Since I’m self-employed and home-based, I generally choose to work out at the gym around mid-morning. It just works best with my somewhat unorthodox work schedule. But something I’ve been noticing when I go on weekdays is the pronounced number of people over 60 – and more than a few over 70 – working out. It got me to pondering the question: is 75 the new 65?
Now, I’m certainly not the first person to have that observation. I googled “is 75 the new 65” and it’s a common theme. We certainly hear that associated with other age ranges. Examples are is 40 the new 30?. And is 50 the new 40?
I think the answer is YES in all cases. But when it comes to the younger age groups, it seems to have more to do with denying age and simply not wanting to grow up. But when it comes to the older cohort, it might have to do with more practical matters. If it’s true, it’s changing society, and I dare say for the better.
There are several reasons why I think this is.
Back in 1970, the average lifespan for a woman was 74.7, and 67.1 for men, for a blended average of 70.8. By 2017, the blended average lifespan in the US was 78.7. That’s an increase in the average lifespan by about eight years in less than 50 years.
Compared to the 1960s and 1970s, people reasonably expect to live at least a decade longer. Where back then it wasn’t unusual for people to die in their 60s and 70s – or even their 50s – today it seems most people live at least into their 70s, many into their 80s, and more than a few into their 90s.
Perception of age is relative. In 1970, a 60-year-old would’ve been considered old. In 2018, a 60-year-old is at worst late middle age.
It’s all a matter of perspective. If you expect to live to be 85 or 90 – and I think most people do – the 60s can still be considered the prime of life. Late prime perhaps, but prime nonetheless. It’s the result of having more time.
The Dispensing of Old Stereotypes
Maybe it was because I was a kid, but back in the 1970s, people in their 60s looked old. So did many in their 50s. I don’t think that was just my perception either.
A 50-year-old in 1975 would’ve been born in 1925. He would’ve experienced both the Great Depression and World War II. He may have even served in combat in World War II. Most likely, he’d have been a factory worker.
With that combination, he would’ve looked older than a person who was born after World War II, who never experienced combat or a depression, and did office work throughout life.
But I think it was more than that. Back then, people considered themselves old when they were over 50. Life seemed to be more settled, and so were they. Perhaps based on the experience of previous generations, they reach middle-age in their 30s, and began the descent into old age in their 50s.
The situation seems to be completely different today. It definitely seems as if people born after World War II consciously resist aging. This explains why 50 is the new 40, and 40 is the new 30.
I also think extended adolescence explains a lot of this – and that’s not entirely a healthy situation. It’s a phenomenon that seems to have begun in the 1960s (“Never trust anyone over 30”), but has accelerated in every decade since.
But while it appears to be a form of escapism for younger age groups, it seems more rational for people in their 60s and 70s.
Dramatic Changes in the Nature of Work
We just touched on the difference between someone who spends life working as a factory worker, versus someone who works in office. The factory worker would’ve done physical labor, in a work environment that may have been less than entirely comfortable (extremes of heat and cold). The job may even have been dangerous. At a minimum, it would’ve been physically taxing. It could’ve involved heavy lifting, a fast work pace, or standing for extended periods.
By contrast, today’s worker – who is much more likely to have a career in an office-based occupation – faces much less physical stress. Office environments are temperature controlled, involve sitting in often comfortable seats, doing work that isn’t physically challenging, and operating in a generally pleasant environment.
Where the factory worker’s job took a toll on the body, the office worker faces no similar physical stress.
It could be argued that factory work might have certain health benefits as a result of increased physical activity. But that may be more than offset by the stress on the body, that eventually causes her to wear out sooner.
The office worker, by contrast, generally arrives in old age with fewer physical deficiencies.
The Longer Life/Longer Retirement Connection
I think there’s an underestimated connection between work and quality of life in the later years.
I realize millions of people want nothing more than to kick back and retire to a life of blessed nothingness as soon as possible. 65 is the most common target, but more than 40% begin collecting Social Security at age 62.
What I’ve noticed is that the people who continue working past 62 or 65 seem to be both healthier and happier than those who retire. I don’t know if it’s because those who are healthier can continue working, and therefore do, or if work actually contributes to a better state of health.
But this much I do know… If you’re going to live to be 90, retiring at 62 is a very real potential financial disaster. Your savings will have to last for nearly 30 years (longer if you live well past 90). Given the uncertainties of the financial markets, and the ravages of inflation, that’s not likely for all but the very wealthy.
It seems logical that if you’re going to live longer, you’ll need to work longer. If you live to be 90, and you retire at 65, you’ll need your resources to survive for 25 years. But if you delay retirement until 75, you’ll only need to cover 15 years.
In a real way, we need to rethink the purpose of retirement. Is it to spare you the stresses of work in your last years? Or is the real purpose something very different? The early retirement movement is an indication that it now has little to do with old age.
And we can probably thank TV and the media for removing the connection between work and lifestyle, that was once a given.
Different Thinking About Aging
We’re all seeing more people over 65 working in all kinds of occupations. But equally obvious – that we may be missing as the deeper point – is the reality that some people are accomplishing great things very late in life.
That doesn’t square with the retire-at-all-costs mindset that dominates in many quarters.
It should also make us wonder if we and too many others are quitting on ourselves too soon.
Examples of good examples of people accomplishing great things late in life abound. Warren Buffett continues to be one of the most influential men in the investment community at age 87. Elizabeth II continues as the Queen of England at age 92. George Burns continued acting well into his 80s.
One group I’m particularly impressed with are preachers. There are a number of preachers maintaining active ministries well past 70. Examples include Joyce Meyer (75), David Jeremiah (77), and Charles Stanley (85). We could also add that Billy Graham continued preaching well into his 80s.
These preachers impress me for two reasons. The first is that standing up in front of a large group of people and delivering a sermon is taxing on a number of fronts. Most people are even mortally afraid to do such a thing. But these preachers soldier on, well past normal retirement age.
The second is that it demonstrates consistency with biblical faith. As a Bible believing Christian, you see this life as a bridge into eternity. When I see people doing the work of God very late in life, it’s a demonstration of that faith. The believer doesn’t get sidelined, but instead she continues to work in her God-given ministry until she’s physically no longer capable – which is often much longer than anyone thinks is possible. That’s one of the greatest witnesses any believer can make.
I think we can make similar choices in life. And as I’ve found out in my life, when you’re determined to do something that’s important to you, the ability and the resources present themselves. I consider it a God-thing, but you can describe it any way you choose.
Why 75 is the New 65 is a Healthy Development
This is of course completely anecdotal, but I’ve seen a lot of people retire early in life and deteriorate quickly. They retire at 62 or 65, then suffer with chronic conditions by age 70.
I believe a large part of this is expectation. People eventually become what they’ve been practicing to be.
I’ve seen other people who continue to move forward in life, and seem to defy age in the process. This may explain why they’re able to be active and productive well into their 70s and even 80s.
I get that this attitude isn’t universal, but we may also be moving toward an involuntary shift.
Longer lifespans are a reality. So is the need to survive financially for longer into old age than previous generations needed to. As well, people aren’t as physically worn out today by the work they do, and a more youthful attitude toward life has become the norm for millions of people.
If 75 is the new 65 – and we have every reason to believe that’s the case – we should embrace it. In general, people are more aware, more capable and more physically durable than in previous generations. Those are blessings to be celebrated.
Do you think this is a legitimate trend, or do you think it’s just something being embraced by a minority of well-heeled older folks?