• Bruce Springsteen is selling out concerts at 73
  • Martha Stewart is a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover model at 81
  • Tom Cruise is still doing his own stunts at 61
  • Smokey Robinson is still touring at 83
  • The 90s supermodels are on the latest cover of Vogue
  • … and many more

The make up of the population is changing with an increasing number of people in later life. The western world is moving to a point where there will be more people aged over 65 than under 18.

My generation (I was born in 1957) are more active and are rethinking retirement (my book with that name will be published on November 8th).

Always reviewing articles and press releases around ageing and retirement I’ve recently seen the results of a Harris Poll survey initiated by Age Wave with over 2000 Americans, including 900 aged over 50. This found:

  • 79% of adults 50+ think today’s older adults are more active
  • 58% say they are more open-minded and curious compared with the previous generation. 97% of adults over 65 agree that ‘it’s important to stay curious and be willing to learn new things throughout life’. Indeed.
  • While age 60 was considered ‘old’ in their grandparents’ time,now age 80 is the median age considered ‘old’ today.
  • 69% of U.S. adults 50+ find the term ‘longevity’ more appealing than ‘aging.’
  • 83% of U.S. adults 65+ say it’s more important for them to feel useful than youthful in their retirement years. Today’s elders increasingly want a continued sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.
  • 71% of Americans 65+ say the best time of their lives is right now or in front of them.

So, what’s my take on this survey

The press-release refers to ‘modern elders’ a term made popular by Chip Conley. For me an elder is what people may aspire to but it is much more than a label. We all get older, we don’t all become wise.

As a psychologist I know surveys and polls can be constructed to give you the answer you want (think political polls).  Give people a choice of words to the question ‘What’s the biggest difference between people over 60 today vs. a generation ago? And I’m surprised even more didn’t opt for being more active and more open-minded and curious. Did 15% really think people over 60 are more isolated and 9% more rigid? Maybe that was from the younger people in the survey.

97% of adults 65+ agreed that it’s important to stay curious and be willing to learn new things throughout life’s later years. I wonder if that was a yes/no question? These are aspects of being a wise elder and it’s a great sign that almost everyone agrees, but just because we think something is important it doesn’t mean we do it. I know I should eat less sweet stuff but find it hard to give up.  

When asking people: ‘When thinking about growing older, which word is more appealing – longevity or aging?’ only 69% chose longevity. Were people only given a choice of two words, probably. I’ve been researching getting older for years … longevity would not be the first word to come into my head when thinking of getting older, I’m more likely to say wisdom and seeking peace.

More common words to describe growing older include: wisdom, retirement, family, health, reflection, ageing, change, experience, greying, opportunity, slower, memories, grandchildren, independence, fulfilment. Longevity didn’t appear when I researched this!

Health span, life span and longevity

The article writes that although we live longer it is not in good health, our health span is not keeping up with our life span. Americans will spend on average 12 years living with a disability or serious disease.

That’s where we all, from Government down, need to focus energy – encouraging people to look after their health – both physical and mental. I had my mid-life health check this week. Blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, check for diabetes and to answer a few questions. It did feel more like a box ticking exercise or maybe, for me that’s because all my numbers were good?

Having an optimistic view on life, seeing ourselves as younger than our birth years, all help us to live longer and more healthy. Becca Levy’s work found that people with more positive age beliefs live on average 7.5 years longer.


This is an interesting topic to me and covered both in Rethinking Retirement and in the follow-on book (already started!). The survey found that 65% of adults 50+ think that values and life lessons are the most important thing to pass on to their heirs and loved ones. Only 22% said financial assets (including property) were the most important.

I’m not sure what the respondents had in mind – is it sharing family history, or something else. I was left wanting to know more. Legacy to me is what we are giving back which includes knowledge but also our impact on others and the community. It links to meaning and purpose. Many get this through their work. As we leave full time work, we want to find this elsewhere. 

I trust you found this of interest and would love to read your comments.


Final checks made and the editing process has ended. A bit of a break for me before we get into the next phase – getting ready to launch.

Rethinking Retirement will be published on 8 November. You can sign up now to be notified of pre-order bonuses. Here’s the link to sign up.