People used to say that 50 was the new 40. Now 60 is the new 40. Is it true? And if so, what does that mean? Why 40, not 35 or 45? Will 70 be the new 40 in a few decades? Let’s take a look.
There is actually quite a lot of evidence to support the fact that a middle-aged woman in the 21st century is chronologically younger than her mother or grandmother. Our extended lifespan, cultural changes and increased knowledge of healthy living have resulted in 60 actually being the new 40!
Pivotal Life Stages Have been Extended.
In the western world, men and women are reaching pivotal life stages later than in the past. In 1950 a woman would marry at the average age of 20. Statistics vary a bit depending on the source and what state you live in, but in 2021 the average age for a woman to marry in the U.S. is about 27.
As a natural correlation women are having children later as well.
Add this to the fact the “30 is the new 20”. Children are leaving home later and later. In 2020 there were nearly 20 million students enrolled in college compared to 6 million in 1965. Most of these kids will come out of school with college debt. As a result, they will return to their parent’s home for several years (or more).
So women today are facing empty nest syndrome at a much later stage in life than their grandmothers (see also ‘Top Five Must-Haves When Hosting A Grandmother Shower‘). While many women were knitting booties for their first grandchild in their early to mid 40’s my friends are doing the same at 60 and beyond.
Well, we’re not knitting much either, more likely shopping on Etsy for something “handmade”.
Culturally Aging More Slowly
Fashion has blurred the age lines for women of all ages. In the 1950s and 60s there were distinct lines drawn in the sand as to who wore what. A young woman would wear a poodle skirt and a 40-year-old would not be caught dead in one. Mothers wore house dresses. Women over forty dramatically lowered their hemline.
Jeans became the great equalizer. Today most women under 80 wear jeans on a regular basis. And sweats. And sneakers. A woman in her 30s could easily wear exactly the same thing as a woman in her 60s and neither would be dressed “inappropriately”.
Hairstyles are also not as age-sensitive as in the past. By 40 most women did not wear long hair in the past. I remember reading articles in magazines explaining that long hair “dragged your face down and aged you”. Today it’s a personal choice.
These cultural changes have helped to increase the perception of youthfulness in older women.
Check out why 60 is the new 40 here!
Baby Boomers Have Extended to Onset of Old Age
Baby Boomers have changed the rules of aging. Our post-war generation experienced the cultural revolution of the 1960s. We have been exposed to new people and ideas as never before in America.
The decade brought sex, drugs and rock and roll. The birth control pill was introduced. Schools were desegregated. For many parents of boomers, this was an assault on the senses. For the boomers themselves, it opened possibilities, especially for women, and created new options of acceptable lifestyles.
Suddenly a woman did not have to get married because college admission and job opportunities were opening up. She could control when and if she wanted children. She could wear pants!
All of these cultural upheavals created a more diversified population of adults. In the past, one byproduct of middle and old age is a closing of mindset. By forty you had concrete ideas of right, wrong, what to say, how to dress and what was moral. Of course, there were outliers, but this is the norm that I see in my mother’s generation.
Many boomers still embrace the ideals of their teens and twenties. They travel and look for new experiences. They take courses and continue to learn academically, socially and culturally. This helps to extend their youth.
Latitude Margaritaville is a great example of the new 60. It’s a “55 and better” community in Daytona, Florida. Unlike traditional adult communities that encourage calm and quiet for all to enjoy, Margaritaville promotes itself as a perpetual party:
“Latitude Margaritaville is a place where life rolls easy, neighbors are friends, and the party never ends.”
Are We Physiologically Aging More Slowly?
The general public has a better understanding of healthy living than ever before. Smoking. Eating. Exercising.
When my mom went on a diet back in the 70s she would each a “healthy salad” of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and thousand island dressing. Then she would smoke cigarettes to curb her appetite!
The internet and social media have made it so much easier to learn the truth about diet and exercise. You can learn how to cook lean and take kickboxing classes simply by going to YouTube.
Prior to the web, the general public received their messages from television. Commercials for macaroni and cheese in a box claimed to be a “wholesome family dinner”. Now it’s much easier to dismiss such “fake news” without ever reading a book.
Mindset and meditation have found hundreds of thousands of new followers. Research shows that these practices slow cellular aging. We’re literally getting younger!
So When is “Middle Age”?
Mathematically speaking middle age has definitely gotten older. In 2021 an American woman can expect to live 79 years, versus 1950 when the average was 68 years old. That’s an increase of more than ten years!
According to statistics, a woman’s mid-life point has increased from 34 to 40.
Socially, it depends on who you ask. The older you get the older middle age becomes (no surprise there). If you ask a 30-year-old when middle age begins they’re likely to say about 45. Ask a 40-year-old and they’ll say 55. A 50-year-old may push that number back to 60!
Whether you’re middle-aged or more you can be happier with the simple things.
The FIRE Movement
FIRE stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. This movement is exploding in the U.S. There are podcasts, websites and YouTube channels devoted to helping young people accelerate their savings and retire decades earlier than the norm.
This changes our perception of a retired person as someone who is old. As more and more young people succeed in achieving FIRE, 40-year-olds will be sitting next to 65-year-olds at the pool and on the golf course and at 10:00 a.m. yoga class. How cool is that?!
It seems that no matter how you look at it, biologically, culturally, psychologically and mathematically middle age really has been extended.
Our knowledge of the aging process and medical advancements continues every moment of every day. As long as you don’t mind a few wrinkles it’s an exciting time to be middle-aged!
One author, Barbara Waxman, has re-named middle-aged to middlesence. Like adolescence, it’s a transition period. Middlesence is a time to find greater meaning and joy in one’s life. Sounds about right to me!