to be middle-aged.”
Psychology Today defines midlife as “the central period of a person’s life, spanning from approximately age 40 to age 65.”
Britannica (yep, they’re still around) defines middle age like this: “Though the age period that defines middle age is somewhat arbitrary, differing greatly from person to person, it is generally defined as being between the ages of 40 and 60.”
HuffPost reports on a study that says “the average person believes youth ends at 35 and old age begins at 58. Therefore, the years in between — all 23 of them — constitute middle age.”
Yes and no. Age matters when it comes to health and life milestones (for example, the American Cancer Society recommends women get breast exams starting at 40; U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends colonoscopies starting at 45).
But in terms of mindset, age is often just a number. In fact, some modern philosophers say adults who endorse a growth mindset are more likely to engage in preventative health behaviors such as diet, sleep, and exercising.
So there we have it: There’s no “official” decider of middle age, so you may as well decide yourself. That’s exactly what I’ve done.
What do you think? Sound off in comments below.
Amy Cuevas Schroeder is the founder and CEO of Jumble & Flow, the new lifestyle brand that empowers women to thrive in midlife. By day, she works as the director of educational content for Unusual Ventures. She started her first business, Venus Zine, in her dorm room at Michigan State University, and later sold the company. She now lives in the Chicago area, and is raising twin girls with her husband, Martin, a social worker. Between Venus and Jumble & Flow, she’s worked as a content leader for Etsy, Minted, and Abstract, and has written for NYLON, Pitchfork, The Startup, West Elm, and more.
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