lifestyle

Poll asks: Is a woman 'middle-aged' at 30? 40? 50?

60 Comments
By Evie Lund, RocketNews24

You may have heard that Japan is obsessed with youth, which is ironic for a country with an ageing population, this is ironic. In fact, Japan is purported to have the highest proportion of elderly citizens compared to all other countries. With so many older folks making up a vast percentage of the population, why is Japan’s society still often casually ageist, particularly towards women?

A recent poll asked “at what age does a woman become middle-aged?” and the results are extremely telling.

In Japan, it’s common to refer to someone using their most defining characteristic. Saying “you” is often considered way too direct and impolite, so a good way to circumvent this is to address someone according to their position in society. Thus, a taxi driver will be “Mr. Driver” and a postman will be “Mr. Postman”.

Similarly, if you don’t know someone’s name or status, you can refer to them using their age as a base guideline. A young girl may be “ojosan” (young miss), a young woman may be “onesan” (big sister) and a middle-aged woman becomes “obasan” (aunt). Similarly, a young man might be “oniisan” (big brother) and a middle-aged man “ojisan” (uncle).

But at what age does this naming shift occur, for women in particular?

A poll by MyNavi News asked 300 single men and women “At what age does a woman shift from “big sister” to “aunt”? The results are as follows:

Men said:

During her twenties 8% During her thirties 9% During her forties 63% During her fifties: 20%

From this, we can clearly see that most men think women switch from “big sister” to “aunt” during her forties.” However, women’s answers were vastly different.

Women said:

During her twenties 6% During her thirties 55% During her forties 29% During her fifties: 10%

Over half of the women polled answered that a woman switches from “big sister” to “aunt” in society during her thirties. This speaks volumes about women in Japan’s anxiety over ageing. Indeed, in Japan a woman’s primary social value is still tied up in marriage and child-bearing. As fertility begins to decline from the age of 32, it seems many believe that women become “old” at a much younger age than do men.

What’s heartening, however, is that the men polled seemed to allow an extra decade for women before considering them “middle-aged.” This hints that women are much harsher on themselves than they perhaps have any need to be.

Here’s a few of the comments provided by the participants:

In her twenties:

“From the age of 25, a woman’s skin begins losing its luster.” – Male, 30 “A woman’s skin begins turning a corner after 25.” – Female, 25 “A woman starts to sound ridiculous using modern slang from around 26.” – Male, 26

In her thirties:

“I think it has more to do with whether she’s married and has kids or not.” – Male, 30 “In her thirties, her siblings will probably have kids, making her a genuine aunty.” – Female, 32 “You can tell when she starts getting wrinkles at 35.” – Male, 28 “It’s gross to even call a woman in her later thirties “big sister.” – Female, 27

In her forties:

“In her forties, she becomes a mature beauty. ” – Male, 39 “Her kids will be in middle school by this time.” – Male, 37 “45 is how old my parents are, so I’d say around this age.” – Female, 24

In her fifties:

“Being referred to as ‘big sister’ is highly improbable at this age.” – Female, 25 At what age do you think women start to be considered “middle-aged” in your country? Do you think that perception is harsh or fair?

Source: Nicovideo News

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© Japan Today

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60 Comments
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@Steve Crichton, it is true. On the dating websites people somehow think they become 10s,,,

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

You look on the dating sites for fun and you Japanese grandmothers asking for young sexy boys. Hahahahha, Funny, Sorry you are middle aged and u had your chance. You lost it. Mirror.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

I am mid-40s and look every day of it until I tape on my custom toupee then watch out baby! Like John Travolta in Staying Alive,,,

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I despise the term middle aged because it is age related. It groups unattractive, inactive, infertile people together with attractive, active, virile and fertile people as if they are all one in the same. Basically for women middle age starts when they begin to lose their looks usually in their mid 30s and their fertility declines through to their mid forties. So ball park figure would be around late 30s early 40s. For men its a lot different because their fertility continue through to old age and if they look after themselves they can look attractive, athletic and youthful well into their 60s. If they dont look after themselves they can look middle aged by late 20s. Women have a very small time band to use the power of their looks and reproductive capacity before middle age sets in. 15 years tops in our modern society. Men though if they look after themselves can stave off middle age until their 60s or beyond and then if they have a decent level of financial stability have the freedom of choice women had between 20 and 35. Thats nature folks. The tables turn. What comes around goes around. Basically take a look in the mirror. Am I attractive, am I active am I fertile. If not dont ask for what you cannot give. Thats reality like it or not.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

