We are almost never satisfied with our current chronological age. Children desperately want to be seen as older than they are. And older people go to great lengths and expense to appear younger. Throughout our lives we refuse to be defined by our actual age because we feel like a different number should apply. A new study quantifies that feeling.
The typical 70-year-old feels like they are age 57, an aging study from the University of Michigan and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin found. Older people tend to feel about 13 years younger than their chronological age, according to an analysis of the responses of 516 people age 70 and older over a 6 year period.
“People generally felt quite a bit younger than they actually were and they also showed relatively high levels of satisfaction with aging over the time period studied,” says Jacqui Smith, a psychologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Poor health reduced the gap between felt age and actual age.
The researchers also assessed how old the participants thought they looked by asking them, “How old do you feel when you look at yourself in a mirror?” At the beginning of the study people thought they looked about 10 years younger than they were, but by the end the gap narrowed to 7 years younger than their chorological age.
Women were more likely than men to perceive their appearance as closer to their actual age. The women in the study generally saw themselves as 4 years older than their male peers. “Women may be more aware of their appearance than men, especially given the negative stereotypes of older bodies,” says Smith.
In other unpublished research based on the Berlin Aging Study, Smith and colleagues found that people who feel younger are less likely to die given the same chorological age and physical health. Says Smith: “Feeling positive about getting older may well be associated with remaining active and experiencing better health in old age.”
Here is a look at a few people who definitely feel younger than they are.