toplines: The Old and the Restless

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Americans have a drive to stay young. For most of us, "old age" is a good 15 years from where you are.

You're only as old as they say you are, and on average, Americans say that when you turn 75, you're exactly that: old.

According to American Demographics' exclusive survey on aging conducted this month by market research firm Bruskin Research, women think that old age sets in at 77, whereas men say you're old by age 73. (Incidentally, the National Center for Health Statistics says the average life expectancy at birth for women is 79.4 years, 5.8 years longer than men.)

Of course, if the adage - "old age is always 15 years older than I am" - is true, we can expect that younger adults have a lower threshold for old age. And they do. There is a correlation between the age of the respondent and the age he considers someone to be old. For example, those aged 18 to 24 feel that 67 is old, whereas folks over age 65 feel they'll be old only when they see 81 candles on their birthday cake.

But with age often comes discrimination. Sixty percent of our survey respondents agree that special rules and regulations should govern the elderly (those over age 65) when it comes to obtaining or renewing a driver's license. Younger adults are the most adamant: 72 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds, 73 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds, and 64 percent of 35- to 49-year-olds believe that those over 65 should be subject to a different set of restrictions. But 49 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds and 43 percent of those over 65 also concur. By the way, Northeasterners seem particularly down on grandma's driving: A significantly greater percentage (66 percent) of residents in that part of the country agree that older drivers need to be curbed.

Driving habits aren't the only issues Americans have with the elderly. Over a quarter (28 percent) of adults surveyed say they would be concerned having someone over 65 care for their child. Younger adults are the most likely to reserve caution: 41 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds would be wary of leaving their little one in the custody of an elder. And 17 percent of Americans say they get annoyed with the slow pace at which some mature people operate. Men are significantly more likely to say they have little patience with the dawdling of the elderly (20 percent versus 14 percent of women).

For more than 1 in 10 of the country's adult population, it's Shady Pines for their parents. In fact, 13 percent of those surveyed said they would put mom or dad in a nursing home before setting them up in the extra bedroom of their own home.

When it comes to their own aging, 34 percent of respondents have no fears. Indeed, they're eager to spend their Golden Years with family and friends (31 percent) and to have time to pursue new hobbies (22 percent). Those on the brink of retirement (aged 50 to 64) are looking forward to new leisure pursuits more than any other age group (26 percent). But 29 percent of those with annual incomes of $75,000 or more - those with money to spend - are the most likely to anticipate pursuing new hobbies later in life. Overall, 19 percent of respondents can't wait until they don't have to work anymore. In fact, 24 percent of the 25- to 34-year-olds - barely into their working years - are the most excited of any age group about retirement.

But growing old isn't all fun and games. Twenty-five percent say they're not looking forward to any aspect of aging. Fear of old age is most prevalent among 18- to 24-year- olds, with 37 percent claiming "gerascophobia" (the fear of growing old). What specifically about getting old keeps Americans up nights? One in 3 (34 percent) says they're worried that they won't be as physically or mentally agile as they are today. And 16 percent of adults fear becoming a burden to their family. Women and Southerners are significantly more concerned about this: 18 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Another 12 percent dread not being able to support themselves financially in their later years.

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