Ipsos MORI’s exclusive study, conducted in partnership with the Centre for Aging Better, a UK charity, funded by an endowment from The National Lottery Community Fund, shows the negativity felt by the online public across 30 countries about aging, and how they are preparing for later life.
Optimism about later life
Globally, just one in three (33%) are looking forward to old age. Americans fall slightly above the global average at 40%. Other countries feel much more positive about old age, including three quarters (73%) in India and two thirds (67%) in Turkey.
While people around the world recognize that there are positives to getting old, including having more time to spend with friends and family (36%), more time for hobbies and leisure (32%), more time for holidays and travel (26%) and giving up work (26%) they also identify a number of downsides. Globally, three in ten worry about not having enough to live on (30%) with a quarter worrying about losing mobility (26%) and losing memory (24%).
Despite this, a majority of us expect to be fit and healthy in old age (57%). In the U.S., only 45% agree with this sentiment. There is also considerable variation between other surveyed countries. Nine in ten of those in Colombia, Argentina, China, Peru and Malaysia (89%, 88%, 88%, 86% and 85% respectively) agree with this sentiment. In comparison, those least likely to agree are those in South Korea (17%), France (20%) Japan (23%) and Belgium (24%).
Taken together though, this results in high levels of concern about later life. Globally, half (52%) of us worry about old age with people in Brazil and China (72% and 71% respectively) most likely to agree with this. Those in South Korea are least concerned; only one in six (16%) agree that they worry about old age.
When is old age, and what does it mean?
Globally, we think old age begins at 66. The biggest determinant of what someone thinks of as being old is their own age; the older people get, the more likely they are to define ‘old’ as being something that happens later in life. To illustrate, those who are 16-24 believe old age begins at 61. This rises to 72 for those aged between 55-64. Variation in countries is also significant; in Spain, you will only be considered old at age 74, whereas in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, old age comes decades earlier (55 and 56 respectively). When asked to select words to describe old age, the most commonly mentioned term is wise (35%). Next in line is frail (32%), followed by lonely (30%) and only a quarter saying respected (25%).
Three in five (60%) agree that people don’t respect old people as much as they should. Agreement with this sentiment is highest in the LATAM countries (Brazil – 821%, Colombia – 79%, Argentina – 76%, Chile – 75%). At the other end of the spectrum, only a quarter (26%) of those in Saudi Arabia agree with this, and a third (32%) of those in Japan.
Representation in the media
Opinion is polarized on how old people are depicted in the media. Only three in ten (31%) think that TV, film and advertising make old age seem exciting and full of potential while roughly the same proportion (29%) think that TV, film and advertising make old age seem depressing, with limited opportunities.
Americans are evenly split on this issue – roughly the same amount think that media makes old age seem depressing (26%) and exciting (28%).
Countries most positive about the representation of older people in the media include China (52%), Russia (44%) and India (43%).
In Turkey nearly half (48%) think that TV, film and advertising make old age seem depressing, with limited opportunities. Some LATAM countries are also negative on this issue – in Chile, Mexico, and Peru roughly two in five (39%, 39% and 38% respectively) and over a third (36%) in Colombia think this.
Globally, only three in ten (29%) agree that old people have too much influence, politically. On balance, people disagree with this sentiment (35%). However, there are some differences by age, with younger people more likely to think that old people do have too much influence politically. For instance, two in five (38%) of those aged 16-24 agree while only a quarter (27%) disagree.
People in Romania are most likely to agree that old people have too much influence (45%), followed by Malaysia (44%) and Japan (42%). Least likely to agree are those in Australia (17%), Russia (18%) and Belgium and Sweden (both 19%).
The potential for technology
Globally, we are techno-optimists; over half (55%) agree that technological developments will improve old age for a lot of people. Only one in seven (14%) disagree.
There are, however, significant differences in agreement by country. Four in five (80%) people in China agree that technological developments will improve old age for a lot of people. The next most positive countries are Brazil (66%), Turkey and Argentina (both 65%).
People in Japan are least convinced about the potential for technological developments to improve old age for a lot of people. Here, only two in five (41%) agree with this statement. People in Belgium and France are similarly cautious (44% agree in each country).
Preparing for later life
Around the world, two thirds (64%) think that it is possible for people to prepare for old age so that they are healthier and better able to cope.
People in some LATAM countries seem to have most faith in their ability to prepare for old age; in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, four in five agree that people are able to prepare for old age (83%, 80% and 79% respectively). Four in five in China (79%) also agree with this.People in Russia (57%), the Czech Republic (51%) and South Korea (49%) feel least able to prepare for old age. Globally, people have a clear idea of what we should be doing to prepare for later life. The most commonly mentioned responses are staying healthy by exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet (60% and 59% respectively). Saving enough money for an adequate pension is mentioned by half (51%) and avoiding smoking, having a good circle of friends, and having a sport or hobby they practice regularly are cited by over two in five (45%, 44% and 44% respectively).
However, there is a gap between what we know we should do to prepare for old age, and what we are doing. When asked what people are doing in order to prepare for old age the most popular answer globally is avoiding smoking, mentioned by over two in five (45%). A similar proportion also mention eating a healthy diet and avoiding too much alcohol (43% and 40% respectively). Under three in ten (28%) mention saving enough money for an adequate pension.
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