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Rethinking old age: 70 is the new 65, says UK Office of National Statistics

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It may be time to rethink how we measure and define old age in the UK because more people are surviving into their late 80s and beyond.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) team says although 65 has traditionally been seen as the start of old age, 70 could be seen as the “new 65”. That’s because many people who reach this milestone birthday can still expect to live another 15 years. Remaining life expectancy may be a better marker of old age, they say.

The report says traditionally, 65 has been taken as the entry point into old age. For decades it has been the official retirement age for men when they can start drawing their state pension. But working patterns are shifting and the pension age is rising for both men and women – it will reach 66 in 2020 and 67 by 2028.

The ONS team says people are living longer, healthier lives. That means we should consider the years people have ahead of them, not just chronological age when deciding what “old” looks like.

The ONS Centre for Ageing and Demography team looked back at population data on health and life expectancy to compare trends over time.

Libby Webb, senior research manager at Age UK, said: “People at age 70 now have the same life expectancy and similar health to people aged 65 in the past so, on average, we are definitely seeing people doing better than they did in the past.” But she said most people still experienced a period of poor health at the end of their lives. “What we are not seeing is that period getting shorter.”

She said improved life expectancy meant there were now more “very old” people with quite complex care needs and that health inequalities between the richest and poorest remain.

But she is quoted in the report as saying an ageing society should not be viewed as negative. “We know that older people make really important contributions to our society both through their paid work and through their caring responsibilities and volunteering. “Age is just a number and for different people it means different things.”

BBC News report

ONS report

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