Birthdays, by definition, are significant milestones in individuals' lives and cause for celebration by family, friends and, of course, the celebrants themselves. Certain birthdays--such as the 16th, 21st and the turn of decades--carry special cultural and practical significance. Seventieth birthdays take a rightful place in this category of particularly noteworthy birthday celebrations.
One of the oldest and best-known references to the special significance of reaching 70 years of age comes from the Bible. The King James translation of Psalm 90:10 reads: "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength, labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, based on its 2006 life expectancy data, Americans who reach their 70th birthday can look forward to another 14 birthday celebrations on average.
Seventieth birthdays are significant with respect to Social Security benefits. Although individuals can begin to claim their Social Security benefits at age 62, there are advantages to waiting to claim benefits until reaching full-retirement age--between the ages of 65 to 67, depending on year of birth. For each year claimants wait past their full-retirement age, benefit payouts are increased by 8 percent with adjustments for inflation. Waiting until the age of 70 maximizes benefits with payouts equal to 132 percent of the full-retirement-age payout entitlement.
Seventy years old is not "over the hill." At 70, Benjamin Franklin was helping to draft the U.S. Constitution. Winston Churchill was 70 years old in 1945 when he led the United Kingdom to victory in World War II. Golda Meir became prime minister of Israel at age 70. Helen Hayes won her second Oscar when she was 70.
In Shakespeare's play "Macbeth," an elderly character echoes the Biblical reference to threescore and ten years when he comments on the recent strange events in the Scottish kingdom:
"Threescore and ten I can remember well: Within the volume of which time I have seen Hours dreadful and things strange; but this sore night Hath trifled former knowings." ("The Tragedy of Macbeth," Act II, Scene 4)
At his 70th birthday celebration, Mark Twain summed up the significance of the occasion saying: "The seventieth birthday. It is the time of life when you arrive at a new and awful dignity; when you may throw aside the decent reserves which have oppressed you for a generation and stand unafraid and unabashed upon your seven-terraced summit and look down and teach--unrebuked."