In case anyone was wondering what I was talking about above, I meant to say "xxx no o-chan" where xxx is my daughter's name. (Don't use angle brackets in posts.)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Gosh darn - I am a 50something guy... I go drinking at Izakayas and invariably the other clients call me "Oniisan"; I'd always thought maybe it was a play on words like "oni san" since I have a ruddy complexion even without alcohol but I now realize the other guys, mostly Japanese but come to think other Asians, thought I was YOUNGER than them! Should I be happy or livid, I wonder... true, once this businesslady (she turned out to be a few years younger than Yours Truly) thought I was much younger, invited me out and over drinks she said her outfit needed "youth and vigor"; I was honest with her over dessert wine about my DOB. I have not heard back from her since...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Have a baby in your early 40's and now nearly 50 my son is going to be only turning 6 you have no time to think about anything but getting through each day especially as a single mom.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

shes middle aged once she graduates from AKB48

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The way we refer to people, in this scenario women, depends on whether you actually address them or talk about them. The way we refer to them may depend on what impression they have made, how they looked, how they talked. In most cases they will never know if they were referred to with oneesan, obasan, obachan, or obaasan, or were politely referred to by their name with honorifics or without. When addressing the person its always the safest to use a name, if known, or okusan. I've many times witnessed (older) males address young women (in their twenties) with okusan. A woman is considered middle aged, just like men, when they look middle aged, 45-55, is my estimate. But attempting to guess a person's age is something to approach with care!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It really depends on how well you take care of yourself and how well you age with time. Some women today in their 40s and 50s look better than some young ladies who are in their 20s and 30s.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

For me, waking up on cold winter mornings, listening to extremely boring status-driven nonsense and kissing the arse of clients ( socializing with them is now almost physically painful but thankfully now rare ) has exhausted me and my patience and eroded my self-respect and dignity for too long.

I fully hear you. I was totally burnt out at my last job where I was an employee, and hated waking up and going to work.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Having visited Japan as a tourist upto the 1990's while employed on "Merchant Navy Ships" was fascinated by the wealth and orderliness of average Japanese society.Regarding age i feel its all in the eyes of the beholder as is beauty.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

'I've never been as ambitious, and competitive as I am now, and never been happier. When that ambition and is to grow your own company/companies, it's a lot more palatable than when you are doing it to impress some boss. Which addresses the third part of the above quote :)'

Go get 'em, tiger. For me, waking up on cold winter mornings, listening to extremely boring status-driven nonsense and kissing the arse of clients ( socializing with them is now almost physically painful but thankfully now rare ) has exhausted me and my patience and eroded my self-respect and dignity for too long. Thirty years of this pantomime will be more than enough. Middle-age for me is escaping from cockfighting and similar nonsense.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Let's see.... The average Japanese woman ives to be 87. Middle age by its very definition is the age you achieve in the "middle" between birth and death. That being said, the average middle age of a Japanese woman would be 43years and 6 months. (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/world-health-statistics-2014/en/)

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

age is more than a number. We age. We grow old. Our body ages. Our minds age. Yes, we all age. But we don't all age at the same rate. I see people, men and women, way younger than me in years, who are old. And I see people way older than me in years, who are not. The numbers are not accurate and cannot be relied upon as anything more than a very rough guide. Strangerland - I think the anger at being called nesan comes from it being the term patrons often use when addressing bar hostesses. I would be miffed if some random male called me nesan, livid if he called me obasan. (Onechan, on the other hand, is perfectly acceptable for very young girls.) If in doubt, with an adult lady try okusan.

Spoken like a true obaasan!

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Is the question about what constitutes middle age or how to address people who are older than yourself?

I got both a shock and a thrill when first referred to as no o-chan by the neighborhood kids. An introduction to middle age perhaps, but I'd never been paid that kind of respect before (or since).

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Over half of the women polled answered that a woman switches from “big sister” to “aunt” in society during her thirties. This speaks volumes about women in Japan’s anxiety over ageing.

Anxiety? How about they have seen themselves as maturing.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@Stranger. NO. You're wrong. One chan would be hostess world. Not ne san.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I've never been happier than I am now free of the nonsense of ambition, competitiveness and trying to impress others.

