What is 'old age'? Sarah Harper speaks at Hay Festival

The Royal Institution’s Director, Professor Sarah Harper, raises important questions about ageing and society at this year's Hay Festival.

The world-famous Hay Festival, currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, is a coming together of some of the world’s sharpest minds. In her talk, Royal Institution Director Sarah Harper discussed the new challenges facing states and individuals as health improvements, a declining birth rate, economic uncertainty and political turbulence affect an ageing population in Britain and around the world.

#30Reformations at #Hay30: @ProfSarahHarper examines Ageing & how longer life expectancy is changing our world. pic.twitter.com/BfqFgrqLTI

— Hay Festival (@hayfestival) May 29, 2017


Professor Harper called for a reassessment of what we mean by the term ‘old’. Quoted in The Guardian, she said “Don't call people 'old' until death is near”. In the article Professor Harper was quoted as saying that active adults in later life should not be considered old and that they were often the victims of prejudice. “We live in a society where we know sexism is wrong, we know that racism is wrong, but actually there are many, many examples where stereotyping according to age is seen as acceptable.”

Professor Harper also encouraged the audience to consider the implications on society of an ever-extending life expectancy. The Daily Mail quotes 'We are gaining roughly 2.5 years of life expectancy per decade, or fifteen minutes an hour. Predictions suggest that, of the babies that are currently being born, the real life expectancy will be 104. In Japan it is 107.'

The 2017 Hay Festival runs from 25 May – 4 June. Find out more at hayfestival.com. Sarah Harper is the Director of the Royal Institution.

Image credit: @hayfestival