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When does middle age begin? When does it end?

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I'm not at the fifth decade yet, but getting there.

If you're middle aged, you most likely know exactly where the above image comes from. If you don't, it's the skit "Middle-Aged Man" from the television show Saturday Night Live. That particular skit made its appearance in 1990, which at the time I write this was 33 years ago. The actor seen in the image is Mike Myers made to look like an old man, because in '90 he was 27 (he's 60 now).

I honestly don't know if middle age starts at 40 or 45. There is debate on that. Some even think it starts at 35.

In the United States, the very specific ages that are paid attention to most are 16, 18, 21, 25, 40, 50 and 65.

16

This matters to girls more than boys. Many girls have a "Sweet Sixteen" coming-of-age party to celebrate that specific age. The internet was not helpful in giving me any solid information on telling me why that is.

For boys, or at least for me, this was the age that made me eligible to apply for a driver's license. But I obviously didn't throw a party when I got mine.

18

At 18, you're legally and adult and can vote; these are two solid reasons why 18 is a big deal. Being eligible for military service is also a big deal.

21

The only reason anybody cares about this age is because that's the minimum age required to buy booze.

25

There are two reasons people care about this age.

Age 25 is the quarter-century mark. Some who reach this age feel "old" because at that point your teens are 6 years gone. I personally never felt that way when I was 25, but some do.

There's another interesting thing about age 25 in that it's usually the minimum age required to rent a car. Technically, it's mostly allowed to rent a car at age 21, but not without some tacked on fees due to the younger age.

40

This is considered the beginning of middle age. The first thing I ever saw back in my teens that told me "40 is old" had nothing to do with people. Rather, it was novelty stores.

I remember novelty stores carrying "over the hill" stuff in the mall (which you can still get), and the majority of that merchandise centered around reaching age 40. Some of it revolves around greater ages, but I'll get to those in a minute.

Not once did I ever find any of that stuff funny, even in my teens. I would see that novelty over-the-hill crap for sale and thought wow, that's insulting.

There was one of those "you're old" novelty merch things that was okay. 39 forever. I like that one. The joke is when you reach age 39, every birthday after that is always your 39th birthday and never changes. This is more for women than for men. In fact, years ago I remember seeing this lady in her 50s on my dad's bowling team that sometimes wore a "39 forever" sweater. When women do the 39-forever thing, it's cute in a good way.

I'm in my late forties. When I reached 40, my honest reaction to it was "meh".

50

I've not reached this age yet. People pay attention to this one because it's the half-century mark and the fifth decade of life.

On the internet, 50 is the age I see some people making a big deal out of. It's never 40.

I don't know if I'll feel this way once I reach 50, but from what I've seen from others that have, they consider that the crossover age. The realization you have more years behind than ahead of you, and that you'd better start getting some living done if you haven't started already.

The end of middle age?

Is this 65, which was formerly retirement age? Is it 67, which is now currently retirement age (at least in the US)? Is it 70?

I have no idea when middle age is supposed to end. And I don't think anybody else does either.

And what is the proper term for a person supposed to be after middle age ends? Senior? Elderly? Senior seems to be more polite.

Maybe when we can figure out when middle age ends, a name for anybody after that age can be decided upon.

Until then, we're all still just guessing.

Published 2023 Sep 14

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