As we age and rise up in the generational demographics, words that people use to describe us change. We go from infants to toddlers, tweens to teens, young adults to middle-agers in what feels like a blink of an eye. And then we reach the upper years.
It can be a gut punch the first time someone asks you if you want the senior’s discount. Not that you don’t want the discount, but surely that word “senior” doesn’t apply to you. Inside, you still feel viable, contemporary, savvy, and with it. Sure, you have a few aches and pains, the hair may be sprinkled with silver and you might be collecting a Social Security check, but you’re still hip and cool, right?
News flash: If you’re still using words like hip and cool, you probably aren’t.
This isn’t about feeling bad about your age or getting older. There are many wonderful aspects to reaching your retirement years. The grind of working for a paycheck and raising a family is most likely over, and now you get to refocus on you and what you want to do with your time. Play your cards right, and these could be the best years of your life.
No, this is about what word or phrase you want to use to describe yourself and your cohorts in a similar age and stage. Words matter. They are infused with meaning, connotations and associations beyond the dictionary definition. Labels can influence how others perceive you, how you feel about yourself and your very sense of identity.
Those on the younger side of the golden divide who are in the early transition phase have an opportunity to reframe the conversation and influence the lexicon going forward. So let’s go over some options.
First, let’s review “boomer,” which has been a bit of a controversial term of late. Demographers peg Baby Boomers as those born between 1944 and 1964. Currently they are between 56 and 76 years old, and as there are over 76 million of them in the US alone, they are a force to be reckoned with. They have shaped the arts, politics, fashion, music, technology, workplaces and lifestyles over the past few decades. But now, the younger generations have made the term “boomer” a pejorative. When they hiss “okay boomer,” they are essentially dismissing you as out-of-touch and irrelevant. Now, disconnect between the generations is a standard protocol – surely boomers remember reducing their parents’ generation as out-of-touch old folks back in the day. But this attitude stings a bit when it comes around to bite you, doesn’t it?
Then there’s “senior,” which is probably the most neutral sounding moniker out there to describe an older adult. But many people bristle at that word, especially if they’re just hitting their sixties, and are still active, vital and fashionable. Senior citizen, in particular, tends to connote the stereotypical frail grandparent in a rocking chair type, which is a far cry from how many older people feel about themselves these days.
“Retiree” has some merit, but it seems to wrap one’s identity with a job or career – or lack thereof. Surely life is about more than just being employed or not-employed. “Pensioner” is another term that has legs, but, again, it ties us to our relationship to income and money. Is that really the most relevant aspect of your personhood?
Some have suggested “perennial” as an appealing option. It has a nice counter ring to “millennial,” and suggests renewal, resilience and longevity. It might be a bit too contrived for some, but who knows, maybe it will catch on.
How about “elder” as a generational handle? It connotes a sense of earned respect, grace and dignity. However, it seems to be best suited for those on the latter part of the old age scale. “Elderly” is fine for octogenarians, nonagenarians and centenarians, but you probably don’t want to refer to a freshly turned 65 year old as elderly, or geriatric for that matter.
We can all agree that terms like old fogey, old timer, biddy, codger, crone, curmudgeon, geezer, geriatric, fossil and dinosaur are out. They might be okay on a joke card or in a comedy bit, but unless the context is right for taking a lighthearted age jab, these are just too insulting.
“Mature” or “advanced” maybe? “Vintage” or “venerable”? “Golden-ager or “silver surfer”? I’m sure we can come up with something “platinum” if we put our collective minds together.
It’s no doubt an impossible task to come to a consensus on this, but start thinking about what you want this seasoned generation to be known as and you can help steer the over-the-hill concept into something more uplifting and positive. Attitudes and perceptions about aging and the aged are changing, and classifying each other by chronology is becoming anachronistic. Many over 65ers are maintaining health, wellness and vitality, not to mention achieving great accomplishments, well into their twilight years, so notions of a decline through the years are not necessarily accurate.
Maybe there is no one-size-fits-all word, but hold your head up proud for each and every day you’ve survived. Being alive is a privilege with an unforeseen time limit. Enjoy it and celebrate it while you can, whatever they may call you.