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Acting Your Age

When we’re young, growing older brings access to new activities. From driving a car to having a beer, birthdays expand our privileges. But as we age, we often fear the opposite – that our years will disqualify us from the pastimes of our youth.

By society’s standards, when are we too old to party like we used to? What’s the appropriate age range for more meaningful events, such as marriage or starting a family? These questions can cause us to compare our lives to some idealized schedule, and draw the painful conclusion that we’re falling behind. But is there actually broad agreement about when we should achieve certain benchmarks or abandon old behaviors?

In this project, we set out to gauge public opinion on the ages at which a range of activities stop being cool and start getting uncomfortable. We surveyed more than 1,100 Americans about the upper limit age for many behaviors, from raucous partying to childrearing. Our findings shed light on cultural expectations for each age group and the way we understand maturity. Keep reading if you’ve ever asked yourself, “Am I too old to be doing this?”

Activities With an Age Limit?

If you quit doing keg stands after college, our findings indicate you were entitled to another decade of chugging beer upside down. In fact, Americans put the maximum age for many boozy activities in the 30s, including doing keg stands, going clubbing, and attending house parties. Some drinking-related activities proved to be acceptable a bit later in life, however: Going to bars on weekdays was appropriate until 47, and taking shots stayed cool until 52. Likewise, participants said one-night stands should stop at 39 on average, but having casual sex and using dating apps were fine until 49 and 52, respectively.

Events with more lasting impacts were still judged appropriate later in life: One can be in a long-term relationship until age 85, according to our participants. Similarly, getting married or starting a new business were said to be fair game until one’s early 70s. Even bold self-improvement moves had later expiration ages. On average, only those 58 and older were perceived as too old to start college, and 61 was seen as too late to start a new career. With many Americans now working well into their 70s, perhaps our notions of older Americans’ career possibilities are broadening.

Longevity vs. Letting Loose

Our participants also identified the earliest age at which certain behaviors were appropriate. As a result, we can observe which activities had the smallest shelf life (keg stands and clubbing), and which seemed viable at any age (beginning a new relationship). Some activities had relatively tight time frames in our participants’ opinion, such as having one-night stands and attending house parties. Others, such as eating fast food, playing video games, and watching pornography, were deemed acceptable across several decades. Most activities were assessed as appropriate over at least a 30-year period, which should calm concerns about keeping pace with social pressures.

Interestingly, the time span deemed appropriate for having children was among the shortest of any activity, at just 20 years. Of course, this figure likely reflects both medical concerns about complicated pregnancies for older mothers and deep-rooted biases about young moms. Still, that window is likely larger than it would have been in decades past. Women in their 30s are now having more children than those in their 20s, a historic shift that’s been developing over decades. If trends in the age of motherhood can adjust so dramatically, could other time frames prove equally flexible in the years to come?

Growing Up by Generation

In most cases, older Americans suggested longer periods in which various actions were considered to be appropriate. Baby boomers, for instance, placed the maximum age for attending college roughly a decade later than younger generations did – perhaps due to the emergence of educational programs and incentives designed specifically for older Americans. They were similarly optimistic about starting a new career well into one’s 60s, whereas millennials and Gen Xers said that move should only be made earlier in life.

Baby boomers were also more willing to keep the party going longer relative to their younger peers. They felt attending house parties was OK into one’s 50s (although perhaps a tamer variety than the parties they enjoyed in college) and approved of one-night stands, casual sex, and dating apps at later ages than millennials and Gen Xers. There were some interesting points of agreement among all generations, however. Everyone said taking shots should stop in one’s early 50s, and each age group said 45 was an appropriate time to stop having children.

You Don’t Have to Stop If You Never Start

Some Americans believe certain actions are best avoided at any age. This was the case for many participants regarding keg stands: 29 percent said never to try them. One-night stands prompted similar discouragement although slightly lower, as did working excessively. In many of these instances, however, a sizeable portion of respondents said never to stop these behaviors at any age. For instance, 21 percent said never to start watching porn, while more than 66 percent said never to stop doing so. The question of eating fast food generated similarly divergent opinions. This massive disagreement seems to indicate no overwhelming consensus: We must all reach our own decisions about engaging in each behavior.

Regarding some romantic goals, however, there was overwhelming support for never giving up on love. 72 percent of respondents said one was never too old to be in a long-term relationship, and 67 percent said marriage should be possible at any age. Interestingly, there was also broad support for obtaining a credit card at any stage of life. The trend in older Americans acquiring large debts has troubled economists of late, but nearly 70 percent of participants felt it was never too late to open a new line of credit.

Each Gender Talks Timing

According to our data, men and women tended to have distinctly different perceptions about the appropriate age at which to abandon certain behaviors. While male and female respondents regarded keg stands and clubbing similarly, women thought other forms of partying could continue a bit longer than their male counterparts did, including attending house parties and patronizing bars on weeknights. Female participants also said fast food consumption should stop by 62 on average, three years later than the average response from men.

Conversely, men were more likely to extend the window for sexual encounters past the maximum age women suggested. For both casual sex and one-night stands, male respondents suggested the behavior became inappropriate one year later than women, on average. Men also saw significantly more longevity in porn and video game consumption. Women, however, felt dating apps could be used later in life than men, suggesting hope for a more meaningful connection.

Your Life, Your Schedule

Our findings reveal strong opinions about when certain chapters in our lives should open and close. But if these results have you assessing your own life in alarm, don’t leap to the conclusion that you’ve missed the boat. There’s no single trajectory to fulfillment: Life is about choices. We make them according to our values – not the opinions of the crowd.

So if your lifestyle doesn’t adhere to the average age limits suggested by our respondents, don’t sweat the pressure. If you pursue your passions throughout your life, external standards should matter little. After all, being true to yourself never gets old.

Methodology

We collected 1,102 responses from Americans. Of our respondents, 534 were women, and 543 were men, with 25 identifying as genderqueer or genderfluid. Our respondents varied in age, with a range of 18 to 75 and a mean of 37.

Fair Use Statement

If you want to use or share our findings and images, feel free to do so for noncommercial purposes. When you do, just attribute us fairly by providing a link to this page. After all, you’re never too young or old to give credit where it’s due.