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A smiling old man from Chile, 2007.

Old age consists of ages nearing or surpassing the average life span of human beings, and thus the end of the human life cycle. Euphemisms and terms for old people include seniors (American usage), senior citizens (British and American usage) and the elderly. As occurs with almost any definable group of humanity, some people will hold a prejudice against others — in this case, against old people. This is one form of ageism.

Old people have limited regenerative abilities and are more prone to disease, syndromes, and sickness than other adults. For the biology of ageing, see senescence. The medical study of the aging process is gerontology, and the study of diseases that afflict the elderly is geriatrics.



Old Woman Dozing by Nicolaes Maes (1656). Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels

The boundary between middle age and old age cannot be defined exactly because it does not have the same meaning in all societies. People can be considered old because of certain changes in their activities or social roles. Examples: people may be considered old when they become grandparents, or when they begin to do less or different work — retirement.

In the USA, and the United Kingdom, the age of 65 can be considered the beginning of old age because, until recently, United States and British people became eligible to retire at this age with full Social Security benefits. In 2003, the age at which a US citizen became eligible for full Social Security benefits began to increase gradually, and will continue to do so until it reaches 67 in 2027.[citation needed] Currently, it is 66.[citation needed]

Physical changes

A gray-haired old woman from the United Kingdom.

There is often a general physical decline, and people become less active. Old age can cause, amongst other things:

Demographic changes

Elderly homeless man, Tokyo.

In the industrialized countries, life expectancy has increased consistently over the last decades.[1] In the United States the proportion of people aged 65 or older increased from 4% in 1900 to about 12% in 2000[2]. In 1900, only about 3 million of the nation's citizens had reached 65. By 2000, the number of senior citizens had increased to about 35 million.[citation needed] Population experts estimate[citation needed] that more than 50 million Americans — about 17 percent of the population — will be 65 or older in 2020. The number of old people is growing around the world chiefly because of the post-war 'baby boom', and increases in the provision and standards of health care.

Life expectancy

Population aged at least 65 years in 2005

In most parts of the world, women live, on average, longer than men; even so, the disparities vary between 9 years or more in countries such as Sweden and the United States to no difference or higher life expectancy for men in countries such as Zimbabwe and Uganda.[3]

Individuals who became famous in old age

Harry Patch, known as "the Last Tommy", was a British supercentenarian, and the last surviving soldier to have fought in the trenches of the First World War.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Meyer, Julie (2001). ""Census 2000 Brief, C2KBR/01-12, U.S."". "Census Bureau". Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  3. ^ de Blij, Harm. The power of place. Geography, Destiny, and Globalization's Rough Landscape. Oxford Uni Press. London:2009. p161ff

External links

Preceded by
Middle age
Stages of human development
Old age
Succeeded by


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