How Old Is Old? Centenarians Say It Starts in Your 80s; Kids Say Your 40s

April 30, 2015
  • Tenth annual 100@100 survey polls 10-year-olds in addition to 100-year-olds, finds disagreement on aging but surprising common ground on the importance of family, role models and going to the dentist
  • More than half of centenarians do not “feel old;” on average, they feel more than two decades younger than they are, and 25 percent say a positive attitude is the most important factor for staying healthy
  • Betty White tops centenarians’ list as most desired dinner guest; 10-year-olds prefer Taylor Swift

As the “graying of America” continues in the United States with nearly 84 million Americans expected to reach age 65 or older by 2050, new data from UnitedHealthcare shows that the definition of “old” depends on who you ask. The 10th annual UnitedHealthcare 100@100 survey finds that 60 percent of centenarians say they do not feel old and those who do, say they did not start feeling old until age 87, on average. Ten-year-olds, however, say people start to get old at age 46, on average.

UnitedHealthcare’s annual 100@100 survey polls 100 centenarians each year to examine their attitudes and opinions on health, family, likes and dislikes, and more. This year, to mark the 10th anniversary of the survey, UnitedHealthcare also polled 100 10-year-olds to offer a comparison between younger and older Americans. UnitedHealthcare is the nation’s largest business dedicated to the health and well-being needs of seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries, serving more than 15,500 of the more than 50,000 centenarians nationwide through its portfolio of Medicare plans.

When asked what age they truly feel, more than half (52 percent) of 100-year-olds say they feel younger than their actual age. On average, centenarians report feeling more than two decades younger at 79 years old. Reflecting back, on average centenarians felt:

  • the most attractive at age 31;
  • the most energetic at age 34;
  • the happiest at age 44;
  • the healthiest at age 46;
  • the wisest at age 49; and
  • the most content at age 56.

Come On, Get Happy: Centenarians Say a Positive Attitude and Health are Linked

Keeping a positive attitude is the most important factor in staying healthy, according to a quarter of the centenarians surveyed. The next most popular answers are eating healthy (21 percent), exercising regularly (10 percent), and keeping busy (9 percent).

Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of 100-year-olds say they see themselves as being very positive people which makes them more optimistic than the 10-year-olds surveyed. Just 44 percent of 10-year-olds say they are very positive people, but the younger generation may catch up: nearly half of centenarians (47 percent) say it gets easier to maintain a positive attitude with age.

“Year after year, we hear from centenarians that there is a correlation between healthy aging and a healthy mindset,” said Rhonda Randall, D.O., chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions. “It’s a good reminder for us all to take care of our mental, emotional and social health in addition to our physical health.”

Family is Top Priority for Young and Old

When it comes to fueling positivity, many centenarians and 10-year-olds look no further than their closest connections: 11 percent of centenarians and 31 percent of 10-year-olds say their friends and family are key to maintaining a positive attitude. Almost half of centenarians (45 percent) and 40 percent of 10-year-olds say they would rather spend time with their family more than anyone else in the world.

Both groups also make sure to keep in touch with family members that live outside their homes, as 83 percent of centenarians and 84 percent of 10-year-olds speak with extended family on a daily or weekly basis.

When asked who they thought of as a role model growing up, nearly half of centenarians (46 percent) chose their parents over other family members, friends, teachers and celebrities. Today’s 10-year-olds also cite their parents as role models, with 71 percent placing their parents at the top of the list. Mom is most popular, as each group is twice as likely to name their mother rather than their father as a role model.

Agree to Disagree: Betty vs. Taylor, the Value of Money and Going to the Dentist

For the seventh straight year, centenarians were asked which celebrity or public figure with whom they would most like to have dinner. This year, Betty White is back on top: more than 6 in 10 centenarians (63 percent) prefer the Golden Girl, who fell behind President Obama last year, and are least likely to invite Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lawrence (9 percent each), as most centenarians don’t know who they are (66 percent and 75 percent, respectively). Swift, however, is the most popular dinner guest choice for 10-year-olds, with more than two-thirds (67 percent) citing her as their top pick.

The survey posed a number of questions on childhood to both centenarians and 10-year-olds, and found some of the greatest differences between the two groups related to their experiences with money. More than 8 in 10 centenarians (81 percent) did not have an allowance as a kid, and of those who did (18 percent), more than half (56 percent) earned a dollar or less per week. Turns out, pockets are deeper for today’s youth, as 48 percent of 10-year-olds receive a weekly allowance, and more than two-thirds of them (80 percent) say they earn between $5 and $20. Similarly, going out to eat with family was either a nonexistent or rare occasion for centenarians when they were young (67 percent), compared to more than half of 10-year-olds (56 percent) who go out to eat with their family at least once a week.

When it comes to similarities between the two age groups it turns out going to the dentist is a timeless ordeal for children. Centenarians’ greatest dislike as a kid was going to the dentist (24 percent), and their younger counterparts still feel the same way: 22 percent of 10-year-olds dislike most going to the dentist today.

For more information, including a video and executive summary of the survey results, visit

About the Survey
Penn Schoen Berland interviewed 100 centenarians (U.S. residents 100 years old or older, or who will be turning 100 years old this year) by phone and 100 10-year-olds (U.S. residents currently 10 years old) online, with the permission of their parents, between Feb. 19 and Mar. 4, 2015. Centenarians were identified using a list of pre-identified respondents in that age category. Ten-year-olds were selected via a randomly populated sample of parents derived from probability methods, with pre-identified age preferences (for their children). The margin of sampling error for centenarians is plus or minus 9.8 percentage points for a result of 50 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. The margin of sampling error for 10-year-olds is plus or minus 9.8 percentage points for a result of 50 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. The margin of sampling error is higher and varies for results based on sub-samples.

About UnitedHealthcare
UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. The company offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers, military service members, retirees and their families, and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 850,000 physicians and care professionals, and 6,000 hospitals and other care facilities nationwide. UnitedHealthcare is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and well-being company. For more information, visit UnitedHealthcare at or follow @myUHC on Twitter.

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