What Sparks Our Fear of Aging?
Mon, April 19, 2021

What Sparks Our Fear of Aging?



Jill M. Chonody of Springer Link, a provider of millions of scientific documents, said aging anxiety can be described as negative feelings and fears related to growing older and physical, transpersonal, social, and psychological losses. Physical losses include being diagnosed with a disease while psychological losses refer to cognitive decline, for example.

Social losses may concern the number and quality of interactions and transpersonal losses involve how a person will face death or evaluating their life. The fear of aging is not something recent. In fact, methods of “rejuvenation” date back to as far as Plato’s time and the concept of the “Fountain of Youth” was present in the time of Alexander of Great, noted Anne Karpf of British newspaper The Guardian. Presently, we tend to notice how early aging anxiety sinks in the minds of younger adults.  


Insights On Aging Among Each Decade of Life After 30 (2016)

Medical research organization West Health Institute and NORC at the University of Chicago, an independent, non-partisan research institution, found that 70% of Americans believed the country is not well-prepared to address the needs of its fast-growing senior population. 59% said the US is heading in the wrong direction regarding the provision of healthcare and social service support to seniors.

The respondents were most worried about losing their memory (72%), being in poor health (71%), not having financial security (71%), actually losing one’s independence (63%), or having to move into a nursing home (56%). Those in the 30s group were most worried about financial security (70%), poor health (77%), and losing their memory (75%). Americans in their 40s were concerned about financial security (78%), losing their memory (73%), and poor health (70%).

The top concerns for people in their 50s were financial security (74%), poor health (71%), and losing memory (70%). For those in the 60s, they were most worried about losing their memory (73%), poor health (72%), and losing independence (67%). Americans aged 70 and older were worried about losing their memory (67%), losing independence (62%), and poor health (59%). However, 46% of people aged 30 to 39 were optimistic about aging unlike 66% of those aged 70 and above.

Americans in their 30s (91%), 40s (91%), 50s (94%), 60s (94%), and 70s and older (96%) prioritized health, though there are shifts in priorities for each age group. For example, aside from health, respondents in their 30s prioritized respect (87%) and financial security (86%). Those in their 40s prioritized financial security (88%) and independence (87%).

People in their 50s also prioritized independence (90%), but they also perceived respect as important (87%). Americans in their 60s valued independence (90%), though they deemed close relationships (88%) as more important than respect (85%). Among 70 and older, close relationships (92%) were the second most important priority along with independence (90%).

With regard to the signs of aging, the respondents said turning 85 (87%), can no longer live on their own (79%), turning 75 (74%), can no longer drive (68%), can no longer do anything to improve their own health (62%), has trouble walking (55%), and frequently forgetting things (55%) entail that a person has reached old age.




When the Youth Are Anxious About Aging

Scarlett Johansson said she started using anti-aging products when she was 20 and on message boards, you are likely to see posts about a person in their mid-20s beginning to fear aging as they edge closer to 30.

Another example is when 29-year-old Sarah felt old when she was 25, said Amber Bryce of Refinery 29, an American digital media and entertainment magazine. Sarah narrated, “At 25 I felt like I should know for sure what career I'm meant to do, planning a family, etc. Now at almost 30 I can recognise how silly this was for someone so young.” However, younger age groups are also not spared by the fears of aging. For instance, adolescents are resorting to getting Botox to the point that “Teen Toxing” was coined to explain this phenomenon.



The Origins of Aging Anxiety

Aging anxiety partly stems from ageist biases and internalized stereotypes. Graying hair and wrinkles, for instance, depict the signs of aging and are therefore correlated with decline and death. Sadly, the media perpetuates the mentality of “fighting” these changes.

It can also be associated with social expectations that promote the epitome of beauty, which centers on youth and associated with women feeling greater pressure to maintain their “faces”— their key asset. This fosters the association of aging with loss of attractiveness, further encouraging individuals to acquire cosmeceuticals or the combination of cosmetic and pharmaceutical to improve their appearance.

Moreover, the cosmetic industry has perpetuated aging anxiety through targeted marketing.  Customers are classified by age and the anti-aging market has produced new products for “mature” skin and anti-aging creams for people in their 20s. 

Advertisements claim to eliminate "the first signs of aging… 25+" and may also include statements like: “From age 25, breathe new life into skin cells with a first-wrinkle anti-aging program." A more concrete example of this is when Walmart launched its Geo-Girls skincare line for eight to 12-year-olds girls that includes “anti-aging” creams imbued with antioxidants. Media and the cosmetic industry build aging anxiety, promising potential customers that their products would address aging. This way, the cosmetic industry can generate profits just by taking advantage of people’s fear of aging.



Men Are Also Subjected to Aging Anxieties

Men are also targeted by ads about anti-aging. Cosmetic surgeons said there is a spike in procedures requested by men who fear competition from their younger peers or “who’ve been made redundant.” There are numerous anti-aging products and products made for men such as those that contain the tagline “new anti-age system engineered for men to keep skin looking younger" or words like “system” and “engineered.”


The Role of Social Media In Exacerbating Fears of Aging

Dr. Rose Aghdami, a consulting and coaching psychologist, told Bryce, “In my experience, people who are concerned about getting older generally feel dissatisfied with how far they have got so far in life."

This is individual and everyone has their own way of gauging if they are doing well in life or not. For Dr. Aghdami, social media forces us to compare our lives with others, increasing the likelihood of self-doubt and self-criticism and concerns about running out of time and feeling inadequate.  

But if fears of aging start to affect your well-being, it becomes a diagnosable mental condition. It can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you reshape your thinking about aging. Sarah, who has accepted aging, said she sees it as a blessing. “I may have let this fear control most of my 20s, and although I'm one-third through my life, I can make the remaining time I have worthwhile,” she commented.

The media and cosmetic industry played a role in inciting fear of aging among consumers. Older men are also affected by fear of aging, as there are products and services geared towards them. Social media conjures an illusion of “running out time” because our peers are doing better. In the end, our abundance of life experiences and wisdom is what should be celebrated when getting older.