Do all people aged over 55 constitute a single demographic group?

26 April, 2011

Gerard O’Neill writes a very fine blog called “Turbulence Ahead” and his most recent piece dealt with attitudes to religion amongst Irish people of different ages.

His chart caught my eye, not because of the results it portrays, but because of the selection of categories into which the interviewee sample (and thus the overall population which it presumably represents) is divided.

Age bands are given for 15-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54 and lastly “55 +”. To me, selection of bands for statistical analysis implies, not that each band necessarily contains an approximately equal number of members, but that the individual bands are a discrete and meaningful demographic in some way or another. 

The selected bands in this study are not uncommon, but it raises the question as to whether the “55+” band is just a bit large and varied to be a sensible component of the analysis.  For instance, is a 55 year old man or woman in any way comparable (in religious views, political preferences, spending habits etc.) to an 80 year old, who would be of an entirely different generation?

I may be of an age when I am starting to notice insidious age discrimination, but surely it would be more informative if the opinion poll had separate categories for (say) 55-64 and 65+?  Or are the views of older people generally of less import for social commentators and journalists?  (We already know that advertisers, or at least those who create their ads, have a weird and patronising attitude to anybody over 50 – see “Older people want to shop shock” and “The nightmare of selling things to old people”.) 

Incidentally, Central Statistics Office information for Irish population by age (see here for 2006 figures) suggest that the number of people in the 55+ age group is significantly larger than in any of the 15-24, 25-34, 35-44, or 45-54 age groups.  This will become even more true with the passage of time and the “greying” of our population.

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