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Some perspective on aging and achieving those milestone birthdays



Q. I recently attended a wonderful birthday party in my honor. As it became time for me to make a few remarks, the following words surprisingly came out of my mouth, “I am freaking out because I am now 65!” I need a little perspective on this. Many thanks. L.J.


Celebrating a 65th birthday is a victory and milestone, considering life expectancy in 1900 was age 47. The news for 2023 is much better. The average life expectancy for a 65-year-old woman is, on average, about 20 more years at age 85. For men, average life expectancy is, on average, about 17 more years, or age 82.


As we are living longer, some may believe that we are going to be “old” longer.  Cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson offers another perspective. She notes, “We’ve had 20 years added not to the end of life but to the middle of life,” meaning we will live longer in our middle years.


So why do many of us dread our older birthdays? With each birthday particularly in the later years, we are aware of more years behind us and fewer years ahead of us. Then there is the public perception about aging. We may acknowledge stereotypes about older adults such as being unattractive, less creative, rigid, less competent, unwilling to change or learn new things. Although knowing these are not true, they seep into our minds with the question, “Will people perceive me differently from who I am because of my age?”


Today, age 65 is considered mid-life. In 2006 Ken Dychtwald, founder and CEO of Age Wave co-authored an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “Managing Middlescence.” This life stage was referred to as a time of possible “frustration, confusion and alienation but also a time of self-discovery, new direction, and fresh beginnings.”

More recently Chip Conley author and founder of the Modern Elder Academy presents a strong case for the good life in later years in his book, “Learning to Love Midlife: 12 Reasons Why Life Gets Better with Age” (2024, Little Brown Spark). He notes that the middle years are not a time crisis, but rather a period of time affluence.


For many, it’s when family obligations diminish and we “stop sprinting on the career mill.” It’s an opportunity to evaluate what’s important, cherish relationships and have time to become a beginner again.  It’s a time to give back, examine our legacy and explore one’s spiritual life.


This positive approach is supported by author Jonathan Rauch who developed something called the U curve of happiness. He found that folks are happiest in their youth. The curve then dips in one’s 40s and increases in one’s 50s and beyond.


We all are aware of age 65 because it’s the age to qualify for Medicare. And there are more 65-year-olds in the U.S. than ever.  Here are some facts about this age group as reported by the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 6, 2024.


  • Join the club: About 4.1 million Americans will reach 65 this year, which comes to 11,200 folks a day celebrating their 65th birthday.

  • Working longer. In 2023, nearly 20 percent of Americans aged 65 and older were employed; that’s double from 35 years ago, according to a Pew Research Center report. And nearly two-thirds of those are working full-time. 

  • Wealthier than their predecessor. The median net worth of those ages 65 to 75 in 2022 was $410,000 up from $282,270 in 2010.

  • Physical activity guidelines. More are meeting the 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic activity a week and strength training compared to those in 2018.

  • Purpose counts. Among those age 50 and older “purpose matters more than having youthfulness.”


So happy birthday, L.J.! Enjoy the new life stage of opportunity and think about who you will become. For your 66th birthday party, start planning your remarks. Here’s a suggestion for openers: “This past year has been a special time when I have enhanced my relationships, explored new avenues, learned a lot, continued to give back to my community, found meaning in my life, and am grateful for another year.” 


Thank you for your good question. Stay well and be kind to yourself and others. 


Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity

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