The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The best years of your life are in your 30s, say old people

I have a big, scary birthday coming up in a few months. I’ll be crossing the Rubicon into my 30s, a time when I can no longer claim “youthful indiscretion” for unwise decisions, and when already distrustful young people will be specifically advised not to trust me.

But here’s some good news: My 30s look likely to be the years I’ll remember most fondly when I’m old and gray(er). At least, that’s what the oldest Americans believe about their own lives.

In a recent UnitedHealthcare survey of people over the age of 100, respondents were asked what stage of their lives they remember most fondly. Of those who chose a specific stage, their 30s came up most frequently. (About a quarter of centenarians surveyed said they didn’t know.)

The survey also asked the same question of 65-year-old boomers, who most often named their 30s or their 20s as the best years of their lives.

These responses give me optimism that the coming years will be good ones for me and my fellow soon-to-be-30-somethings, though, of course, these older cohorts were in their 30s during different contexts. Today’s 100-year-old citizen was in her thirties during the postwar boom years; today’s 65-year-old, around the Reagan years. My age group might be facing the singularity for all I know.

Note also that the survey had a very small sample size (104 centenarians and 302 65-year-olds). So assuming you’re not yet on a low-sodium diet, take these numbers with a large grain of salt.

(Hat tip to Lenny Bernstein for spotting this survey.)