When we get older, there comes a devastating moment when people stop calling us old as a joke, and start legitimately seeing us as old. It’s a bizarre tonal shift for everyone and can lead to real depression and confusion.
Now, in a speech to the Hay Festival, one of the leading socialist scientists in the UK has told people that it’s time to redefine when people are considered ‘old’.
Sarah Harper is a gerontologist and the co-director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing and has proposed a different approach to the language that we use around ageing, suggesting that people in their 60s and up to their 80s shouldn’t be considered old, but instead active adults.
“We should not even be calling people old until they reach what [Peter] Laslett calls the fourth age; that time when we become frail and enfeebled,” Harper said. “Old age should be the fourth age. Everything else could be active adulthood”
She went on to say that there’s a danger of neglecting what true old age should be; a time for reflection and withdrawal.
“It’s a time we need to claim as a special time, because we’re finite beings. We are talking about extending lives in a way we have never experienced before”, she added.
So, why does this matter? Well, life expectancy is rising by two and a half years every decade, and yet our definition of ‘old’ has remained the same for almost a century. With those rising life expectancies has come a more general improvement in health and pain management, meaning that older people are more active and mobile than they have been in the past.
Indeed, it’s predicted that by the end of the 21st century there will be a total of 1.5 million people aged over 100. Presently, there are 14,500 centenarians in the UK, and in the 18th century there were just 10 centenarians in the whole of Europe. That goes some way to explaining why it’s vital that we begin to rethink what old is, what old people can do and how society views old people.
That extends outwards to things like our retirement, which has gone from a well-earned and brief rest after a lifetime of work to a significant chunk of our lives where we’re not working.
But it also has dramatic consequences for over 50 singles. With lives getting longer, we’re likely to see more divorces than previous generations, leading to a constant replenishing of the stocks of senior singles.
It also means that society as a whole will have to adjust the notion that not only do single over 50s, 60s and 70s exist – they’re commonplace and deserve just as much love and happiness than they do. At Maturity Dating, we’ve always maintained that mature dating is a natural part of growing older, so we’re delighted to see this movement from top thinkers on redefining old for the modern era. Here are some tips for finding love after 50