Health

America's favorite age? It's 50, new poll says

Sep. 15, 2013 at 10:50 AM ET

Depp, Foster and Clooney
NBC
This is 50! If actors Johnny Depp, Jodie Foster and George Clooney are at the half century mark, then it's not a surprise, it's America's new favorite age.

If you had your way – and your health – what age would you like to be for the rest of your life? Twelve?Twenty? Thirty?

According to a recent Harris interactive poll, the magic number is 50, which probably comes as no surprise to fans of proud quinquagenarians like Sally O’Malley, Molly Shannon's "Saturday Night Live" character who “kicked, stretched and kicked” her way into our hearts a few years back.

The online poll surveyed a total of 2,252 American adults which included men and women of all ages, all geographical regions, and all political bents. Some had children; some did not. All were picked from a pool of folks who’d agreed to participate in a Harris Interactive survey.

The question: If you could live forever in good health at a particular age, what age would you like to be?

The answer, based on the average: five-oh. Half a century. Or to put it another way, two and a half times older – and wiser -- than Miley Cyrus. (And around the same age as George Clooney and Johnny Depp.) 


Not surprisingly, younger people chose younger ages. Echo boomers, ages 18 to 36, thought the perfect age was 38. Gen Xers, ages 37 to 48, wanted to stay put at 49. Baby boomers, ages 49 to 67, thought 55 was pretty awesome. While mature adults, ages 68 and older, were happy to hold steady at 67.

On average, men wanted to be younger than women, choosing 47 over the average perfect age for females of 53. Those with kids in the household thought staying 45 forever would rock; those without children around opted for 53.

It's an Internet poll, not an academic-peer reviewed study. Still, there are plenty of reasons people might call 50 the perfect age, psychologists say.

“You have almost every opportunity,” says Barbara Becker Holstein, a psychologist with a private practice in Long Branch, N.J. “You’re young enough to be famous or start an organic farm and still have the muscle tone to work eight hours a day. You’re old enough to have wisdom but young enough that your parents are still alive so you have a generational experience. If you’re tired, you can ask the young man on the bus to get out of his seat for you. Or you can date the young man. The more I think about it, the more appealing it is.”

Holstein says all of the recent medical – and cosmetic -- developments have also helped to give 50 a facelift.

“I really think 50 is the new 30 to 35,” she says. “For a woman, you can stay stylish and fit and maybe get your hair dyed or just do a little [cosmetic] tune-up and feel, ‘Wow, this is great.’ In terms of childbearing, you can basically say forget it or if you want a baby at 50 or 53, you can get your hormones juiced up and go for it.”

Holstein says research shows that as we age, we tend to be less depressed, less anxious and more optimistic than our juniors. And we also become more comfortable with ourselves and our bodies.

Fifty is also sort of a sweet spot when it comes to grandchildren.

“It’s kind of a hiatus age,” she says. “Lots of people don’t have grandchildren by 50 so you’re not necessarily tied down babysitting. Of course, given how slowly young people mature now, you may still be dealing with someone in their 20s who loves living at home.”

While a similar survey conducted 10 years ago found 41 to be the perfect age, Holstein says she’s not surprised people have upgraded, especially given the influence of the boomer generation and recent “medical miracles.”

Video: A recent Harris Interactive Poll asked people what the perfect age would be if they could live forever in good health, revealing that the big 5-0 is the “sweet spot” for most American adults. One expert surmises that it is an age of balance, where you are “old enough to have wisdom, but young enough that your parents are still alive.”

“We can act and feel at 50 now the way people used to at 35, “ she says. “It’s influencing. If you’re lucky enough to have good health and money to take care of yourself, why not incorporate the wisdom and maturity that goes with age?”

Diane Mapes is a frequent contributor at nbcnews.com and TODAY.com. She's also the author of "How to Date in a Post-Dating World" and writes the breast cancer blog, doublewhammied.com. She defines her current age as a little “too perfect.”

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