I've never been as ambitious, and competitive as I am now, and never been happier. When that ambition and is to grow your own company/companies, it's a lot more palatable than when you are doing it to impress some boss. Which addresses the third part of the above quote :)

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

@Jim

I've never been happier than I am now free of the nonsense of ambition, competitiveness and trying to impress others.

I'm almost there, not quite. Looking forward to it when it happens though.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

'You gotta rage against that dying light man.'

No need for rage. No need for attempts to stave it off either. Accept the wrinkles and avoidance of selfies. It's only the accelerated nasal hair growth that slightly inconveniences me. A small price to play.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I have reached the 40 mark and could not pass for anything but middle aged in appearance, but I have sharp wit and humour on my side and can normally run rings around 20-somethings. I am also have a fairly youthful outlook, and feel comfortable mixing with people of all ages.

But when addressing women, i think it best to play it safe with terms of address - resist obasan until it would be insulting to suggest that they were anything else.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

My wife is 36, she is definitely not middle aged, so I think once you hit your 40's you might be safe. To me it's as much about mental and physical well being as anything else. You gotta rage against that dying light man.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I use oneesan occasionally when speaking to women I don't know, but I would never say obasan to a woman I did not know as my pronunciation could be confused for obaasan and also I think it is presumptive (unless she is an actual family member I know).

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@ sensei258

Id guess its cos in Japan everyone needs to be labeled by job age gender musical preference etc its what happens when true individuality is not allowed in a society. i.m.o

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Some of my fellow country people are so superficial, I'm embarrassed to be Japanese... And I'm 35 and certainly not MIDDLE AGED!!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

But I thought, older people are respected more here!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Who cares about all these labels?? Women in their 40s are very desirable, at least I for one enjoy them.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

A lot of chaps I know say their wife became middle aged immediately after giving birth. Aprons, hand held over mouth whilst peering anxiously at supermarket produce, permanent exhaustion when with husband which only seems to lift during hula classes or ikebana coffee mornings.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Middle age is great. My partner and I are in our early forties and I know she couldn't care less what label people use for her and she's never coy about telling her age. Thankfully, my wife hasn't gone for the mutton dressed as lamb look or started applying layers of make up with a trowel and I know she'd ridicule me mercilessly if I tried the naff fitted shirts for work or skinny pants at my age. Who cares what people call people of my age? I've never been happier than I am now free of the nonsense of ambition, competitiveness and trying to impress others.

A leisurely coast towards early retirement for me and my beautiful onesan/obasan is just wonderful.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

''Love'' the fact that they talk about the woman as being monolithic!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

How DARE you ? Women and Age can not be combined together in One sentence.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

A young girl may be “ojosan” (young miss), a young woman may be “onesan” (big sister) and a middle-aged woman becomes “obasan” (aunt). Similarly, a young man might be “oniisan” (big brother) and a middle-aged man “ojisan” (uncle).

I've hardly ever heard someone use 'ojosan' to call young miss. (I've heard 'ojochan' several times.) Also, you really shouldn't call someone 'ojisan' or 'obasan' face to face unless you're little child, because it sounds rude. You want to use 'oneesan' or 'oniisan' instead of those. And if a person you're talking to looks like s/he is over 50, common way to refer them is 'otousan' or 'okaasan'.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Forget Middle-aged woman, at what age is a woman considered to be a "cougar"?

Hubba Hubba!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I prefer, and so do my J friends/family, to just refer to everyone by their first names. It seems to me to open up the communication and shows that respect is earned and not automatically given by age which is what I like the best.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

お姉 / ねえさん older sister; elder sister are both perfectly acceptable ways of referring to women in there 20s / early 30s.

Yes and no. As Cleo says, nesan has a strong association with hostesses.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

お姉 / ねえさん older sister; elder sister are both perfectly acceptable ways of referring to women in there 20s / early 30s. Don't let any one tell you different. And using wife, unless you really know the dynamics, is risky.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

40 is the standard for the onset of "middle age" for men. Don't see why it should be any different for women.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Technically middle age means reaching an age where you lived half the life expectancy for your gender. So the average mid-point of life is about 40 for a woman. In the end as life expectancy increases attitudes toward ageing changes and the physical consequences of growing old get delayed by better healthcare. Therefore even social attitudes change making the extended middle years seen and lived as the prime of life rather than the beginning of old age.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"You may have heard that Japan is obsessed with youth, which is ironic for a country with an ageing population, this is ironic."

