40 Ways Being 40 Has Changed in the Last 40 Years

For one: You're way more likely to live another 40 years.

Turning 40 feels like an undeniably major milestone. However, while many people may associate hitting the big 4-0 with the beginning of some perceived downward trend—a life that's gone from being full of loud concerts and career mobility to one full of random aches and minivans—in many ways, being 40 is a totally different ballgame today than it was just 40 years ago. Not convinced? We've rounded up 40 ways being 40 has changed over the past 40 years—and some of it just might surprise you. And for more reasons to love this amazing decade, discover the 40 Best Things About Being in Your 40s.

You're Less Likely to Be Married

Marriage Proposal by Water

While being unmarried at 40 was virtually unheard of 40 years ago, today, it's actually pretty common to be still be single at 40 today. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, the number of never-married adults has continued to rise for the better part of the century, up to 50 percent today from 38 percent in the 1960s.

You're Less Likely to Have Kids

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Don't have kids at 40? You're far from alone. The U.S. fertility rates hit an all-time low in 2017. However, if you still want to, don't worry—more people are having kids over 40 than ever before. And if you do have little ones—or might someday—make sure you know these 40 Parenting Hacks for Raising an Amazing Kid.

You're More Tech-Savvy

Guy on Phone Smiling Romance

While it was unlikely that you'd own a home computer at any age back in 1978, 40-somethings today are highly computer literate. In fact, research suggests that more adults are digitally literate today than ever before, and 89 percent of adults aged 30 to 49 own a smartphone today.

You're Less Likely to Own a Home

Couple Fixing Home Financial

Thank the housing crisis or your own stagnant wages, but you're significantly less likely to be a homeowner at 40 today than you would have been 40 years ago. The home ownership rate was 65 percent in 1978, but had dipped by nearly a full percentage point by 2018. And when you do secure your own piece of property, fill it with these 40 Items Every Man Over 40 Should Have in His Home.

You're No Longer Middle Aged

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If you asked someone in 1978 if they were middle-aged, you'd likely get a resounding "yes" in response. However, many researchers suggest that the increase in human life expectancy has made middle age hit around 50. In fact, one report suggests that a contemporary 65-year-old is still well within the "middle-aged" category today.

You're Less Likely to Own a Car

Woman driving Being Single in your thirties

An increasing push for walkable neighborhoods, better public transportation, and remote work mean that owning a car is less necessary for 40-somethings than ever these days. In fact, in 1978, more than 11 million cars were sold, versus just over 6 million in 2017.

You're Still In Your Prime

happy over 40 woman dating

Not only are you no longer middle aged at 40 these days, you're actually still in your prime. Do Gwen Stefani, Sergey Brin, and Hugh Jackman seem over-the-hill to you?

You're More Likely to Be Well-Educated

Graduate degree

As college degrees rapidly replace high school diplomas as the requirement for entry-level jobs, our workforce is progressively getting better-educated to keep up. While under 19 percent of the population had college degrees in 1978, more than 33 percent of the U.S. population has completed four or more years of college today.

You're More Likely to Go Back to School

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Feel like heading back to school at 40? You're not the only one. In fact, thanks to schools offering increasingly flexible schedules and the rise in online courses, more adults are continuing their educations today than ever before.

You're More Likely to Live Another 40 Years

man over 40 exercising, improve memory

Back in 1978, the average life expectancy was just 77.3 years. Today, it's 78.7 years, meaning that if you're 40-something, the odds you're only halfway done are pretty good.

You're More Likely to Be Dating

couple over 40 dating

As more adults remain unmarried, the number of 40-somethings dating has continued to grow. Fortunately, with the rise of dating apps geared toward people over 40, it's easier than ever to meet someone. Not sure where to look? Try The Best Dating Apps if You're Over 40 on for size.

You're More Likely to Be a Long Way From Retirement

man relaxing Smartest Men Get Ahead

While the number of workers still toiling away at their jobs at 65 or older was under 25 percent in the late 1970s, according to Boston College's Center for Retirement Research, today, the average American can expect to retire at 66, meaning that you've still got a long way to go if you're in your 40s.

