What young people think about old people is only half right

The young aren’t sure what’s right and what’s rumor about the old and the aging process, according to a survey.

Photo: JD Mason

Everyone, especially young people, has their stereotypes about the old: they can’t drive. They’re lonely. They can’t get around as well. They don’t understand computers or modern technology. They don’t want to go anywhere.

Whether or not these assumptions are supported by evidence is another story entirely. A Place for Mom, a senior care referral service, surveyed 2,000 people aged 16-34 about their opinions about the old and the aging process, then checked their opinions against research. The survey, called “Better With Age? How Young People See Seniors and the Aging Progress” showed that the discrepancy in opinion versus fact was surprising.

When asked what age is ‘old’, respondents agreed it was age 59 – female respondents chose 61, whereas those identifying as male said 56.

Here are some of the statements that young people were presented with, versus reality:

  • Older people become an economic burden when they get old: FALSE. 65% of survey respondents disagreed with this statement, and they were correct – while people over 50 are only 35% of the U.S. population, they contribute 43% of total U.S. GDP – $7.4 trillion annually.
  • Seniors are out of touch with modern technology: FALSE. 55% of respondents agreed with this statement, but it’s mostly false, as a number of studies from the Pew Research Center have shown. They might not be on Instagram, but a majority of seniors (67%) use the internet regularly and 51% have broadband at home. A Pew study found 37% of people aged 65 and overuse social media, and 70% of older people used Facebook daily.
  • Older people become worse drivers as they age: MOSTLY FALSE. While 72% of young people thought this was true, the Federal Highway Safety Administration shows that drivers 65 and over comprise of 19% of crash victims – in fact, it’s younger drivers aged 16-34 who make up a higher percentage, at 38%.
  • Old people are lonely: TRUE. Young people agreed with this statement, and there’s truth to it. People spend 6 hours a day alone by age 60, and that increases to 8 hours by age 80, according to the American Time Use Survey.
  • People don’t like their bodies when they get old. FALSE. While young people thought this statement would be true, a Gallup poll of 85,145 Americans found that body acceptance hits a high in our 70s and 80s.

For all their negative associations with aging, young people were excited about a number of aspects of old age: having more time to spend with their loved ones and grandchildren, having more time to travel, having time to pursue a hobby, and so on. Maybe it really is better after 60.

Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.