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opinion | Meta Wagner

Boomers, rejoice! 60 is the new 50

As life expectancy increases, so does the concept of aging

John Malta for The Boston Globe

REMEMBER THE legend of Ponce de Leon, the 16th century explorer who discovered the Fountain of Youth in, of all places, Florida? The story goes that this magical water source was capable of reversing the aging process and curing sickness.

Well, it turns out that Ponce de Leon’s got nothing on current-day “explorers” when it comes to turning back the hands of time.

Researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Stony Brook University recently released a study that suggests the start of middle age is no longer 45 or 50 but, instead, 60.

That’s right: 60 really is the new 50. Boomers, rejoice!


Life expectancy is increasing at a faster rate than ever. The Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital projects an increase in life expectancy of 1.4 years per decade in Europe. In response, according to the study, the definitions of “old” and “middle age” have to change. Rather than basing age categories on the amount of time someone has lived so far, the researchers argue that the categories should be based, instead, on the amount of time one has left to live.

“What we think of as old has changed over time, and it will need to continue changing in the future as people live longer, healthier lives,” says Sergei Scherbov, coleader of the study.

For a generation that’s so allergic to the thought of aging that the mere mention of “Social Security” or “AARP discount” can induce anaphylactic shock, this is the best news since the invention of Botox.

So long as the definers of age keep moving the goalpost, boomers may never have to grow old.

I wish I’d known this sooner. Here I was, believing that being in my 50s meant I’m middle aged, when, really, I’m still terribly young. What a fool I’ve been, going to sleep by 11:30. I could be pulling all-nighters. To think I gave up tennis because an orthopedist apparently misdiagnosed my shoulder pain as osteoarthritis. That’s a condition for middle-aged people, not a young, athletic woman like myself. And all the technology and devices I have trouble learning? That’s not a sign of age, that’s just a sign of stupidity. Whew.


The current research seems to echo findings by Bernice Neugarten, a pioneer in the study of adult development, who began arguing for a more complex view of aging decades ago. One of her most significant contributions to the field was to differentiate the “young-old” from the “old-old” rather than categorize people who are decades apart the same way. But, today, many of the “young-old” would be called middle aged.

Today’s research also confirms what we’ve already known, anecdotally: Good health, an active lifestyle, and a young attitude may have more to do with a person’s “age” than their date of birth. You don’t have to look any further for proof than last week’s Boston Marathon, where a dozen men and women in their 80s qualified to run. These incredibly fit Marathoners are definitely not your parents’ grandpas and grandmas.

Speaking of grandmas . . . maybe the revised age categorization will put to rest concerns about the age of the potential future Grandma-in-Chief Hillary Clinton. If elected, she’ll be 69 when she assumes the presidency. That means she’ll only be middle aged. And, if researchers continue to revise the age definitions, Hillary could miraculously still be middle aged even at the end of two terms in office.


I can see it now: the next Clinton conspiracy theory. Clinton’s opponents will start floating a rumor that the Clinton Foundation was behind this research study.

If that turns out to be true, one thing’s for sure: Clinton will win the vote of grateful boomers everywhere.

Meta Wagner is a contributor to the Globe Opinion pages. Follow her on Twitter @meta_wagner1.


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