Aging never comes up much in the show. That’s not too surprising really, but we can still take a look at what clues we do have. At least to start with I’ll ignore the possible variances in calenders, timekeeping, and lifespan by focusing on human-equivalent ages.
- Laureen Faust has stated that she thought of the maturity levels of the six primary characters as being between 12 and 17. Presumably, of course, that was when the show started. There’s a certain amount of cartoon agelessness of course, but the characters do seem to grow and age to some degree – so they’ve we can reasonably assume that they’ve gotten older by now. Hopefully the show will eventually give up on the Cutie Mark Crusaders routine. Even if you don’t go by the one season equals one year theory those kids have been at it for a long time.
- Ponyville seems to use one-room schoolhouses and offers no apparent institutions of higher education. One-room schoolhouses are typically used for elementary education – normally up to age 11 or so, 12 at an outside limit. This fits in with a predominantly rural and vaguely pre-industrial to very early industrial society quite nicely. It also works well with things like arts and crafts and making “Hearts And Hooves Day” cards being a part of the lessons and with the general maturity levels of the characters.
- Higher education seems to come in the form of learning-by-doing, apprenticeships, special tutors, and a very few institutions of higher learning (not that they seem to teach much) located in the capital. Interestingly, while there are several of Twilight’s classmates in Ponyville, there is no mention of advanced educational institutions save for the royal school for gifted Unicorns. Could that school be the ONLY institution of higher learning in Equestria? After all, Twilight seems to carry out most of the countries research and development by herself in a basement laboratory. I guess that when you’re living in a semi-utopia there’s no great urge to change things.
- Ponies cutie marks reveal their specialized talents, and apparently their “destinies”, quite early on. Not too surprisingly, once a cutie mark reveals a ponies life path and what will make them happiest to do… they tend to do it quite a lot.
- Given that many of the kids in school have cutie marks, ponies can be expected to get their cutie marks at around 8-10, with prodigies getting them a bit earlier. Thereafter they can be expected to focus on their special talents to a considerable extent.
- From the lack of disbelief about Applebloom’s instant super-proficiency in The Cutie Pox, an appropriate cutie mark will at least drastically shorten the time required to learn a profession, even if it’s unlikely to provide all the related skills necessary to master it. Modern apprenticeships – and higher-education style degree-seeking – typically lasts for three to six years, even if the classical term was commonly seven years (allowing the apprentice to pay back the master with service. Oh, if only modern student loans were so readily dealt with). Given the existence of cutie marks, going with the modern terms seems more likely.
Ergo, ponies will be full-fledged professionals in their fields, ready to get jobs or open their own businesses, at ages (8-10) + (3-6) – a range from a bare minimum of 11 to about 16 and likely averaging about thirteen to fourteen. Those with truly exceptional talents may then expect to move up in their fields fairly rapidly.
So if the six primary characters took a year to get established… we have them out on their own at the equivalent of 12 to 17, neatly matching Laureen Faust’s estimate on their maturity. Yes, that’s young to be out on their own, but that doesn’t seem to bother ponies much. Note that no pony shows all that much concern over kids wandering off into a dangerous wilderness on their own or not returning to Cloudsdale after falling off! Evidently young ponies don’t need nearly as much supervision as young humans do. To confirm that, look at the Cake Twins; at one month old they can speak, eat food, walk, run, fly, and are teething. How long would it be before they could wander off from Mommy and still do just fine as long as they had the protection of a herd – or town?
On the other end of things, Pinkie Pie, who still lives with substitute parents as an apprentice baker despite her obvious talents, is stated to be a year younger than Fluttershy, and is likely the youngest amongst the major characters (and on the cusp of moving out). Rainbow Dash is blatantly good enough to impress the Wonderbolts early on – but she doesn’t actually formally apply to join them until season three. Why didn’t she do that much earlier? Perhaps she was underage for the military? After all, she was competing in the “Best YOUNG Fliers” competition – just as she went to “Junior Flight Camp” (this does not necessarily imply that there’s a “Senior Flight Camp”, just that those participating are young).
All in all, this means that ponies will likely be established professionals well before they really start dating, much less getting married. Consider Rarity. From her appearance in the Cutie Mark Chronicles Rarity seems to be a bit older – perhaps a year or so – than the other main characters. She’s established her own business/home, but is only now starting to make headway in the larger fashion industry beyond Ponyville despite her obvious expertise.
Rarity is also the only one of the main characters who’s shown any obvious serious interest in the opposite sex, and even that is of the “marry the handsome prince!” variety rather than anything realistic (that low maturity level strikes again). Still, Shining Armor is apparently not all that many years older than Twilight, and he gets married at the end of season two. Evidently pony courtships aren’t all THAT long and getting married relatively young is quite acceptable – which fits in with relatively young independence.
