What’s old got to do with it? The definition is changing


Flipping through the television channels, we caught the tail end of an interview with Larry Brown, the former star basketball coach of the Detroit Pistons recently hired by the New York Knicks.

“I love what I do,” Brown said, explaining his decision to accept the pressure-filled head coaching job in New York. “I have a passion for it. I don’t feel like I am 65.”

Which got us thinking: How does it feel to be 65?

We don’t know yet. Georgina turned 61 in July and Humberto celebrated his 60th birthday just this past week. And, while admittedly we are growing increasingly conscious of age and reaching the big six-oh is supposed to be a milestone, we confess to feeling not much different from how we did a year ago.

Besides, the definition of “old” is all relative, as evidenced by a most interesting poll we ran across recently.

Among most young Americans 18 to 24 years of age, old means somebody over 60, according to the poll conducted by the research firm Zogby International for the MetLife Mature Market Institute, the not-for-profit research and information arm of the financial services firm.

But when everyone under 30 is included, only 30 percent say somebody over 60 is old. And more than a third of those 50 to 64 say you have to be at least 71 to be old.

Overall, the poll of 1,000 Americans shows that most now believe old means somebody at least age 71 - quite a change from the “don’t trust anybody over 30” rallying cry of the young during the flower power days of the 1960s. And a significant number, 18 percent, said you are not old until you make it to 81.

“Since the population is aging and there are more people in middle age than ever before, the idea that old begins at 30 is outdated and most people are not considered old until much later in life,” said Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

These findings are fodder for more than light-hearted banter or party


“The implications for workforce participation and social involvement will be far-reaching,” Timmermann said of the changing perceptions about what being old means.

“As time goes on,” she predicted, “changed attitudes will result in increased numbers of older people who will continue to work, to start their own businesses, or to join with younger generations to help meet community needs. No longer will there be social pressure to hang it up at a certain age.”

If Larry Brown doesn’t, we certainly won’t. At the same time, most of us also wish we could be younger. After all, we would have more time left to do all the things we want to do.

“There is a clear desire to be young,” the study found, with most people over 35 saying they wished they were younger.

Not surprisingly, those 18 to 29 years of age were the most satisfied with their current age. Nearly two-thirds of the people polled wanted to be under 40, and almost no one wanted to be over 81.

Still, a significant number of older people, 31 percent of those older than 70, said they were content with their current age. The actual median age in the United States is about 35 and four months, meaning half the population is younger and half is older.

Here is our take on it: We cannot change how old we are, so we’d better accept it. The only thing we can change is our attitude.

The younger we are, statistically at least, the more time we have left to live. But the older we are, the more we have already lived, and experienced. A 20-something may have more to look forward to, but no guarantee to make it to even age 30. So all of us should make the best of each day by living life to the fullest regardless of our chronological age.

A survey of 1,000 Americans, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, is the first that we know of to ask those in their 50s and 60s what type of work they aspire to, what they want to accomplish through this work, and why they want to do it.

Among the results:

  • Baby boomers, often maligned as self-centered, are ahead of the curve: 58 percent of those age 50 to 59 are interested in “good work” jobs, including education and social services.
  • By a solid majority, the Americans surveyed want jobs that are about people, purpose and community. For example, 59 percent say staying involved with other people is very important in attracting them to a job in retirement, and 57 percent say it is very important that the job give them a sense of purpose.
  • More specifically, among those planning to work in retirement, 78 percent are interested in working to help the poor, the elderly and other people in need, the top choice.
  • But wishes and reality are two different things. Just 12 percent think it will be very easy to find the work they want. As an incentive, 60 percent strongly support giving a tax credit to older Americans who work in schools or social services.

Humberto Cruz can be reached at and Georgina Cruz at