Why life begins at 54 (...for men)
Forget prostate trouble and dodgy eyesight – men are happiest in their 50s, according to a new report. Fiftysomething Dave Robbins asks if it really is the best decade
When I turned 50 last year, I got a lot of messages and cards. Some I have tried to forget ("50? You're 60 if you're a day"), but most were supportive and encouraging. "Come on in," said one, "welcome to the best decade of your life".
The best decade of my life? Wasn't that supposed to be my 40s, the years I was leaving behind? Walter Pitkin's famous self-help bestseller was called Life Begins at 40 for a reason. And as for my sexual peak, that apparently happened (pretty much unnoticed by me at the time) at 19.
So what could be so great about my 50s? One of my heroes, American humorist David Sedaris, practically earns a living writing about the indignities of being a fiftysomething. Apparently, peeing a lot and colonoscopies loom large.
The answer came last week with the publication of a survey that confirmed what all those well-wishers had told me. Forget 19, forget 40; life really begins at 54.
The survey was commissioned by the Crown Clinic, specialists in hair-loss treatment, and the sample was large: 1,000 men. It found that 54 was the age at which men felt most "settled and secure" and able to enjoy life as a "real adult".
Men such as actors Hugh Laurie and Kevin Spacey and X Factor bad guy Simon Cowell have apparently just left the insecurities of their 40s behind.
"It's not surprising that life doesn't begin till 54," says hair surgeon Asim Shahmalak of the Crown Clinic. "We are all living far longer and, with living costs spiralling and fatherhood being put off by so many, men are inevitably going to take longer to feel settled."
"I am really enjoying my 50s," says businessman Robert Power (55). "Your early 50s is a good time. People in their 40s are moving into senior management positions and are under serious pressure to deliver. Your 40s is the proving time, and there's pressure to be with family too, so it's tough to juggle all that.
Brian McCabe, a mere youth in his 40s, disagrees with the survey. Brian is a director of Senior Times, a company that publishes a magazine, a website and organises events aimed at people over 50.
"Our clientele are mainly in their 60s, and they would claim to be at the happiest stage of their lives. Over 85pc of them have paid off their mortgages," says Brian.
'In their 50s, they still have kids in college. They're still living the consumerist lifestyle. But in their 60s, they are probably retired, they can take up a new hobby, they have the time and often the money to enjoy life," he adds.
"I really enjoyed my 50s," says counsellor and therapist John Corcoran, now in his 60s. "I didn't need to impress anyone, I wasn't looking over my shoulder. I became a dad when I was 48, and I was a lot better at being a dad at that age.
"In my work, I see that the age from 20 to 25 is a very selfish age. Everything men do at that age is about where they're going and who can help them get there," he continues.
"But there's a freedom that comes when you get to your mid-40s. You've achieved what you want to achieve. You're not looking for promotion really; you're just looking to keep doing what you're doing."
The findings of the Crown Clinic survey align surprising ly closely with research carried out for First Direct bank in 2010.
The First Direct survey also found that 54 was the age when people stopped describing themselves as "stressed" and "self-conscious" and started using terms such as "happy" and "content".
It found that almost one million people in the UK in the 45-54 age group were unhappy with their lives. But once they hit 54, their happiness increases, and continues to increase as they get older.
Reading the research, you'd be forgiven for thinking life in one's 50s is a bed of roses. And, although men are more secure, that doesn't mean they are insecurity-free. Not being able to afford their mortgage, losing their hair and growing a pair of "man boobs" are among their chief worries, the survey found.
"It can be a difficult time for some people," agrees Robert Power, who co-founded the education charity Global Schoolroom while in his 50s. "Sometimes, they've been keeping a marriage going for the sake of the kids, and when they leave, the marriage falls apart. Also, perhaps your parents start to have medical issues. Different pressures come to bear."
"In your 50s, you can start to have issues with your prostate and may have to wear glasses," says Dr Joe Duggan, consultant physician/geriatrician at the Mater Hospital. "But generally there are a lot of fit people out there who can continue to be active and healthy well into their 60s, 70s and beyond."
Brian McCabe agrees: "People are having kids much later now, so in your 50s, you might still have children dependent on you. Kids are living with their parents much later now too. People in their 40s and 50s are the ones worst affected by the recession," he says.
"There's a lot to be said for the adage that 40 is the new 30, and 50 is the new 40," adds Brian.
Well, if you look at it that way, I am still in my 40s. Result!