It’s official: ‘Life Now Begins at 60’ according to new research

Middle age stretches as far as 68 for young at heart baby boomers

  • In-depth study highlights Britain’s transforming perceptions as “old age” kicks in later than ever
  • Over 50s resist slowing down, preferring to make ambitious plans for later years
  • Over 50s still expect to experience major ‘life events’ normally associated with younger people
  • One in four admit to lying about their age to avoid being written off as over the hill
  • Those in the 50-64 age range are happier and continue to get happier the older they get
  • Research points to a need for new language and change in attitude towards older people in Britain
  • Five broad tribes were uncovered: upbeat strivers, grown-ups, hedonists, pessimists, and chillaxers.

It’s official: ‘Life begins at 60’ in 2015 Britain, according to a new report released today by Cigna Insurance Services (Cigna). And there is more good news – middle age now stretches until 6 days after your 68th birthday.

These are just two of the findings from the study entitled “Understanding the Over 50s Market in 2015 Britain”, which was commissioned by Cigna to explore perceptions and misconceptions about the over 50s market in the UK today.

The report re-examines the famous premise of Walter B Pitkin, the American psychologist who coined the phrase “Life Begins at 40” in 1932. Pitkin argued that the machine age, which liberated many workers from back-breaking labour, together with a broader range of leisure opportunities, meant people could look forward to a bright, adventurous future once they reached the end of their thirties, with a life expectancy of up to 55/60.

Over the eight decades since Pitkin’s book was published, life expectancy has extended by 20 years and the respondents to Cigna’s research believe that life now really begins at 60 (#60new40). Baby boomers approaching retirement have far more ambitious plans for their future than any previous generation. In 2015, people aged 60 have a similar outlook, an equivalent lifespan ahead of them, and comparably upbeat prospects to 40 year olds in the 1930s.

Asked at what point people become “old”, the average response in a poll of 2,000 adults was 68 years – a far cry from years gone by, when people as young as 60 were routinely referred to as “old age pensioners”.

According to the report, opinions change as people advance in life: for youngsters under the age of 35, the word “old” applies to people aged 61 and up, while those already in their seventh decade feel that “old” doesn’t begin until the age of 77 – just four years short of Britain’s average life expectancy. Women believe old age begins slightly later than men do: female respondents put the dawn of old age at 69, while men put it at 67.

Key findings include
  • Ambitious life plans: Far from expecting a quiet life, people over 50 anticipate at least five more significant “life events”, ranging from divorce and dating to moving house, re-entering education, or starting a new business.
  • Enjoying life: 64% of over 65s agree they have enjoyed life much more since passing the age of 50, while more than half (51%) feel that as a nation, we unfairly treat older people as “past it”, dismissing their potential to contribute to society.
  • Attitudes: Many over 65s resent companies’ attitudes towards older people – 36% of over 65s complain that businesses treat them as “old” when they don’t feel it, while almost half (49%) specifically level this complaint at insurers who focus on funeral planning and ill health.
  • Characteristics: Across all ages, words most commonly associated with ageing include “experience”, “knowledge”, “settled”, and “wisdom”. However, young males are more likely than their female counterparts to link negative terms – such as “loneliness” and “fear” – with being older.
  • Discrimination: Frustrated by low expectations of them, almost a third (28%) of over 50s have lied about their age (some on a regular basis). Women are most likely to hide their ages while shopping – particularly for clothes – or when they reach milestone birthdays, whilst men are more likely to be untruthful with friends, or when dating.
  • Tribes: The study uncovered five broad tribes of older people – upbeat strivers, grown-ups, hedonists, pessimists, and chillaxers. Each tribe has distinctive characteristics, indicating the diverse nature of lifestyles among Britain’s new mature generation.

The changing social and economic outlook of people in late middle age is one of the defining characteristics of our era, according to the author of the report Paul Flatters, Chief Executive of the Trajectory Partnership, a futurology consultant and an expert in the over 50s marketplace.

“Conceit and prejudice surrounding ageing needs to be consigned to the dustbin”, said Flatters. “This is a generation that views maturity as empowering, and retirement as liberating. People are refusing to be defined by a number that ticks up as each birthday goes by. Older people in Britain are happier, more confident, and more adventurous than ever before.”

