Thursday, September 25, 2014

Am I Old or Am I Young? Quote

Photo by Luc B.
"Forty is the old age of youth, fifty is the youth of old age."  ~ Hosea Ballou

Because I am a gerontologist, people ask me directly or indirectly, "Am I old?"

Well, there isn't an easy answer to that question.

Last week I talked with an administrator at a local university who was telling me he was a lot older than people imagined.

Older? He's in his mid 30s.

Because I regularly socialize with people who are twice or three times his age, I perceive him as young--even though he is twice the age of an incoming university student.

From his perspective, he exemplifies Ballou's first clause in this post's epigraph:  "Forty is the old age of youth."

Photo by Nick Kenrik.
My own experience as a woman in my fifties tells me Ballou's second clause is true as well: "Fifty is the youth of old age."

When ever I confess my age to people who are in their 80s and 90s, they always make some version of this statement: "You're a baby!"

Thanks to better health care (including preventative medicine), improved public sanitation, the reduction of smokers in the US, and other factors, the average life expectancy is increasing.

Reading about longevity projections leads me to believe that I may very well live into my mid 80s, maybe into my 90s. Because I expect to live for 30+ more years, 50 doesn't really feel old.

As a gerontologist, I social regularly with older adults. They teach me a great deal about life in the US before I was born. They also teach me a great deal--directly or indirectly--about how to age effectively.

I see a parallel emerging.

When I was 25, I looked to my middle-aged professors for guidance on how to establish myself in the workaday world.  As a young adult, I didn't even see many people over the age of 65--let alone talk with them--so why would I seek a mentor from among those past traditional retirement age?

Now that I am in my 50s, I look to older adults for guidance on how to establish myself in the broader view of "the world."  I find that older adults know more about personal character, peaceful relationships, long-range decision making and many other larger-than-worklife skills.

So when you wonder whether you are young or old, remember to consider the context and the audience.

This is part of a new series of posts inspired by quotes. Enjoy! 


Life Span vs. Life Expectency
Leisure World Cohort Turning 90
Transcending Age
Quantifying Wisdom


  1. Ah, perspective and context is usually a key. Thanks I'm feeling really good at being in the youth of old age!

  2. Well, remember when we weren't going to trust anyone over 30? Oops ... you're too young to recall that!