50 Questions You Should Never Ask Someone Over 50
If these are on your list of ice-breakers, revise your list of ice-breakers.
Many people view getting older as a privilege—a clear indication that you've got some serious living under your belt. However, for many others, older people are treated like a curiosity, a never-ending oracle from which to glean wisdom about what's to come. In reality, people over 50 don't differ much from adults in their 20s or 30s, save for a few more candles on their birthday cakes. So, before you incite the ire of your over-50 friends or family members, make sure you're not asking these potentially-offensive questions.
"Do you feel old?"
While you may consider someone over 50 to be an "old" person, that doesn't mean they necessarily look at their age that way. If you're asking someone this, don't be surprised if they take offense—after all, some researchers now believe that 60-somethings are middle-aged, not 40-somethings, as we'd once been led to believe.
"Do you wish you'd had kids?"
Though many people see having children as an important milestone, don't assume that everyone sees things that way. Whether the right relationship never came around, someone was dealing with infertility, or they just never had any interest in raising kids, it's none of your business why someone might or might not have wanted to have children of their own.
"Are you worried about being replaced at work?"
People aren't computers: they don't become obsolete just because they hit a certain age. While this may be a concern of people getting older in an ageist society, asking this question makes it seem like you also think that your friends or co-workers are getting too old to do their jobs.
"Do you regret settling down so young?"
While hearing that someone has been married for 30-plus years may seem like a lifetime to you, not everyone sees getting married at a relatively young age as a bad thing. In fact, many people don't see marriage as "settling down"—in a good relationship, there's often little difference between being coupled up and being single.
"Why are you still single?"
On the flip side, not everyone thinks that being in a romantic relationship is a prerequisite for a happy life. Additionally, for members of the over-50 crowd, this question is particularly insensitive—after all, this group is more likely to have endured a loss of a spouse or a divorce than your average 20-something.
"Do you feel weird being the oldest person here?"
Most people aren't acutely aware of their age until someone points it out—like you've so uncomfortably done by asking this question.
"Do you worry about dying?"
As a human being, it's not unreasonable to have some fears about what happens after we shuffle off this mortal coil. However, for most healthy 50-somethings, death isn't something they'll have to worry about for another few decades, and, as a general rule, insinuating that someone's close to death is a real conversation-stopper.
"Did you have a color TV growing up?"
While, if you're asking an 80-year-old this question, the answer may well be no, don't assume that everyone over 50 was watching in black-and-white. In fact, the first color TVs hit the market in 1954, so many people in their 50s and 60s have only seen shows broadcast in full color.
"Do you even know who that celebrity is?"
Acting like older people are inherently illiterate when it comes to pop culture isn't just rude, it doesn't even make sense most of the time. Being over 50 doesn't mean you no longer have access to the internet, TV, magazines, or movies, after all.
"How much money do you make?"
Though it may seem less rude to ask this to someone over 50, and theoretically financially stable, than it would be to ask your friend who's barely scraping by on minimum wage, it's still a major invasion of privacy. With stagnating wages and rising debt affecting countless American households, it's probably not a safe bet to assume that everyone over 50 is rolling in cash.
"Are you really going to wear that?"
Those fashion "rules" about not wearing a miniskirt over 30 are so outdated. Turning 50 doesn't mean a person needs to suddenly give up things that are comfortable or make them feel good.
"Can you still do that at your age?"
Just because a person has turned 50 isn't an indication that their body is rapidly breaking down, by any means. Unless someone specifically notes that they can't do a particular activity, it's best to keep your mouth zipped on this kind of line of questioning.
"What's it like to be old?"
Just because someone's over 50 doesn't mean they think of themselves as old. And, of course, there's no universal aging experience to begin with—ask one person and they'll say it's no different than being 25, while someone else may tell you things have been going downhill for decades.
"Do you know how to use email?"
Email is a pretty ubiquitous form of communication at this point, so it's probably wise to assume that most adults you meet know how to use it unless they've specifically stated otherwise.
"Is that your grandchild?"
Older parents are rapidly becoming the norm, so it's probably wise to play it safe and assume that a child is someone's son or daughter before immediately asking them if they're a grandparent.
"Do you wish you'd been more successful?"
Success is a subjective thing. Just because someone isn't driving a luxury car or living in a big house by 50 doesn't mean they haven't found success—it just means they haven't hit your specific measure of success.
"Have you had plastic surgery?"
Is the plastic surgery industry growing? Without a doubt. Does that mean that every person over 50 who looks great has had it? Definitely not. And even among those who have, it's still a private matter.
"Do you hate [insert group here] people?"
While we often think of older people as set in their ways, that kind of generalization is not only hurtful, but inaccurate. Before you try to get someone to talk trash about another group of people, ask yourself why you're so curious in the first place.
"Do you wish you'd gotten married?"
Getting married simply isn't a goal for everybody, and just because somebody's over 50 and hasn't tied the knot doesn't mean they missed out on something.
"Is that your natural hair color?"
Plenty of people of all ages dye their hair. However, when you ask someone if their hair color is natural, it already feels like you're implying it's not.
"Do you ever feel silly going out with younger people?"
While a 50-something may seem old to you when you're in your 20s, that doesn't mean they feel old. And in many cases, people 50 and over with younger friends or spouses don't think there's anything weird about having friends a decade or two younger than them, as long as they get along well.
"Does your spouse do that for you?"
Just because someone's over 50 doesn't mean they're necessarily set in their ways or subscribe to specific gender roles. Not only does this question often assume that people are in heterosexual relationships, it also presumes that people of a certain age inherently depend on their spouse to help them with what most people would deem normal life skills.
"Are you tired?"
