This week’s poll reveals a taxonomic problem — there is nothing resembling a consensus about what the “middle age” of one’s life might be. Some warn that as I look at age 40, middle age is staring me right in the face. Others set the dividing line at about my parents’ ages. If we were to divide up an average person’s lifespan into thirds, and accept as given that the average lifespan for a U.S. resident was 78 years old, “youth” would end and “middle age” would begin at 27 years of age, and “old age” would begin at 54. I doubt anyone would agree with that. Of course, using average lifespan is a deceptive index; by the time you are 27, your average anticipated lifespan is much longer than 78. I don’t know exactly what it is, because I’m not an actuary, but I do know that by that time, you can reasonably expect to survive well into your 80’s.
I don’t participate in the polls I write for the blog. If had participated in this one, I’d have voted “five years older than I am right now.” I think middle age is a state of mind more than anything else. Certainly I find my habits and tastes evolving as I grow older, but I don’t feel very old. Then again, I ask people in their early sixties, and they say they don’t feel very old, either, so I expect when I am that age, I won’t feel old then. On the other hand, after doing physical work to which I am unaccustomed, the wear on my body does make me feel tired and slow in a way that it didn’t even ten years ago.
What this means, I think, is that “getting older” is not the same thing as “getting old.”