Last year, a Dutchman went to court to make himself 20 years younger. Emile Ratelband, now 70, said his age was stopping him getting dates online, because women did not realise that he had the body of a 40-something. He told the court he wanted to become 49, which better reflected his emotional state.
The judges rejected his plea, ruling that to change his birth certificate would wreak havoc with legal rights. But this seemingly narcissistic case illustrates something important: we need to drastically update our view of what it means to be «old».
In researching my book, Extra Time, I’ve interviewed people all over the world who are refusing to act their age. I’ve met sixtysomethings starting businesses, seventysomethings changing careers and eighty-somethings who can run and cycle further than I can. More and more people are «unretiring» and going back to work, sometimes years after the official office send-off. These people are part of a growing group who don’t see themselves as old, don’t act old and won’t buy products marketed at the old. It’s only our expectations, and institutions, that need to catch up.
This new stage of life is called «young-old» by the Japanese, who are the world’s longest-living society. More of its citizens will hit 100 than anywhere else. The islands of Okinawa, in particular, have so many centenarians that they are often called the «land of the immortals».