Most Americans (75 percent) feel comfortable with their current age, and 81 percent are willing to reveal how old they are to others, according to a recent Harris Interactive survey of 1,000 people ages 18 and older commissioned by Pfizer. However, only about half (48 percent) of adults feel comfortable with the idea of getting older in general.
[Read: The Ideal Retirement Age.]
Almost all adults (90 percent) say they tell the truth about their current age. People who are willing to state their age say they feel confident about their age (27 percent), don't care if they are judged for their age (27 percent), are proud of their age (23 percent) or don't think there is a stigma associated with age (18 percent). People who are unlikely to disclose their birth year consider age to be private information they don't want to share (35 percent), fear they will be judged (12 percent), feel embarrassed (10 percent) or think there is a stigma associated with their age (8 percent).
Individuals are the most likely to share their age with a friend (98 percent) or an older person (97 percent). But large majorities of the survey respondents would also tell their age to a younger person (94 percent), a co-worker (94 percent), an acquaintance (93 percent) and a potential love interest (92 percent). And over three quarters (78 percent) of people would even tell their age to a stranger.
The workplace can be one of the trickiest places to share your age. “I believe discussing age isn’t a good idea because age has nothing to do with one’s capabilities to perform a job,” says Linda Gravett, a psychologist and coauthor of “Bridging the Generation Gap: How to Get Radio Babies, Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Gen-Yers to Work Together and Achieve More”. “Experience, expertise and physical stamina, for example, in a firefighter position, are examples of discussion points that are pertinent for on-the-job discussions.”
Among people who wouldn’t share their age with a co-worker, it was often because they consider age a private matter that shouldn’t be shared with people you work with (54 percent). Some employees also worry that disclosing their age could limit opportunities for advancement (22 percent) or that they would be judged in the workplace based on their age (11 percent). “I guess I'd think of it the same way as telling them about your religious preferences. They might find it interesting to know, and it may provide the basis for some common ground,” says Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “It's irrelevant to your work, or it should be, though, and like religion, it might also be an opportunity for prejudice.”
Many current workers fear being considered too old to keep working (30 percent), being forced to stop working before they are ready to (35 percent), being replaced by someone younger (30 percent) and even losing their job because of their age (18 percent). In contrast, far fewer workers fear being considered too young for a specific role (14 percent) or being replaced by someone older (9 percent).
Of course, stereotypes about older workers could persist until productive workers begin speaking up about their age. “Just as it is hard to put the onus on an individual to come out in a homophobic work environment, it is equally hard to expect people to disclose their age in a context that may be ageist,” says Marci Alboher, vice president of Encore.org and author of “The Encore Career Handbook”. “That said, we are in the midst of a paradigm shift in terms of how people think about the length of a career. And only when we can point to the legions of older people who are continuing to make meaningful contributions at work will age discrimination diminish.”
Most people agree that being older is something to be proud of (92 percent), and feel confident that they will age well (88 percent), life a long life (87 percent) and that wisdom comes with age (85 percent). Many people also agree that people who work past retirement age stay healthier longer and are happier (78 percent), and that the quality of life for seniors is better now than it has ever been in the past (68 percent). However, 40 percent of Americans feel that being old is something to fear because it often brings health problems and financial burdens. And a quarter of those surveyed say they would seriously consider surgery and other medical procedures to improve their physical appearance as they age.
“In my 26 years in the for-profit sector, it was clear that people know roughly how old their colleagues are. No one is mistaking a 60 year old for a 40 year old no matter how much Botox or hair coloring they use,” says Betsy Werley, executive director of the Transition Network, a networking group for women over 50. “I don't recommend proactively talking about your age, but I wouldn't refuse to tell how old you are. As long as people feel you're a valuable colleague and they realize that your experience is part of that value, you're in good shape.”