Perceptions of Old Age Change As We Age

Summary: According to researchers, people’s perception of old age changes as we age. The older we get, the younger we feel, researchers note.

Source: Michigan State University.

Does life really begin at 40? Is 50 the new 30? For people in these age groups, the answer appears to be yes.

But for young adults in their teens and early 20s, turning 50 equates to hitting old age.

A new study of more than a half-million Americans led by a Michigan State University scholar shows just how skewed views of aging can be – particularly among the young. The findings come as people are living longer than ever; life expectancy in the U.S. was about 79 years in 2015 – up nearly nine years from 1965.

But perception may not be keeping up with reality. Nearly 30,000 people in the study thought middle age starts at 30.

“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, published in Frontiers in Psychology, is the largest investigation to date of age perceptions, with 502,548 internet respondents ranging in age from 10 to 89.

A key finding: People’s perception of old age changes as they age. Essentially, the older we get, the younger we feel.

old and young person
But perception may not be keeping up with reality. Nearly 30,000 people in the study thought middle age starts at 30. image is in the public domain.

“I think the most interesting finding of this study is that our perceptions of aging aren’t static – they change as we change ourselves,” Chopik said. “What you consider to be old changes as you become old yourself.”

Part of this is understandable, he said. People view older adulthood as a negative experience and want to avoid it because it’s painful to think of ourselves as old.

“But, of course, older adults actually have really enriching lives and some studies suggest that they’re happier than young adults,” Chopik noted.

Interestingly, when asked how long they wanted to live, the different age groups gave different answers. While kids and young adults wanted to live into their early 90s, that ideal age dropped among the 30- and 40-year age groups, hitting a low of about 88. But the ideal age started rising steadily starting with 50-year-olds and reached about 93 among 80-year-olds.

About this neuroscience research article

David Johnson from MSU, Ryan Bremner from the University of St. Thomas and Hannah Giasson from Stanford University all contributed to the study.

Source: Kristen Parker – Michigan State University
Publisher: Organized by
Image Source: image adapted from the Michigan State University news release.
Original Research: Open access research in Frontiers in Psychology.

Cite This Article

[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Michigan State University “Perceptions of Old Age Change As We Age.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 28 February 2018.
<>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Michigan State University (2018, February 28). Perceptions of Old Age Change As We Age. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved February 28, 2018 from[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Michigan State University “Perceptions of Old Age Change As We Age.” (accessed February 28, 2018).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]


Age Differences in Age Perceptions and Developmental Transitions

Is 50 considered “old”? When do we stop being considered “young”? If individuals could choose to be any age, what would it be? In a sample of 502,548 internet respondents ranging in age from 10 to 89, we examined age differences in aging perceptions (e.g., how old do you feel?) and estimates of the timing of developmental transitions (e.g., when does someone become an older adult?). We found that older adults reported older perceptions of aging (e.g., choosing to be older, feeling older, being perceived as older), but that these perceptions were increasingly younger than their current age. The age to which individuals hope to live dramatically increased after age 40. We also found that older adults placed the age at which developmental transitions occurred later in the life course. This latter effect was stronger for transitions involving middle-age and older adulthood compared to transitions involving young adulthood. The current study constitutes the largest study to date of age differences in age perceptions and developmental timing estimates and yielded novel insights into how the aging process may affect judgments about the self and others.

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