It is redundant to use "ironic" twice in the same sentence I think it is redundant.

6 ( +5 / -1 )

laca

I am. And I agree with cho, and tony the tiger

Women are grrrrrrreat!

5 ( +6 / -1 )

@cho

Late 40s to early 50s... and hot Japanese middle-aged women are incredible... can't get enough of them.

You're obviously not married to one! ; )

6 ( +7 / -1 )

The numbers are not accurate and cannot be relied upon as anything more than a very rough guide.

No. The near total majority of females hit puberty and menopause within a narrow range of years.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

I think the anger at being called nesan comes from it being the term patrons often use when addressing bar hostesses.

That's why I use it! With a sly smile, it becomes cheeky.

I wouldn't use either term with someone I'm not familiar with though. I use 'sochira' if it's a non-casual situation, or their name if it's a casual situation.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

age is more than a number. We age. We grow old. Our body ages. Our minds age.

Yes, we all age. But we don't all age at the same rate. I see people, men and women, way younger than me in years, who are old. And I see people way older than me in years, who are not. The numbers are not accurate and cannot be relied upon as anything more than a very rough guide.

Viking isn't the only Petra Pan 'round here. :-)

Strangerland - I think the anger at being called nesan comes from it being the term patrons often use when addressing bar hostesses. I would be miffed if some random male called me nesan, livid if he called me obasan. (Onechan, on the other hand, is perfectly acceptable for very young girls.) If in doubt, with an adult lady try okusan.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

Sorry but I'm a LOT older than "20" however, I'm a "female Peter Pan" and I still haven't grown up... It's all in the mind... if/when you lose interest in all you (used to) enjoy, you grow old. I'm still waiting for “Mr. Postman”. to "bring me a dream"...

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Unlike almost every other poster here, I actually appreciate this article. It's been unclear to me when to switch from nesan to obasan. And it makes some ladies angry if you call them nesan when they consider themselves obasan.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

...and this article was sponsored by the committee to further the development of more expensive make-up and skin creams.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Late 40s to early 50s... and hot Japanese middle-aged women are incredible... can't get enough of them.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Age is no more than a number

Right. The person who told you that is either a fool, a liar, or trying to sell you something.

Look, I get it. I understand how social norms towards women can be arbitrary and sexist. And that is going on here, to some extent. But age is more than a number. We age. We grow old. Our body ages. Our minds age.

That is the truth of the matter.

0 ( +5 / -4 )

Ladies are never middle-aged. The very idea is ludicrous.

Age is no more than a number, and not a very accurate one at that.

Anyone no longer in a school uniform who makes the mistake of calling me 'obasan' gets my famous withering death-stare.

-2 ( +9 / -10 )

I agree with the majority of Japanese females. Oba-san begins in the 30s. As for middle-aged for a female in the US, the same.

I am a mid forties male, and am definitely well into middle age. Internally physically, psychologically and emotionally, youth has been gone for quite some time now. A distant memory. Socially, I am in no manner perceived as a youth.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Why the preoccupation with labels and age ? Just live your life regardless of the expectations society and age place on you and you'll be much more content.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Spot on Sensei and Elizabeth !

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Middle age for women in Japan is now 42.9, as life expectancy is 85.8. On the other hand, it is only 16.1 in Swaziland, as female life expectancy is a mere 32.2 years. This difference and the conditions that allow such inequality to persist is the real significance of such a question.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Middle aged:

the period after early adulthood and before old age, about 45 to 65.

OED

1 ( +4 / -3 )

It is essential that everyone feels insecure about something, be it age, ability, looks, whatever. How better to control and market to them. In other more socially confident societies the uncomfortable or pejorative markers could be abandoned or ironically appropriated and thereby dulled. But not in Japan. Come on ladies. Don't let your brothers and sisters grind you down. Find inner confidence and you will always be fine.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

More labels with which to burden others.

14 ( +15 / -1 )

laughs. More media driven garbage.

yep, let me look at my calendar and figure out how I am going to limit myself this week. Or rub it in the face of that person over there so I have a valid way to feel good about myself.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Why does there have to be a tag like that?

12 ( +15 / -4 )

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