He said corporations are missing a trick by failing to grasp this transformation: “People aged over 50 represent a third of the population and are set to grow by 25% in the next 20 years. They’re an enormously diverse group as unveiled by the Cigna study, and by lumping them together as a single category, many businesses are closing down opportunities to target them. The real winners will be those businesses who really segment and target these groups appropriately.”

“A time of life that would once have been seen as twilight is now viewed as a time of adventure, opportunity, and change. Older people are refusing to be defined by their age and they will bristle at being put into a box marked ‘past it’ or labelled as ‘grey’ or ‘silver surfer’.”

“Average life expectancy has increased at a remarkable pace. The length of time we can expect to live grows by two and a half years every decade – that amounts to average longevity for the population in modern societies rising by six hours every day. The point at which people consider themselves to be ‘old’ is extending further into the late 60s as people recognise that they have decades of active life ahead.”

The study was commissioned by Cigna Insurance Services, which has developed a brand new Whole of Life insurance product, designed to offer better value to the over 50s. By asking four straightforward health questions, the company hopes its new policy will help cut costs by up to 30%, compared to traditional Guaranteed Acceptance policies which provide quotes to customers irrespective of whether they are healthy or not.

The findings are published just weeks after official figures revealed that the number of people reaching the age of 100 has rocketed by 72 per cent in a decade. Once a milestone celebrated by a personal telegram of congratulations from the Queen, Britain now has 14,450 centenarians as improved medical care and healthier lifestyles help us to live longer.

As they get older, many people become happier in what has become known as the “u-bend” of wellbeing. One study found that on average, people slip to a nadir of gloom at the age of 46, before recovering in their 50s and 60s to reach a peak of satisfaction in their 70s.

The NEW Third Age

In the past, the concept of the ‘Third Age’ has been used to describe “the period in life of active retirement, following middle age”. But according to Cigna Insurance Services’ analysis this no longer cuts it – many over 50s are not retired and as we have seen from the research they are not thinking about retirement, and in future they will be retiring even later. We need to freshen up the concept of the Third Age and bring it into the 21st Century – to encompass the new realities of working life, semi-retirement, and a more diverse set of behaviours – including relationship breakdown and new relationships forming.

From its own research, Cigna Insurance Services understands that the over 50s are not a single homogeneous group. Based on a specific analysis of respondents aged over 50, the report identifies five broad “tribes” of older people, each with distinctive characteristics. The groups’ opposing attitudes are an indication of the diverse nature of lifestyles among Britain’s new mature generation.

The largest segment, upbeat strivers, view the years ahead as a time to work hard, reach a career peak, and strive for both affluence and professional success. They view the over 50 years as a time of happiness, and are the group most likely to lie about their age in a work context.

Meanwhile, the grown-ups are well-heeled, financially secure – often through property wealth – and are keen to reap the rewards of success. They are disinclined to continue working hard and enjoy a relatively conservative, comfortable life – often frequenting golf clubs or country clubs.

A fifth of the demographic are hedonists. Largely at the younger end of the over 50s cohort, they are keen to travel, get out and enjoy life, and leave worries about work and family behind. Influenced by attitudes formed during formative years in the 1960s and 1970s, they are more likely to be women and often found in the Midlands.

Less cheerfully, 17% of over 50s are pessimists, associating older years with negative adjectives such as ill health and decline. They struggle to come to terms with their age, are more likely to have money concerns and view old age as starting earlier than many of their peers do.

The smallest of the tribes are the chillaxers, who do not see their years ahead as a time to work hard and achieve. Instead, they want to put their feet up and relax in the garden with a glass of wine. More likely to be male, they are often found in the north of England or Scotland.

“Walter Pitkin was spot on, back in the 1930s, to say that life began at 40,” said Paul Flatters. “But that very attitude now applies to the over 60s who have more choices than ever before about how to spend their retirement. There is no longer an assumption that advanced years are a time to wind down and switch off – a world of opportunity is open to Britain’s modern day mature generation.”

  • The Trajectory Partnership interviewed 2,000 adults, aged over 18, to test their perceptions of life over 50, and to assess whether perceptions have kept pace with reality or whether we still pander to stereotypes. A special analysis was carried out of the over 50s sample of the survey to test their experiences. Cluster analysis was used to create statistically robust segments.
  • Cigna Insurance Services commissioned the research. Cigna this month launched a new-look life insurance product for the over 50s, specifically for healthy non-smokers with good prospects of a lengthy retirement.
  • The full research can be found on Cigna’s website at the following link: