Britain’s ageing population is often described as a demographic time-bomb. As a society we often view ageing as a ‘problem’ which must be ‘managed’ – how to cope with the pressure on national health services of growing numbers of older people, the cost of sustaining them with pensions and social care, and the effect on families and housing needs.

But ageing is not a policy problem to be solved. Instead it is a normal part of life, which varies according to personal characteristics, experience and outlook, and for many people growing older can be a very positive experience. Drawing on the Mass Observation project, one of the longest-running longitudinal life-writing projects anywhere in the world, Coming of Age grounds public policy in people’s real, lived experiences of ageing.

It finds that the experience of ageing is changing, so that most people who are now reaching retirement do not identify themselves as old. One-size-fits-all policy approaches that treat older people as if they are all alike are alienating and inappropriate. Instead, older people need inclusive policy approaches that enable them to live their lives on their own terms. To ensure that older people are actively engaged, policy makers should stop emphasising the costs posed by an ageing population and start building on the many positive contributions that older people already make to our society.