Finding the New Age, for Your Age
You’ve probably heard the lines about how “40 is the new 30” or “30 is the new 20.” What is this based on? Are they just lines to make older people feel younger? Is it based on how you feel? Is there science involved?
In my quick searching a couple of weeks ago, the results showed a mix of reasons.
For example, “50 is the new 20” was especially common because there was some article that cited some research that suggested those who were 50 years old could still be as fit as a 20-year-old. The article was published and republished in various places.
“70 is the new 30” also showed up because of some research snippet floating around, but it was also used just as a headline to indicate an industry shifting back towards an older generation.
In 2002, Gayle Kaufmana and Glen H. Elder Jr. published research in the Journal of Aging Studies, which asked older people how old they were and how old they felt. On average, respondents reported feeling about 8 years younger than they actually were.
So there tends to be some subjectivity when “some age is the new age.”
I wondered if I could estimate more objectively. Having looked at mortality data now and again, I just went with it.
Here’s what I did, based on decade data from the Social Security Administration.
Finding the New Age
Look to the past and find an equal probability of death.
That seems fine, but the chances of dying in a year, given your age, has changed over the decades. As you would expect, the chances were higher in 1930 than in 1950, which were higher than they were in 2000.
Age Versus Probability of Death in 2020 and 2000
Chances that someone dies within a year go up as you look farther in the past.
If the curves keep changing, what do you use as the baseline comparison? The curves are also different for males and females, as the former tends to die sooner.
At the root of “this age is the new age” question is that you’re comparing your current age to something in the past.
Going back to Kaufman and Elder, what does it mean when someone says they feel 8 years younger than they actually are? Are they comparing to a memory of what they were like 8 years ago? Are they imagining what it would be like to go back in time? Does their 8-years-younger self also feel 8 years younger, which in turn makes the current self feel 16 years younger? I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of getting worried about the space-time continuum.
Let’s all calm down.
In terms of life expectancy probabilities, it seemed fair to compare values for the present against those for the decade a person was born. So if you’re looking for “50 is the new _____”, you compare against the 1970 curve. In this case, 50 is the new 41.
Do that for all of the ages and sexes, and here’s what you get.
New Age by Looking Back
Using birth decade as a point of comparison for females and males, the median difference between actual age and the new age is about 9 years.
It’s interesting that the median difference between actual age and the “new age” is 9 years, which isn’t that far off from the Kaufman and Elder result. Maybe the curve comparison isn’t totally worthless for answering our question.
Check out your new age below.
What is Your New Age?
It depends on your sex and the year you compare to.
There are caveats. These life expectancy numbers are not adjusted for our current situation. I used life tables from an actuarial study from the Social Security Administration. The numbers are part historical data and part projection. There’s variation at each age, and these chart show averages and aggregated data. Higher life expectancy doesn’t always match with quality of life. There’s likely more variation if we were able to look at further demographic breakdowns. And so on.
All that said, it’s an interesting look, and I think there’s a lot more to dig into here.