You're More Likely to Have Student Loan Debt

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Unfortunately, just because you've been out of college for around two decades by the time you're in your 40s doesn't mean you're free of your student debt. In fact, college tuition and fees are 1,120 percent higher today than they were 40 years ago.

You're Less Likely to Be Earning a Livable Wage


While you may be in your peak earning years during your 40s, you're also less likely to be earning a livable wage than you were 40 years ago. According to data from the US Census Bureau, the average American worker earns about $3,000 dollars less each year than a comparable employee did 40 years ago.

You're More Likely to Be in Therapy

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Forty years ago, getting therapy wasn't exactly dinner table conversation. However, today, as the stigma about mental illness decreases, the number of adults in therapy has skyrocketed. In fact, one survey conducted by the American Psychological Association reveals that 48 percent of adults polled visited a mental health professional in the past year.

You're More Likely to Remarry

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Just because your first marriage didn't work out and you're in your 40s doesn't mean you're likely to spend the rest of your life alone. In fact, according to Pew Research, remarriage is on the rise, with 40 percent of couples who wed in 2013 having at least one partner who'd been married before—up from just 13 percent half a century ago.

You're Less Likely to Be Unemployed

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If you're hunting for a job at 40, you're more likely to find one than you would have been 40 years ago. Not only is 40 still the prime of your career today, the unemployment rate is nearly half what it was 40 years ago.

You're More Likely to Consider Yourself Young

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Let's be real: 40 doesn't feel old anymore. While being a 40-something used to mean a house, kids, minivan, and a job you can't wait to be done with, today, being in your 40s still feels young.

You're Less Likely to Get Divorced

Divorce papers Being Single in your thirties

While we always hear that the divorce rate is hovering around 50 percent these days, research suggests that's not true. In fact, as a 40-something today, you're less likely to get divorced than you were 40 years ago. According to CDC data, the divorce rate in the U.S. peaked at around 40 percent in 1980 and has been declining ever since.

You're More Likely to Get Certain Cancers

Swollen lymph nodes surprising cancer symptoms

If you're over 40 today, we've got some bad news about your health. The rates of prostate, breast, and colon cancer have been steadily on the rise, with the prostate cancer rate tripling over the past 28 years alone and the breast cancer rate doubling during the same period.

You're Less Likely to Have Wrinkles

man looking in the mirror for wrinkles

Once you saw a wrinkle form 40 years ago, you had little choice but to wear it for pretty much the rest of your life. Today, however, with the advent of Botox, treating those lines is easier than ever—and more common, too. In 2017 alone, 7.23 million Botox injections were administered in the United States.

You're More Likely to Eat Out Regularly

Things You Should Never Do in a Fancy Restaurant

With decreasing rates of men and women staying at home, convenience is being prioritized over home-cooked food more than ever today. In fact, Americans are spending more cash eating out today than ever before.

You Have More Friends

Men hugging

While 40 years ago, seeing your friends who lived across the country meant an expensive plane trip—often with kids in tow—it's easier to keep in touch than ever as a 40-something today. With more tech-literate 40-somethings in the world than ever before, it's pretty easy to maintain the friendships that matter most.

Your Kids Are Younger

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Feel like the only over-40 parent toting around an infant? You're not alone. While having a kid over 40 may have gotten you some looks 40 years ago, women aged 40 to 44 were the only group in the U.S. with an increased birth rate last year—the highest rate of births among this group since 1966, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

You're More Likely to Be Obese

Obese man living in one of the Fattest Cities

Bummer though it may be, you're significantly more likely to be obese at 40 today than you were 40 years ago. In fact, the difference in daily food supply for Americans increased by 700 calories from 1978 to 1999 alone, according to research conducted at Brown University.

You're More Likely to Stay Put

40 compliments

If packing up and moving seems like more of a headache than it's worth to you, you're not alone. In fact, Pew Research reveals that you're way less likely to pack up and move as an adult today than you were 40 years ago, thanks in large part to an increasingly aging population.

Your Retirement Fund is Comparatively Paltry

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Not only are you less likely to be reaching retirement age at 40 than you were 40 years ago, the odds you're ready to retire, financially-speaking, are pretty darn slim. In fact, according to one survey, more than 50 percent of Americans will retire broke.

