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Young, middle-aged or old?

Young, middle-aged or old?

| Text: Berit Kvam

How old do you have to be to be considered old? What constitutes as old varies a lot between different European countries. That is also true for how countries react to the demographic development: Generally very few people think it is necessary to increase the retirement age during the coming two decades, according to the ‘Special Eurobarometer 378 Active Ageing’.

How old can you be and still be called young? Or how old do you have to be to be called old? In Malta, Portugal and Sweden you are considered young until you turn 37. In Iceland the cut off-age is nearer 40, while in Cyprus and Greece people are called young until they reach 50 according to Eurobarometer.

The average European considers people to be young as long as they’re below 42, and that people are old when they reach 64. In Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway people are considered to be old when they are around 65, while in Sweden you need to be nearly 67 before you are considered old.

How we view age also varies according to our own age. The older people get, the older others need to be in order to be called old, and very few consider themselves to be old - people think they’re young or middle aged, not old.


There are also marked differences between European countries when it comes to people’s views on whether the retirement age needs to go up. Just one in three Europeans agree that the retirement age should be increased before 2030, while six in ten feel this is absolutely unnecessary.

58 percent of Danes agree that the retirement age should be increased. In Sweden only 38 percent say the same while 33 percent of Icelanders and 32 percent of Finns and Norwegians agree that there is a need to increase the retirement age before 2030.

Not all are equally enthused about the idea of a flexible withdrawal from the labour market by combining work and retirement: 90 percent of Swedes are positive to working part time while receiving parts of their pension. 87 percent of Danes are positive to this combination and 86 percent of Icelanders say the same. In Finland and Norway people are less but still pretty enthusiastic. Those who would consider combining a part time job with part time retirement make up 80 percent in Finland and 72 percent in Norway.

Norwegians are the least positive to the idea of part time retirement. 18 percent say they would not consider the idea at all. 11 percent of Finns are against it, compared to 3 percent of Danes and only 2 percent of Swedes and 1 percent of Icelanders. 

People in the Nordic region also stand out in their view of an obligatory age limit for work. Eurobarometer asks: ‘Regardless of the official retirement age in your country, should there be an age when it is compulsory for people to stop working?’

Just over half of all European respondents say they are against a compulsory age limit. In the Nordic region the opposition to this is particularly strong:

In Denmark 84 percent of respondents say they are against a compulsory age limit, while 15 percent are in favour. 83 percent of Icelanders are against, and 16 percent for. There is less resistance in Norway and Finland: 68 percent of Norwegians are against and 21 percent are for, and in Finland 63 percent are against the idea while 33 percent support a compulsory age limit.

The European survey shows people with lower education, people in manual work and the unemployed are generally more positive to a compulsory age limit.  

If there was to be a compulsory age limit most respondents in the Nordic region feel 70 to be a good limit, except for Swedes who feel it could be just under 69.


Source: Eurobarometer Active Ageing

(The Eurobarometer is published by the European Commission as part of the launch of the European year for active ageing and solidarity between genrations 2012)

A woman's age

is considered inappropriate to talk about in many cultures. In Lisboa in Portugal the construction of the Jerónimos Monastery and church began on 6 January 1501, and was completed 100 years later. The woman above is peeking out of one of the old stone windows in a gallery. The Portuguese will consider her young until she is 37, according to Eurobarometer. 


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