Putting it all together… when the series starts that gives us about nine to ten for the Cutie Mark Crusaders, fourteen or so for Pinkie Pie, about fifteen for most of the main characters, sixteen or seventeen for Rarity, nineteen or twenty for Shining Armor (even if he doesn’t show up for another two years), and – as a bonus – a usual standard of four or five years between children.
As far as lifespan and aging goes… the demographics of Ponyville are more than a bit odd by human standards. We see a few babies, a modest number of kids, lots and lots of young adults or adults, a few “mature” types (most notably the Cakes), and few elders. We don’t really see any teenagers – except for one or two in a flashback. Presuming a steady-state population… I’d guess that ponies tend towards growth spurts. They go from “infant” to “child” fairly quickly, spend a modest chunk of time as kids, and then go to young adult/adult – and thereafter change very little for quite some time – until they rather abruptly become old. While that probably doesn’t last too long compared to what humans are used to, there are always a few exceptional cases. (Honestly, I suspect that the Cakes are intentionally going for a “middle-aged” look just to advertise their Ma-and-Pa baking).
That gives us “baby” for a year or two, “child” for ten years or so, “young-looking adult” for sixty years or more, and “elder” for ten to fifteen years – presuming that ponies live about as long as humans do. Given higher constitutions, magic, plentiful exercise, and supernatural healing talents (as well as a standard bit of wish-fulfillment) they may live a little longer even without any special resistance to aging in their racial templates – perhaps as much as 150 years in a few, exceptional, cases. Of course, being ponies, they might also age a bit faster than humans – or the subraces could all age at different rates (and no, I’m not getting into that possibility. It gets WAY too messy).
Yes, Family Appreciation Day tells us that Granny Smith helped found Ponyville, while Winter Wrap Up has Twilight comment that Ponyville has been doing a no-magic winter wrap up for “hundreds of years”. Ergo Granny Smith is hundreds of years old… or perhaps Twilight was thinking of Earth Pony towns in general terms or even made a mistake due to scriptwriters not minutely comparing the dialogue across episodes. Still, if we stretch ponies semi-ageless adulthood out to a couple of centuries it would neatly explain the shortage of elders and kids. I don’t really think it’s justified – but it’s not as if old age is a common cause of player character death in most games anyway.
To continue with the demographics, there are people out there who have laboriously gone through the crowd scenes and counted ponies – and the conclusion is pretty much always the same; females far outnumber the males.
I could have told them that without counting. The show focuses on a group of female ponies since it was made to appeal to little girls. The number of female pony models in the animation library is thus far larger than the number of male pony models. Ergo, when the animators are making random background ponies to fill out a crowd scene, and want as much variety as possible, they’re going to mix their models as much as possible – which will result in a solid majority for female ponies.
Still, the “why” doesn’t really matter; since we’re simulating the show, all that matters is that the females shown greatly outnumber the males. Yet the few pony families we actually see are almost exclusively male-female pairs. Of course, it’s a children’s cartoon, and is looking for sales – not controversy. Ergo, most of those spare mares are not getting to reproduce, and probably never find a relationship.
Yet family sizes are not all that large, and the population seems to be relatively stable, if not slowly expanding. Ergo, most of that huge excess of females are having kids at some point – and the only apparently single-parent family mentioned is that of Filthy Rich, a stallion.
A lot of families are just mysteriously absent. Sweetie Belle’s parents keep leaving her with her sister Rarity, Scootaloo’s parents have yet to be confirmed to exist (even if they obviously did at some earlier time) – but they certainly have no objections to her trailing around after Rainbow Dash instead of them. Rainbow Dash herself has appeared in a flashback with what secondary sources establish as “Rainbow Blaze”, her father – but neither of her parents have ever appeared in the shows “present”.
So we have contradictory observations circling gently around a huge blank spot labeled “we are not going to cover our character’s sex lives, or anything potentially controversial or upsetting about parents, in a children’s cartoon”.
That same blank spot does leave us some wiggle room though. Given that Equestria doesn’t seem to regulate ponies lives very much, I’d guess that quite a lot of pony families are not stable. Some pairings may be (especially amongst the nobles and royalty, who tend to be strict about that sort of thing), but families are a lot less necessary than they are with humans. Ponies are unaffected by most weather, can eat grass and hay if food is short, don’t need clothing, need less education, and go independent at a rather early age. A pony kid… can be left to run around town when not in school as long as there’s a dry corner for them to sleep and keep their schoolbooks in and a few bags of grain around to supplement the occasional fancier meal. They’ll get the attention and social interaction they need all over town.
Thus, if parents drift apart, or a mare who wants a kid just has a one-night stand, or three or more ponies form a small herd, or two mares want to have some kids via some stallion without a long-term relationship, or any of a hundred other family relationships crop up, their social structure can handle it with no trouble at all. Ponies have a lot of freedom compared to humans, and little reason not to use it. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Flim-Flam brothers try to find a mare or two in every town. They may or may not succeed at that – and may or may not have some angry mares after them – but it won’t really matter to society.