The Age of Contentment

If there is an age of contentment, it's 41.

That's average age at which people would like to stop time and live forever in good health, according to the latest nationwide Harris Poll.

But that's just an average, and it's based on replies that put the ideal age all over the map, from less than 21 to over 90. In fact, people's favorite age depended most heavily of whatever age they were at when the question was asked.

Many people chose an ideal age that is close to their own. For example, most people (66%) age 18 to 24 chose an age in their twenties, as did the majority (62%) of those age 25 to 29.

Up to a point, the older people are, the older their ideal age. For people between the ages of 30 to 39, the best age is 37, For those age 40 to 49 it's forty.

But once people hit 65, most people think their ideal age is behind them. For those over 65, the age of contentment is 59.

A small but not insignificant number of people chose remarkably old ages as the ideal age. One in 12 people (8%) see 90 or older as the ideal age--if they are healthy.

Aside from current age, the researchers found few factors that influenced people's sense of the ideal age. It didn't matter whether they were rich or poor, African America or white, Democrat of Republican, highly educated or not. None of these factors had much of an influence on preferred age.

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However, there was something of a gender gap in responses. And it took the researchers by surprise. Women chose 43 as their ideal age--four years older than men chose for themselves.

The results are especially noteworthy because they contradict the cultural tendency to emphasize youth. But apparently the elderly wouldn't want to go back to their 20s. And nobody wants to start life over again as a child or teenager.

But 40s are a good age for women for some reasons we should stop and consider. For women, how content they are with themselves is strongly influenced by how comfortable they are with their body. Surveys of body image show that by t heir 40s, women are beginning to get comfortable with the body they have, whether or not it matches the cultural ideal of extreme thinness.

And another important reason why women like the forties may be that by age 40, most women have begun to use their body in a very functional way--to grow, birth and nurture a child. In other words, women have experienced the awesome power that is unique to the female body. And they like it.

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