Don't Call Me a "Senior"!

Columnist Bev Beckham talks about why being 50+ means anything but being old.

By Bev Beckham

It’s noon on a late winter morning and I have already made breakfast, shoveled the driveway, interviewed a woman for a story, scrubbed the bathroom, answered emails, hand-written two thank you notes, and downloaded and edited photos for a video I’m presenting at a conference next month. And I’m about to go to the gym.

I work for a newspaper and a dot-com. I sing at an open-mike club a couple of nights a week. I dance (badly), walk everywhere and ride a bike whenever I can. I mow the lawn in the summer, rake the leaves in the fall with my husband and watch my grandchildren every chance I get.

I am 66, which doesn't bother me at all. Calling me a “senior citizen”—that's what drives me nuts.

Look up "senior citizen" online and you'll find these synonyms: ancient, old fogey, geriatric, golden ager, old folk, old timer. OAP (old age pensioner) even. 

A quarter of a million words in the English language and the fastest growing demographic is relegated to this ridiculous, archaic label. Americans 65 and older make up 13 percent of the population and every day, 6,000 more of us turn 65. By 2035, 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older. We are men, women, straight, gay, employed, retired, active, sedentary, married, divorced, widowed, single, well-heeled, comfortable and just scraping by.

What we are not are blue-haired, faltering, obsolete clones of each other who are all lumped together under the words “senior” and “old,” negatives that imply infirm, incontinent and insignificant. 

Just the opposite. More than half of Americans over 65 are now online. One-third of those use social networking, according the Pew Research Center. According to a recent poll, 49% of members work full-time, part-time or are starting a new midlife career. And some 2.7 million of us are still in the child-rearing business, raising our grandchildren, according to the Census Bureau.

We travel. We date. We golf. We take classes. We exercise. We do everything we’ve always done. And more.

What this demographic needs, more than anything else is a vocabulary that describes this, people first. We need respectful language that does not demean.  

Girdles, rouge. Hi Fi. Picture show. Ice box. Postman. Stewardess. Housewife. Thus, hence, prithee. We don’t use these words anymore because they’re not accurate, because they’re outdated and because we know better. We replaced handicapped with disabled because people with disabilities are not out on the street with caps in hands begging. They are part of the community. Indians are native Americans, the first to get here. Mailmen are mail carriers. Secretaries are executive assistants.

These words are respectful and accurate.

"Senior citizen" is not.

A senior in high school has reached the final year. A senior in college will soon graduate. A senior executive has no where to go, except downhill. Senior means the end of the line. You’ve reached your peak. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry. But 65 is not the end of the line.

No one lumps people 30 to 65 together, names them “Juniors” and considers them a demographic. So why are people 65 to 100 plus lumped together? 

What do we Boomers want to be called? "Sir" or  "Ma’am" or "Mr." or "Ms." or "Mrs." What everyone is called.

And how do we want to be referenced? Accurately. Without bias: "A  66-year-old woman." "A 72-year-old man." "People between the ages of 50 and 60. Or 60 and 70."  "Boomers." "Mature Americans."

And just as important? Don’t treat us like children. Don’t dote on us or talk down to us or dismiss us because we don’t care about the Osbournes or the Kardashians. And don’t attribute everything—if we forget, if we’re tired, if we stumble and fall—to age.  Everyone forgets. Everyone gets tired. Everyone falls. 

We may be 65 or 70 or 80, but here's the real truth, and something I wish everyone in this country would keep in mind at all times, we are exactly who we have always been.

Beverly Beckham is the author of “A Gift of Time,” a collection of personal essays, “Back Then,” a memoir of childhood, is a contributor to the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series, is on the Board of Directors for the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress and writes a weekly column for The Boston Globe. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Bruce, and has three children and seven grandchildren.


What a great article! I'm 57 and more active than I've ever been! Senior is NOT something I'd answer to if called :-) Thanks for publicizing this perspective!
_______________ Baby Boomers: Let's Age Well, It Ain't the Age, It's the Attitude!

hmcprez on 2013-04-23 20:01:56

Question: I'm starting an exercise class designed around the needs of older adults (60 or 65+ with no upper age limit). Anyone could go, but the younger ones would not find it challenging enough. What should I call the class so it accurately conveys who the target audience is?

Machka1 on 2013-03-26 09:27:30

An accurate and on target description. Thanks for saying what I've been thinking and trying to explain for years. I've forwarded this article to ALL of my family.

innerpuppie on 2013-03-14 07:34:18

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