Friday, 16 July 2010

On measuring Age

The conventional way of measuring age (that is, how long you have lived) is wrong. Measuring age as 'birth plus' is probably quite useful in some ways, mostly administrative and including, I suppose, desiding when people should start schooling. But going on to draw all sorts of conclusions about people just because they happen to have been around a certain amount of time is quite another matter and has no justification so far as I can see.

For example, it's crazy that a fit, active, compos-mentis man or woman should have to retire for no other reason than that they're 65 or 103 - or whatever it is the Government wants these days - while some drink-sodden wastrel of 40 whose only exercise is to crawl from the sofa to the front door when the pizza arrives can continue taking paid sickies for another quarter of a century with near impunity.

A better way of measuring age is 'death minus' (that is, how long you are likely to have left, assuming you aren't hit by a bus or catch a disease that could afflict anyone or is no fault of your own). This way of measuring age takes into account not just how long someone has lived, but how they've gone about it. In a nutshell, measuring 'death minus' means that people who are fit and active are considered younger than others of the same 'birth plus' age.

Just think, it means that fit people could actually start to boast about being old (in the 'birth plus' sense) rather than get all hot under the collar about it. The world would change overnight! To see what I mean, here is the new way of calculating age that I propose.

First you have to do a little assessment, like these two examples:
1. A fit 43 year old, based on an assumed death at 90 (if there are no Acts of God): actual age equivalent to Death minus 47.
2. A lazy 43 year old git, based on an assumed death at 60 (if there are no Acts of God): actual age equivalent to Death minus 17

Then the clever bit: you take the above figures and then find out the average birth-plus age of death across the population as a whole; let's say, for the sake of argument that it's 75 for men. Now your real age looks like this:
1. Fit 43 year old: 75 minus 47 = actual age of 28.
2. Lazy 43 year old git: 75 minus 17 = actual age of 58

See! You never have to worry about your age again - unless you're a slob. If you are really super-fit this would open the intriguing prospect of there even being certain over-25s pubs and clubs that might actually deny you entrance or refuse to serve you unless accompanied by an obese person several years your junior (working on the faulty current 'birth-plus' formula)!

Right, I'm off to the pub.


  1. Apart from mis-spelling 'decided' this is a quite extraordinarily brilliant piece. Thanks too for giving up so much of your holiday to read the proofs of my new book: your comments were invaluable and far outweigh the inconvenience of Faber & Faber having to put publication back 6 months while I rewrite it.
    Best of luck with your Blog!
    John Carey
    Emeritus Professor of English Literature
    University of Oxford

  2. Sigh. I do wish this obsession with John Carey would stop. Couldn't you turn your attention to, say, George Carey? Just for awhile?

    Anyway, lovely idea, but as it actually involves maths to a certain degree, I doubt it will catch on. Also, there's that awfully tricky matter of caeteris paribus (so, barring all the Act-of-God stuff) that really makes counting the number of years a species of homo sapiens has been on the earth much more reliable. But really, what the hell do I know? My retirement plan is to drop dead of a massive myocardial infarction the day after I quit work, as I clearly won't be able to afford to live any longer than that, so I may not have put the thought into this that the matter merits.

  3. Well Kel, just as I give you a good reason never to claim to be middle-aged again ...

  4. dear god you cannot be 50?!!

  5. Emma - you have just proven my thesis! Indeed I am not: I am, by my calculation, 23. And please feel free to call me Peter. (My theory doesn't apply to God, by the way.)

  6. Stop Press: Just spent a passionate - and entirely legal - night with a 14 year-old called Doris.