Nothing but a number

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
November 18, 2011, 4:26 PM GMT+0

Do you agree? Britons say ‘47’ is ‘middle aged’, and 70 is when you start to become ‘elderly’

They say that you’re only as old as you feel, but most British adults would say ‘middle age’ is 47, and ‘elderly’ age 70, our poll has found.

The results come amid recent news that the population on Earth recently surpassed seven billion, while an ageing population in the UK now means that the elderly are reportedly starting to outnumber people under 18.

  • The average age tipped as ‘middle age’ among Britons is 47, and ‘elderly’ is seen as 70
  • 31% thought 50-54 years was ‘middle aged’, 26% said 45-49, while 21% thought 40 to 44

Older people say…older

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the older the respondent, the more likely they were to pitch ‘middle age’ and ‘elderly’ in an older age bracket.

  • 36% of 18-24 year olds and 30% of 25-39 year olds picked ’40-44 years’ as the age bracket most denoting ‘middle age’ (whereas just 16% of those aged 40-59, and 11% of those aged over 60 agreed)
  • The older age groups were more likely to pick ‘50-54 years’ as the ‘middle aged’ bracket, with 37% of those aged 40-59 and 36% of those over 60 choosing this
  • Similarly, 25% of those over 60 chose 75-79 as ‘elderly’ compared to just 10% of those aged 18-24
  • This younger age group thought ’70-74 years’ was the cut-off point for being ‘elderly’, with two in five (40%) choosing this

Men and women

Women also have slightly different views to men about what constitutes these age markers, with a sizeable minority of men more likely than women to say that ‘middle age’ comes earlier in life.

  • 27% of men thought ‘middle age’ began at 40-44, compared to just 15% of women
  • However, 28% of men thought ‘middle age’ began at 50-54 years, compared to a statistically similar 33% of women, making this age the most common for both sexes when it comes to ‘middle age’

Women and men are more in agreement when it comes to being ‘elderly’:

  • The most popular bracket for both sexes was ’70-74’, at 38% for men and 39% for women – with an average of 70% for both sexes)
  • Still, a notable minority of women would put the definition at an older age, with 16% thinking ‘elderly’ comes at ages 80-84, compared to just 5% of men thinking the same

When does youth end and old age begin?

With a growing population and growing groups of elderly people in Britain and other European countries, the ‘definition’ of life stages has come under scrutiny in recent years.

On the issue, psychologist Professor Dominic Abrams told the Telegraph newspaper that he believes that ‘age prejudice’ is a problem. He points to the issue of people feeling as if they are being treated as too young or too old, and states that ‘it is important to know what these age labels mean to people’.

He continues that younger people are more likely to think youth ends earlier than the older generation, who are not surprisingly, more generous. Abrams added that ‘this evidence shows that what counts as young and old is very largely down to the age of the beholder’.

Meanwhile, the ONS reports that the population of the UK is ageing and 16% of us are 65 or older.

It predicts that with the average age of people in the UK set to rise from 39.7 years in 2010 to 39.9 years in 2020, the number of those aged over 85 is expected to more than double over 10 years from 1.4 million in 2010 to 1.9 million by 2020.

See the survey details and full results here