"Seventy is the new 50," says Alan Walker, a social policy professor at the University of Sheffield, in response to new research that suggests that the upper limit for what falls under the "middle age" umbrella may extend all the way to 74—nine years longer than it's currently classified, the Telegraph reports. Researchers from Vienna's International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis contend that being considered elderly shouldn't rely on one's actual age, but on how long people are expected to live after retirement. The UK's Office for National Statistics estimates the average retiree may enjoy her golden years for up to 24 years after the standard UK retirement age of 65 (compared to just 15 years after retirement in the 1950s, the paper notes). Using a definition of old age that means someone has 15 or fewer years left to live, IIASA scientists then pegged that magic transitional age at 74.
And this trend is only expected to continue. "Older people in the future will have many characteristics exhibited by younger people today," an IIASA deputy director says, per the Telegraph. Walker, however, doesn't totally agree on a set-in-stone figure. "There is a massive nine-year difference in average life expectancy between the poor and the affluent and a shocking 19-year difference in healthy life expectancy," he tells the paper. Still, he acknowledges these findings of extended longevity are relevant because they'll affect certain societal needs, such as collecting pensions and other senior perks, and help people design financial plans that work. Meanwhile, a Cardiff University professor advocates not focusing on age, but on living well. "It is important not just to live longer, but to live healthier," he tells the Telegraph. (One downside of a strong economy: It may kill more middle-aged people than a weak one.)