When does one become a senior?

August 4, 2010

When Impowerage was started we deliberately avoided the use of the word senior in our title. While our magazine is intended for people over 50, I have often heard of people in their 60s and 70s feel uncomfortable describing themselves as seniors. The word senior seems to bring up notions of rocking chairs and nursing homes. But the reality is that people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s are likely to be living on their own, have an active social life and be conscious of their health.

There is some confusion over the exact age one technically becomes a senior. Some definitions start at age 59, 60 or 65. But since many people feel years younger than their biological age it can be a while before they feel like a senior.

Some of the confusion over the term senior comes from the changing face of aging. The age 65 is known as the retirement age although retirement is a modern idea. Before the Social Security Act in 1935, people simply worked until they died. And the only reason age 65 was used to define “retirement age” is not because we go through some biological degenerative metamorphosis in our sixth decade, but because that was the average life expectancy when the bill was written. But people are living longer, much longer, and retirement doesn’t always happen at 65.

In the 1940s, the average life expectancy for males was 63 while women had a life expectancy of 66. Now Canadian men have a life expectancy of 77 years while women have a life expectancy of 82. The average person will enjoy 15 more years of life than previously expected. But we still only have a few stages of life in which to categorize people in: childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood, middle-age and seniors. But there is a big difference between someone who is 65 and someone who is 95. Technically they are both seniors but in most cases their lifestyles would be very different.

Another problem with trying to compartmentalize people into rigid age groups is the fact that people are not following the traditional age norms anymore. Now it is perfectly normal for one to be a grandparent or to be a new mother at 40. One can retire early at 30 or they may still be working when they are 100.

When we describe someone as a teenager we can assume and mostly be right that they are still in school, unmarried and presumably without children. But calling someone a senior doesn’t explain anything about that person other than their age. Should we then do away with arbitrary labels?

In your opinion, when does one become a senior? When did other start referring to you as a senior? Should we invent a new label for the early senior years?

Kelly Neufeld About the Author Kelly Neufeld is the Editor and Marketing Coordinator for Impowerage as well as a regular contributor. When not reading about inspiring seniors and the latest technological advances, you’ll find her writing, tweeting and connecting with people who share the Impowerage Mission. She enjoys working out and playing with her two toddlers.

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  • http://remarkablewrinklies.com/2010/remember-nostalgia-boomers-long-for-decades-past-but-which-ones/ Patti

    Yes! A new label is needed. Heck, we can’t even decide which age group should be called “boomers!” It seems when I was young I “knew” what a senior was – my grandparents. Now that I’m a grandma, I’m not so ready to call myself a senior. Funny how that happens! 😉

    I’m glad things have changed and the whole idea of being labeled is changing too. I love that people of my generation are walking into our 60’s and beyond in better shape both physically and mentally than ever before. I think the difference is we were raised with options, like you said. As we get older we don’t feel the same constraints that our parents and grandparents felt. We didn’t limit ourselves.

    Thanks for the great read. I look forward to catching more of this great stuff.

  • http://agemyths.com Madeleine Kolb

    Hi Kelly, Great question. I’m not wild about the term “senior” or “senior citizen” as they say in the U.S. If people over 60 or 65 are senior citizens, then who are the “junior citizens?” I’ve seen the term “elder” suggested, and I like that one because of its connotation of the wisdom that comes with experience.

    Actually, I don’t mind the term “old” either. If we have young people and middle-aged people, what’s wrong with “old” people. If we call people “young,” ” middle-aged,” and “seniors,” it sound as if being “old” is absolutely unspeakable. Sometimes, I just refer to myself in a tongue-in-cheek way as a Little Old Lady (with two cats). I’d love to hear what other people think!

  • http://blog.nonanitasnook.com Nona Nita

    Without wanting to, I became a “senior” when I stopped dying my hair! All of a sudden, cashiers were offering me discounts, students in the school building where I teach started carrying my bags for me, and I started to get refereed to by that awful moniker “ma’am” . Almost made me run to Wal-Mart for a bottle of “Nice ‘n Easy”!

  • ann ledesma

    I can’t stand the word senior and its implications. I say take it to the river, along with”elderly” and toss it in. While you’re at it, throw in “senior moment” too. In Poland, children are taught never to refer to a woman as “stara” (old), but instead “starsza” (older). I like that one. I totally agree with Nona Nita’s revulsion at “ma’am” but I do dye my hair – different colors at a time just like Dennis Rodman, and I rock a mohawk hairdo! My contemporaries are taken aback, but the young love it!

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