Why do people lie about their age?

Joan Crawford

British TV and radio host Nicholas Parsons says he has been covering up his real age for years. Why are some people reluctant to say how old they are, asks Kathryn Westcott.

Parsons, who is coming up to his 90th birthday, says that he was worried that disclosing his real age would make him unemployable.

Celebrities have been holding back the years since the dawn of celluloid. Joan Crawford, for one, was evasive about her date of birth. Depending on who you read, it was 1904, 1905 or 1906. Her gravestone says 1908.

My own mother took a more devil-may-care approach.

Image caption Parsons - approaching a big birthday

In the days when the personal details on passports were filled in by a civil servant with a Biro, my mother would subsequently alter her DOB from 1931 to 1937 with a similar-coloured pen.

It worked until the 1970s, when an official at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport spotted the deceit. A fine and threat of deportation knocked that on the head. Then she carried photographs of her three children flushed with the youth of primary school, long after those same children had completed their university applications. She used to joke that it made her appear younger, when she was asked if she had children.

We honoured her secret by omitting her DOB on her funeral memorial card.

Nowadays, men and women lie about their age on online dating sites - desperate to appear younger. Teenagers lie, desperate to appear older - unless they happen to be certain Nigerian footballers. The country will be without key players for the Under-17 World Cup after scans showed them to be over the age limit.

"It used to be that we shouldn't ask a women her age but nowadays we shouldn't ask anyone," says William Hanson, an etiquette and protocol consultant.

"I get asked it all the time. But it's not socially relevant - age really is just a number. I'm young but I have a mind of a 50-year-old."

Hanson blames the media. A recent story in a tabloid about Joanna Lumley and National Service went for just four paragraphs before it referred to the "67-year-old".

Manners, please.

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