A lot of the advice about Coronavirus seems to be directed at that vulnerable group, the ‘elderly.’ The assumption seems to be that everyone knows what this word means. That it is never officially defined leaves one wondering whether it applies to oneself. Perhaps, when life expectancy was shorter than it is now the word could have been applied to anyone in receipt of a pension—but with the pension qualification year drifting ever upwards— with the consequent assumption that working lives are to be that much longer, would it be right to say that people of working age could be classed as ’elderly?’ I don’t think that fits with our original understanding of the word.
The Oxford English Dictionary isn’t a huge help. Elderly is there defined as ’Somewhat old, verging on old age.’ What is thought of as being old rather depends on how old you are. Some Pew Centre Research discovered that people aged between 30 and 49 thought old age began at 69; between ages 50 and 64 old age started at 72 and if they were aged over 65 they thought old age started at 74.
Women on average were found to believe that old age starts at 70, whereas men thought it was at age 66. Given that women tend to live longer than men, perhaps that is not surprising.
So for the purposes of taking the precautionary approach to Coronavirus, should I at age 66 (going on 67) self-isolate? Perhaps it’s not all down to age. There are other things which might indicate if you are elderly or not. For example, do you read the Daily Telegraph? Do you still go to church? Did you vote for Brexit? Do you go on cruises? Do you still think of Prince Charles as that nice young man?