Page last updated at 12:19 GMT, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 13:19 UK

An age-old question

By Laura Schocker
BBC News Magazine

Actress Amanda Redman has been planning for her 50th birthday but media reports, aided by her birth certificate, say she would be better preparing for her 52nd anniversary. Why would people get their age wrong?

Amanda Redman
Amanda Redman, 52 going on 50

According to her birth certificate obtained by the Mail on Sunday, Ms Redman's birth date was 12 August 1957 - two years earlier than she had claimed. But she may be in good company when it comes to fudging the numbers.

According to one survey from the TV channel Really earlier this year, 36% of Britons confess to regularly adjusting their age, making it the top fib people tell. It beats alcohol consumption, sexual history and wages.

So if more than a third of the UK is doing it, the question is - why? What's the appeal of shifting your real age?

1. TO GET SERVED

A new survey suggests that nearly 40% of English teenagers between ages 14 and 17 drink alcohol at least once a week, according to the non-profit Trading Standards Institute. While many will be legally drinking at home, 18 is the minimum age at which alcohol can be purchased - a limit that has led many young minds to creatively re-imagine their age.

According to the survey, 32% of teens have ordered a fake ID from the internet and 25% use an older sibling's ID.

But not everyone is rounding up past 18 - according to the Really survey, 31% of people in the UK will decrease their ages to qualify for a young person's discount.

2. TO JOIN A SPORT

An X-ray bone analysis of 15,000 Chinese athletes earlier this year found that 20% had lied about their ages, according to an article by the Associated Press. And in 2008, 36 Chinese professional basketball players were thought to have changed their ages to qualify for youth tournaments after a report from China's Sport Ministry.

He Kexin
Is China's He Kexin 16 - or 14?

Some felt that these reports added credence to the widely touted argument that several of China's Olympic gold medallists back-flipped their ages in the 2008 Games. Reports indicated that two of the competitors may have been 14 - the minimum age to participate is 16.

And it's not just gymnasts who have been accused of a bit of age-alteration in the name of sport. According to the US Sports Illustrated magazine, for instance, earlier this year 19-year-old US baseball player Esmailyn Gonzalez turned out to actually be 23-year-old Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo. Why the swap? Some reports suggested that he wanted to appear at the prime of his career.

3. TO QUALIFY FOR FERTILITY TREATMENTS

In July, the world's oldest mother died, leaving behind twin sons. But how did she end up giving birth at age 66 in December 2006? With a bit of an age-lift.

Spain's Maria del Carmen Couscada de Lara travelled to the US to get fertility treatments and reportedly told the clinic that she was 55 to get past their age limits.

While there is no official age cap for fertility treatments in the UK, the medical watchdog recommends an upper age limit of 39 for NHS treatment. But it varies by area with some local trusts, such as Hampshire, imposing a minimum age limit of 36. The former oldest mum isn't the only woman who has done some number crunching to navigate the regulations.

In 1997 a Californian woman took the title of world's oldest mother when she allegedly lied about her age to get in vitro fertilisation treatments. She gave birth to a girl at the age of 63.

And a few years earlier, an Italian woman lied about her age and eventually gave birth to triplets - sparking what one article called the rise in the "granny birth" trend.

4. TO SEEM YOUNGER IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn pretended she was two years younger.

Some people may shave off a few years to conform to rigid Hollywood youth standards. Former US first lady Nancy Reagan, for instance, reportedly trimmed a couple of years off her real age when she was working as an actress - and was said to have maintained the ruse through her husband's election.

And it's not unusual. Eighty-six years after her birth, actress Katharine Hepburn confessed that she hadn't always been honest about the date. She reportedly swapped her true birth date of 12 May 1907 for 8 November 1909, cutting her true age by more than two years.

Other women who have been accused of bending their true ages? Former BBC newsreader Jan Leeming, actress-detergent ambassador Nanette Newman and, of course, Amanda Redman.

5. TO RELATE TO YOUNG PEOPLE

But this numbers game isn't just for women. According to a 2009 article in Newsweek magazine, several public documents indicate that MySpace founder Tom Anderson may actually be four years older than he claims - meaning he would have founded the social networking site at age 31 instead of 27.

Why the switch? Some speculators have questioned whether Anderson might have wanted to appeal to younger users by creating the website in his 20s, not his 30s.

Since MySpace launched in 2003, Anderson became every user's "first friend."

But do friends lie to friends when it comes to age? According to one US survey, 94% of women have never lied to their best friend about their age.



Print Sponsor


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific