Postponing Old Age: Evidence for Historical Change Toward a Later Perceived Onset of Old Age

Markus Wettstein, Rinseo Park, Anna E. Kornadt, Susanne Wurm, Nilam Ram, Denis Gerstorf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


“At what age would you describe someone as old?” Perceptions of when old age begins might be prone to upward shifts because of historical increases in life expectancy and in retirement age, as well as because of better psychosocial functioning in later life. We investigated historical changes in within-person trajectories of the perceived onset of old age using data from 14,056 participants who entered the German Ageing Survey at age 40– 85 years and who completed up to eight assessments across 25 years. Using longitudinal multilevel regression models, we found that at age 64, the average perceived onset of old age is at about age 75 years. Longitudinally, this perceived onset age increased by about 1 year for every 4–5 years of actual aging. We also found evidence for historical change. Compared to the earliest-born cohorts, later-born cohorts reported a later perceived onset of old age, yet with decelerating trend among more recent birth cohorts. Within-person increases of the perceived onset of old age were steeper in later-born cohorts. The described cohort trends were only slightly reduced when controlling for covariates. Being younger, male, living in East Germany, feeling older, reporting more loneliness, more chronic diseases, and poorer self-rated health were each associated with a perceived earlier onset of old age. Our results suggest that there is a nonlinear historical trend toward a later perceived onset of old age, which might have meaningful implications for individuals’ perspectives on aging and old age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychology and aging
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology

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