One of the biggest problems of finding acceptable terminology for the 60+ age group is the impossibility of classifying such a hugely diverse group of people under one heading.
We don’t do this for any other age group. Look at the most commonly used age bands for consultations with adults:18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65 and over. Given there are now more centenarians around the world than ever before, and, apparently, this figure is expected to increase to over 19 million in the year 2100, some of us may live for 35+ years in the final age bracket. Let’s face it, some will be excitedly on-line dating and buying Viagra, others stocking up on incontinence pads. Possibly both. Quite!
The older age group are often humorously stereotyped as forgetful, grumpy, embarrassing, chasing impossible youth. We all love a good laugh but this may add to the general perception amongst other age-groups that everyone over 60 classified as “pensioners”, “boomers”, “silvers”, “seniors”, “oldies” etc., shouldn’t be taken seriously.
How best can we define this large group of people without patronisation or pejorative implications? Particularly as there doesn’t seem to be a consensus amongst older people themselves. Labelling is always flawed but as society and everyone, from Government to commercial enterprises, seem keen to hang a label on every age group it’s worth exploring some of the contenders.
The Oldie is a British magazine for older people written, according to their website, “as a light-hearted alternative to a press obsessed with youth and celebrity”. The title is obviously tongue-in-cheek and, to be fair, they have some illustrious contributors and great articles. However, I don’t subscribe to The Oldie magazine. Who wants to have a magazine with the title “Oldie” staring up at them from the doormat every month? Why subscribe to being an “Oldie”.
What about describing someone as Older? This is a much less pejorative term. We all become older.
Thankfully not as commonly used these days, it is completely the wrong terminology. Particularly when used in the context of Old Age Pensioner. Who exactly is it referring to? Given some lucky people with final salary pensions took early retirement, are currently sunning themselves on their gin palaces or travelling the world – does “pensioner” apply to them? Some may only be in their 50s. “Pensioner” conjures up an image of a poor, helpless person. Sadly, there are people who fall into this category – whatever their age – but this has demeaning connotations.
Retired doesn’t accurately describe many people’s extremely busy lives: helping with grandchildren; caring for older relatives; volunteering; learning a new skill; working out at the gym and still finding time to do a bit of paid part-time work into the bargain. So this categorization often projects a completely inaccurate image. Yes, people may not be in full-time employment but many retirees complain they’ve never been busier!
Commonly used in America and inoffensive, but due to UK school bands – infant, junior and senior school it’s not such an ideal term here. Senior Citizen, however, is often used in the UK and most people seem to find this acceptable, unless you are in your youthful 60s. I’ve come across people who refuse a Senior Rail Card simply because they don’t want that definition – despite the savings. Mine arrived on my 60th birthday.
This term gained popularity as a marketing tool and classification for older people by companies chasing the “silver pound”. With hairdressers closed during Covid many let their natural silver hair grow and flow. Prior to this though, older men and women spent large amounts hiding their silver hair and were not happy to identify with “silver”.
What are we Cheddar? Scotch whisky? Young adults are often referred to as being immature, but when is the magical age that we mature? Some people never do. Generally people mature as they gain life experience and if they have to wait until their 60s that’s a very long period of of immaturity. Employers often advertise for mature staff when recruiting, but rarely mean people over 60. In reality this term is a bit of a misnomer and non-starter.
This description does describe a significant number of people in late age because unless they have extraordinary luck or incredible genes it is unlikely they will pass, (say), 85 without some health problems and, at this stage, may need some assistance. Elderly is perhaps an accurate description of people at this later stage of life but what about using
Elder instead? Less harsh, yet respectful of long lives lived and experience gained.
Are we any closer to establishing what we older people would like to be called. Probably not. One thing most would agree on, though, is revision of the age bands to reflect this dynamic and increasingly large section of society. A few suggestions to get us started, but we’d be very interested to hear yours!
55 – 64: Late middle age
65 – 74: Older
75 – 84: Senior
If humorous acronyms are your thing how about these?
ARSY – Almost Retired Still Young
INDY – I’m not Dead Yet
YOLD – Young Old
Seenager – Senior Teenager
Contributor – Chrissy Nason