This is not your father’s middle age.
And chances are, if you’re a millennial, you don’t even get the reference to the Oldsmobile advertising slogan from the late 1980s. (We know, we know: What’s an Oldsmobile?)
But the period of time between youth and old age is in flux. A new Harris Poll conducted exclusively for Fast Company finds that younger millennials consider median middle age to be between 35 and 50 years old. That’s a contrast to Generation X’s perception of middle age, 45 to 55 years old, and baby boomers, who consider middle age to be 45 to 60 years old.
Don’t ask, WTF because that phrase dates you, too.
The millennial generation is typically defined as being born between 1981 and 1996, and its oldest members are turning 40 this year. The Harris Poll survey broke them up between younger millennials (25 to 32 years old) and older ones (33 to 40 years old).
For the latter group, middle age has arrived or is just around the corner—and they know it. The majority of older millennials say 40 is when middle age begins, but they feel that that period of their life lasts only for a decade. The median age reported by older millennials as the end of middle age is 50 years old, which is shorter than what the general population thinks: 40 to 55.
Still, not all older millennials would even call themselves that. Asked which generation they best identified with, 13% said “younger millennials” while 22% said Generation X. Only 35% of older millennials identified as such, according to the poll.
That doesn’t mean we’ll see Cialis ads with millennial actors anytime soon, though.
“Middle age to those previous generations was a very literal term—the middle of your life. Millennials are not feeling half their life is over; they just don’t feel as young as they used to. They ascribe that to ‘Now, I’m like my parents’ age. I remember when they were this age,'” says Jason Dorsey, president of the Center for Generational Kinetics and a millennials-Gen Z expert.”They no longer view themselves as the young, hip, trendsetting generation. They’re not young and hip; they’re in middle management.”
They’re also dealing with the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, he explains. Many millennials first came into their own during the Great Recession. After that rough start, they finally felt like they were gaining traction in terms of career goals and lifecycle milestones when they got smacked down again by a worldwide health crisis.
Garrett Jacobsen, a 28-year-old software engineer in Huntsville, Alabama, says he views middle age as 40 or 50—”halfway between graduating from college and retirement, in the conventional line of thinking.”
For example, he views actor Chris Pratt as “getting there”; the Parks and Recreation star turned Star-Lord turned 42 last week.
About his own parents, who are in the 50- to 60-year-old range, Jacobsen says, “I don’t think of them as being elderly, though they’re close to retirement. They’re not over the hill. They’ve still got a lot of years ahead of them.”
Getting to that age is far from Jacobsen’s mind because “I have to freak out about 30 first. One step at a time.” He thinks people have midlife crises or even quarter-life ones if they haven’t accomplished what they want to achieve by that point, which he has by moving out of his parents’ house, buying a home, and graduating from college. Jacobsen does point out, though, that he’s single and his sister, a year and half his junior, is getting married in the fall.
In society’s mind, a millennial is the 25-year-old, tech-obsessed, health-conscious tattoo fan who gets money from his or her parents and is addicted to online quizzes. That’s actually Gen Z now, generally defined as people born between 1997 and 2012. These days the average millennial is driving a minivan and secretly jealous of the next-door neighbor’s flowerbeds.
“Millennials have been the It Generation their entire adolescence to now mid-life,” Dorsey says.”Now a new generation is making fun of millennials and their funny jeans and calling the ’90s ‘vintage.’ It’s been a mental shift for millennials.”