Am I there yet? New study on when middle age begins and ends…

As I’ve noted before, middle age is a land with indistinct borders — there is no clear year where it starts and ends.  Dictionaries and researchers don’t agree and neither do survey respondents, whose answers shift depending on their age, gender, race, and profession. A new study by Anne Barrett, a researcher at Florida State University, comes to the same conclusion — but with two interesting caveats.

First, she found that both women and men think that middle age begins earlier for women than for men. This is a definite change from the 1990s according to the mammoth research project, Midlife in the United States.

Secondly, she found that on average, most people think middle age begins at 44 and ends at 60. That’s younger than I would have thought, particularly with the retirement age being pushed back a bit from 65. (After all, a 2009 Pew Research Center survey of 50-to-64 year olds found that respondents thought middle age ended at 71.) I haven’t looked at the data yet to see exactly who she interviewed.

What I concluded after researching the subject, is that middle age is a Never Never Land — younger people never want to enter it and older people never want to leave it.

The study, “Mapping Midlife: An Examination of Social Factors Shaping Conceptions of the Timing of Middle Age,” was published in the journal Advances in Life Course Research. Here are some of the findings:

“• Both women and men view the start and end of middle age as occurring earlier for women than for men, consistent with the argument that a “double standard of aging” exists that disadvantages women.
• Younger adults tend to see middle age as occurring at younger ages than do older adults. In other words, as people grow older, they tend to see this life stage as occurring later.
• People who are more socioeconomically disadvantaged or belong to racial or ethnic minority groups tend to view this stage as occurring earlier than do their peers.
• Others likely to view middle age as occurring earlier include those in poor health, those who began families young, those who are divorced, and those without living parents.”


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