You Probably Don't Smoke

cigarettes in ashtray

While there are some ways in which 40-somethings are a lot less healthy today than their counterparts four decades ago, there's still good news. 40-somethings today are at least less likely to smoke than they were back in 1978.

Changing Careers Still Feels Possible

Job candidate, recruiting, interview

Having a career used to mean starting at one company fresh out of high school or college and continuing to work there until retirement rolled around. However, today, as people spend more time in school and increasingly see 40 as a career mid-point, changing jobs at 40 is no longer the huge deal it once was.

You're Less Likely to Live in the Suburbs

40 compliments

That white picket fence on a cul-de-sac that was so important to your parents? Not a big priority for today's 40-somethings. If you're in your 40s today, you're more likely to be living in the city or out in the country than a suburb somewhere.

You're More Prone to Depression

sleep after 40

Unfortunately, if you're in your 40s today, you're more likely to be diagnosed with depression than you were 40 years ago. While this may have something to do with the lessening stigma around mental illness, research published in Social Science & Medicine reveals that, among contemporary adults, depression tends to peak at 44.

You're Not Chained to Your Desk

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40 years ago, having a job used to mean going to a physical place on a daily basis to work. However, today, more than 43 percent of workers in one survey claimed to be able to work remotely at least part of the time, and that number tends to be higher among employees with more experience, like those in their 40s.

But You Are Working Longer

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The bad news, however, is that if you're a 40-something in an experienced position with a company, you're more likely to be working long hours today than you were 40 years ago. Long gone is the 40-hour workweek, with the average American working 47 hours a week today.

You Exercise Regularly

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Now that your 40s are no longer considered middle-age, more people are taking care of themselves by exercising than ever. Today, 3 out of 4 adults exercise on a regular basis, according to the CDC. Back before 24-hour gyms and YouTube yoga? Yeah, not so much. And when you need some exercise inspiration, check out these 50 Amazing Over-40 Bodies.

You Still Dress Fashionably

dress well 50s

Of the many ways you probably described your parents' clothing choices in their 40s, "fashionable" probably wasn't among them. However, with 40 no longer seeming like middle age to many of us and the business suit going the way of the dodo in the workplace, a 40-something today likely dresses a whole lot more fashionably than their counterparts some 40 years ago.

You're Less Politically Active

Movemember was at one point proof for young men of voting age.

While you may proudly wear your "I Voted" sticker in your latest Instagram post, you're actually less likely to have voted at 40 today than as an adult 40 years ago. According to census data, the voting rate for a congressional election in 2014 was the lowest since data on the subject was first collected in 1978—41.9 percent in 2014 versus 48.9 percent in 1978.

You Travel More

Passport, what to give up in your 40s

Just because 40 is too old to claim YOLO as any kind of driving life motto doesn't mean that 40-somethings aren't still doing fun stuff. In fact, with the rise of cheap airfare and companies offering more flexible vacation plans, and fewer people having large families by the time they hit 40, you're more likely to have an exciting getaway planned than a 40-something would have been 40 years ago.

You're Less Likely to Qualify for Social Security

Budgeting money

If you were a 40-something back in 1978, you could almost guarantee that you'd be raking in that sweet, sweet Social Security money by the time you hit retirement age. Today, proposed cuts to the program mean that many individuals are less likely to count on that cash.

You Live Somewhere Fun

living alone Being Single in your thirties

While the pursuit of the nuclear family used to make a big house outside the city the top choice for 40-somethings, today, 40-somethings are more likely to prioritize convenience (and fun) over having a sprawling home. In fact, 54 percent of the global population lives in cities today—a greater percentage of city-dwellers than ever existed before.

You're Less Likely to Be a Grandparent

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You may be a lot of things by the time you're in your 40s, but one thing you're unlikely to be is a grandparent. Over the past 40 years, the rate of teen pregnancy has sharply declined, and more people are having kids in their 30s and 40s than ever before, meaning that you've still got plenty of time to prepare for life as grandma or grandpa if you're in your 40s. And when you want to take your 40s by storm, start with these 40 Amazing Habits to Adopt After 40.

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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