Many of the points mark the middle of an age range that scientists have identified, which means they are all determined by averages. Some are also surveys, not controlled trials, so there is a possibility the self-reports don’t capture the most accurate picture.But in many cases, the numbers keep cropping up for a reason, which is that life isn’t a downhill slide from youth.Here’s what you have to look forward to.
So why do we tend to think of older people as primarily depressed and unhappy, a perception that seems to be supported by the fact that the elderly have the highest suicide rates, when they themselves often report being happier now than when they were younger — and when studies show well-being rises after mid-life?
One reason for the happiness and suicide rates being at-odds could be related to the fact that happiness ratings often rely on general population figures, not measures of particular individuals, which can be much more varied. As data from several Scandinavian countries shows, it’s possible for a country to lead the world in both population happiness and suicide rates. While the reasons aren’t clear — perhaps the cold, dark winters are difficult to take for some, or perhaps being depressed when everyone around you is happy is even harder to take — the conflicting trends do occur simultaneously.
“It does seem like a paradox, but both happiness and depression can increase with age,” says Sutin. It is possible to swing between the two states and it is also possible that age pushes people to one extreme or another. “With age, people tend to become more emotional and experience both sadness and happiness,” she says. That could account in part for why we tend to see the elderly as sad: the sadness is both more visible and more congruent with our expectations about this stage of life.“
Especially when we’re young, it’s really easy to look at older adults and see the loss: loss of youth, loss of mobility, loss of loved ones,” Sutin says. “We assume that all of that loss would make older adults unhappy. It’s harder to see the benefits of aging: feelings of pride for children and grandchildren, a meaningful career, more confidence, wisdom. There are a lot of reasons to be happy in older adulthood, but they may not be as visible as the losses.” When they are, however, it turns out that happiness is one of the benefits that come with age.
Worldwide, there is a 50 percent chance that the population will be falling by 2070, according to a recent study published in Nature. By 2150, according to one U.N. projection, the global population could be half what it is today.
Those who predict a coming Asian Century have not come to terms with the region’s approaching era of hyper-aging. Asia will also be plagued by a chronic shortage of women in the coming decades, which could leave the most populous region on Earth with the same skewed sex ratios as the early American West. Due to selective abortion, China has about 16 percent more boys than girls, which many predict will lead to instability as tens of millions of “unmarriageable” men find other outlets for their excess libido. India has nearly the same sex-ratio imbalance and also a substantial difference in birth rates between its southern (mostly Hindu) states and its northern (more heavily Muslim) states, which could contribute to ethnic tension.
Birth rates are falling dramatically across Latin America, especially in Mexico, suggesting a tidal shift in migration patterns. Consider what happened with Puerto Rico, where birth rates have also plunged: Immigration to the mainland United States has all but stopped despite an open border and the lure of a considerably higher standard of living on the continent. In the not-so-distant future, the United States may well find itself competing for immigrants rather than building walls to keep them out.
A lot of the myths we think of in terms of middle age, myths that I grew up with, turn out to be based on almost nothing. Things like the midlife crisis or the empty nest syndrome. We’re brought up to think we’ll enter middle age and it will be kind of gloomy. But as scientists look at real people, they find out the contrary. We used to think we lost 30 percent of our brain cells as we age. But that’s not true. We keep them.
One study of men found that well-being peaked at age 65. Over and over they find that middle age, instead of being a time of depression and decline, is actually a time of being more optimistic overall. Continue reading “Middle-Aged Myths”
It may be the ultimate free lunch — how to reap all the advantages of a calorically restricted diet, including freedom from disease and an extended healthy life span, without eating one fewer calorie. Just take a drug that tricks the body into thinking it’s on such a diet.
It sounds too good to be true, and maybe it is. Yet such drugs are now in clinical trials. Even if they should fail, as most candidate drugs do, their development represents a new optimism among research biologists that aging is not immutable, that the body has resources that can be mobilized into resisting disease and averting the adversities of old age.