The idiom “you're only as old as you feel” loses its charm when Uncle Jerry demands the kids' price at Chuck E. Cheese because he feels like he's 8 years old. To all you high schoolers, the senior discount is for senior citizens. And please don’t get the French started—just because you feel 64 doesn’t mean you get to retire.
Subjective age—the age one feels—may not guarantee you the perks you desire, but it’s still important: feeling younger than your age correlates with living a longer and healthier life. However, feeling young can be hard for older adults living in ageist societies where being old is often the butt of a joke and every other commercial sells a product to make you look younger (pro tip: Exxxtenze is surprisingly not designed to prolong your lifespan).
Given the importance of subjective age, we asked Americans about their perceptions on aging and how old they feel across several categories.
Thirty-five percent of Americans are afraid of getting old, but age-related fears tend to decrease with age: Only 21% of Americans over 65 fear aging compared to 46% of those aged 18-30. It's unclear whether older Americans don't fear aging because of positive experiences or because they feel confident they could take down the Grim Reaper in a cage match.
Even the definition of what it means to be old changes with age. While the average 18-to-30-year-old considers 50 to be “old,” those over 65 don’t think old age starts until 71. And with the average lifespan in the US being 76, most older adults don’t think they’re old until they’re struggling to put the fitted sheet on their deathbed. To the 62% of Americans who associate aging with getting wiser, we’re sorry to say no amount of time on this earth will make folding fitted sheets easier.
Older adults not only believe that old age begins later in life, but also perceive themselves as younger than their actual age. While younger adults tend to physically feel 7 years older than their biological age, older adults, by contrast, feel 7 years younger. A similar trend exists with mental age: Those younger than 45 tend to feel older than their biological age, while those over 45 tend to feel mentally younger.
Interestingly, the average American believes they have a baby face and appear younger than their actual age. The gap between how old someone believes they look and their actual age increases with time. While aging can’t stop at the average preferred age of 36, many Americans may feel and believe they look 36 even as they blow out many more birthday candles.