Mountain View Medical Supply

Friday, November 1, 2013

Growing Old in America: Expectation vs. Reality

Adapted from PewResearch, June 29, 2009

There is a sizable gap between the expectations that younger adults have about old age and the actual experiences reported by older Americans themselves.  

In every instance (such as illness, memory loss, end to sexual activity, depression/loneliness struggles, financial difficulty), older adults report experiencing them at lower levels than younger adults expect to encounter when they grow old.   At the same time, older adults report fewer of the benefits of aging that younger adults expect to enjoy when they grow old (spending more time with family, travel for pleasure, time for hobbies and volunteering).

The most basic question about old age is:  When does it begin?  Those 18-29 believe a person is old at age 60.  Middle aged respondents say closer to 70, and respondents age 65 and above say 74.  Nearly two-thirds of adults aged 18-29 believe when someone “frequently forgets familiar names,” that person is old.  Less than half of all adults aged 30 and older agree.

The older people get, the younger they feel - relatively speaking.  The gap in years between actual age and “felt age” widens as people grow older.  Nearly half of those 50 and older say they feel at least 10 years younger than their actual age.  A third of those 65 to 74 say they feel 10 to 19 years younger than their age, and one in six say they feel at least 20 years younger.

On average, adults believe old age begins at 68.  But do 68 year-olds feel old?  Certainly not!  Among respondents 65-74, just 21% say they feel old.  Even among those who are 75 and older, just 35% say they feel old.  

What age would you like to live to?  The average response is 89.  One in five would like to live into their 90s and 8% say they’d like to surpass the century mark.  An AARP survey found in 2002 the average desired life span was 92.  

What do older people do every day?  Of those 65 and older, nine in ten talk with friends or family every day.  About eight in ten read, and the same share takes a prescription drug daily.  Three quarters watch an hour or more of TV and about the same share prays daily.  Nearly two thirds drive a car.  Just 4% get into an argument with someone.  Daily prayer and daily medication both increase with age.  

Are older adults happy?  They are about as happy as everyone else.  The same factors that predict happiness among younger adults - good healthy, good friends and financial security - predict happiness among older adults.  However, there are a few age-related differences in life’s happiness sweepstakes.  Most notably, being married is a predictor of happiness among younger adults, but not among older adults.  

Retirement is a place without clear borders.  Fully 83% of adults 65 and older describe themselves as retired, but the word means different things to different people.  Just three quarters of adults over 65 have completely left the working world behind.  An additional 8% say they are retired but working part time, and 3% are retired but looking for work.  The remaining 11% say they are still in the labor force, though not all of them have jobs.

 Interestingly, ten years ago the older labor force began to trend back upward.  The average retiree is 75 years old and retired at age 62. 

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