While this question is undeniably rude at any age, when you ask someone over 50 this, it's especially cutting. Remember: just because someone isn't wearing makeup, is dressed down, or has styled their hair differently doesn't mean they're exhausted—even the best-looking 50-somethings don't look 20.
"What did you really want to do with your life?"
So, you saw someone over 50 working a job you thought was beneath them and you thought it was a good time to say something about it. No matter how you mean this question when you ask it, it inevitably sounds rude and judgmental; many people love their jobs and find them fulfilling, even if some don't think they stack up to the traditional measures of success.
"Don't you think it's a little late to get married?"
Finding a loving relationship doesn't have an age limit on it. Just because someone is over 50 doesn't mean it's "too late" for them to get married—in fact, marriage rates for older people are actually on the rise.
"Aren't you too old to have kids?"
Though people may have more trouble conceiving naturally when they're 50-plus, that hardly means having children is out of the question. Not only have fertility treatments made it possible for parents to have children naturally over 50, many families also happily adopt children after 50.
"Do you consider yourself a cougar?"
Let's just retire this phrase once and for all. We don't have an equivalent expression for men who date younger women, so why throw out this unnecessary jab at women who happen to date younger men?
"Do you know how to use a computer?"
Most jobs require at least some form of computer literacy these days. Unless your over-50 friend or co-worker is specifically asking for help, it's best not to assume that they lack all computer skills.
"What do you do for fun?"
While this question may seem relatively innocuous, it also comes with some baggage for the over-50 set. Fun hobbies for many people over 50 are exactly the same as it is for their younger counterparts: traveling, seeing movies, spending time with friends—it's not all cribbage and crocheting.
"Aren't you adorable?"
There is no way to deliver this line without it sounding patronizing. Older people aren't puppies or newborns: they're sentient individuals and could probably do without the fawning.
"Does everything still work in the bedroom?"
Generally speaking, unless you're a doctor, it's not wise to ask people about the specifics of their sex life. This is doubly true when you're asking someone over 50 and your question is essentially, "Can you even still do that?"
"Why don't you live in a bigger house?"
Big houses, fancy cars, and huge bank accounts don't automatically appear on your 50th birthday. Many people over 50 are still just scraping by, and to suggest that they're failing for not living more luxuriously is patently offensive.
"Do you have to diet all the time?"
Sure, many people over 50 may find that their metabolism doesn't enable the rapid weight loss they enjoyed in their 20s. However, implying that that means they should constantly diet isn't going to make anyone feel better about that spare tire.
"Have you dated a lot of people?"
While some people over 50 may have dated more people because they've had more time on earth, that doesn't mean it will be true of everyone. And frankly, asking about how many people someone has been with is pretty much never a good look.
"Are you planning to age gracefully?"
What does it mean to age gracefully, anyway? While many people praise eschewing hair dye and Botox, they also praise people who look younger than they are—often the result of, among other things, hair dye and Botox.
"When did you lose your hair?"
Hair loss can be a painful subject for some people. So, unless you're particularly eager to hurt someone's feelings, it's probably best to save this question for good friends only—if you ask anyone at all, that is.
"Are your parents still alive?"
The death of a person's parents is rarely a happy subject of conversation. Unfortunately, many people over 50 will have seen one or two parents pass away, and it's probably not the thing they're most eager to talk about, unless they brought it up themselves.
"Do you wish you'd done more with your life?"
Similar to questions about a person's success, the concept of "doing something" with your life is entirely subjective. Who's to say that having a happy life in your hometown necessarily means that you haven't lived?
"Do you wish you looked younger?"
In a society that largely views older people as disposable, there's no context in which this won't come across as an insult.
"Are you having a senior moment?"
It's fine when your grandmother misplaces her car keys and refers to it as a "senior moment." When she does it and you ask if she's having a senior moment, it's undeniably rude.
"When did you go gray?"
While gray may be a popular hair color at the moment, for many people, it's still has a strongly negative association with getting older—and not everyone wants to discuss their perceived cosmetic failings with other people.
"Have any of your friends died yet?"
Not only does this question make it seem as though everyone over 50 has one foot in the grave, for those who have lost loved ones, it's just a way to force them to relive painful memories.
"How's your memory?"
Though some people do find that their memory gets worse as they age, that's far from universally true. And if they wanted to bring it up, they would.
"When are you planning on retiring?"
While 50 may seem old to some people, for others, it's still a good 20-odd years from retirement. So, unless you know something about their finances that they don't, don't assume that they're ready to retire just because you think they're old enough to.
"Would you really want to live to 100?"
As the human lifespan continues to increase, so, too, do the number of people living to 100. However, if you feel like asking someone over 50 this, you might want to hold your breath: nobody loves a reminder of their own mortality, after all.
"Who's getting that when you die?"
If someone's still alive and hasn't started deciding who's going to get the silverware or jewelry, it's probably not your place to start doing a mental accounting of their prized possessions, either.
"Are those your real teeth?"
Oral hygiene has come a long way, making it easier than ever for people to maintain their real teeth well into their golden years. And regardless of whether their teeth are real or they're wearing dentures, this probably isn't a welcome question.
"When are you moving into a retirement community?"
Retirement communities can be wonderful for those who choose to live in them, but don't automatically assume that everyone over 50 will make that choice. If you want to know about someone's living situation, just ask them—if they have immediate plans to move into a retirement community, it'll come up.
"Are you jealous of younger people?"
They say with age comes wisdom, but that's far from the only benefit of getting older. It also comes with maturity, a sense of self, and in most cases, not a whole lot of jealousy that some people are younger than them.
"How old are you?"
There's no denying that society is rife with age discrimination, leading many to keep their age a closely-guarded secret. So, unless you're eager to make things uncomfortable, let people reveal this information to you on their own terms.