Life Begins at Forty

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Life Begins at Forty is a 1932 American self-help book by Walter B. Pitkin. Written during a time of rapid increase in life expectancy (at the time of its publication American life expectancy at birth was around 60 and climbing fast, from being only at age 40 fifty years before),[1] it was very popular and influential. It was the #1 bestselling non-fiction book in the United States in 1933, and #2 in 1934,[2] according to Publishers Weekly.

Although Pitkin did not necessarily coin the phrase "life begins at forty", the success of his book entered it into general circulation,[3] such that after 1932 it became an American catchphrase for the remainder of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first (it is the title of a 1935 Will Rogers movie, a 1937 song sung by Sophie Tucker,[4] a 1980 John Lennon song, two television series (in 1978 in Britain and 2003 in Hong Kong), and several novels and other books).

More an extended essay and exhortation than a detailed self-help book in the modern sense, the general thrust of the book is that, given the current conditions of the world, one could look forward to many years of fulfilling and happy existence after age 40, provided that one maintained the proper positive attitude.


  1. ^ "Life Expectancy Graphs". University of Oregon. Retrieved October 16, 2012. Note, though, that much of this was due to reduction in infant and child mortality; the increase in average life expectancy at age 40 was much less, although still measurable.
  2. ^ Daniel Immerwahr. "The Books of the Century: 1930-1939". Open Computing Facility, University of California at Berkeley. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  3. ^ Gary Martin. "The meaning and origin of the expression: Life begins at forty". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  4. ^ "Life Begins At Forty by Sophie Tucker". Songfacts. Retrieved October 16, 2012.