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Defining Age

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A 'baby boomer' aged 50 today is very different to a 50 year old at the turn of the century. As people are also living longer, it is becoming difficult to distinguish between older people and older old people who may be classed as over 85 nowadays. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) chronological time plays a paramount role in developed countries like the United Kingdom. In most developed countries, the age of 60 or 65, roughly equivalent to retirement ages/when the individual begins to receive pension benefits, is said to be the beginning of old age. Other socially constructed meanings of age can be more popular such as the roles assigned to older people; in some cases it is the loss of roles accompanying physical decline which is significant in defining old age. Classifying age varies between different countries and over time, reflecting in many cases the social class differences or functional ability related to the workforce, but more often than not, is a reflection of the current political and economic situation.

There is evidence that some minority ethnic older people experience the phenomenon known as 'early ageing'. This can be described as "For the emerging generations of elders, we must add the effects of long term unemployment, characterised by the decline of the manufacturing base where many ethnic minorities have bee concentrated. These factors may contribute to the 'early ageing' of minority ethnic elders beginning from the age of 55 years and the associated increase use of elder services, particularly regarding care" (Patel, N. 1999, PRIAE Report to the Royal Commission on Long Term Care for the Elderly).