When you’re in the business of “old people”, you have to think carefully about the right term to describe the segment of the population over age 65 (though new research shows that “old age” actually starts at 74 – but that’s for another blog).
Finding an appropriate, respectful, politically correct term for people under age 15 is simple: Kids. Children. Young People.
They all work.
But over 65? That’s trickier. Older Adult? Seniors? Elderly? No matter what label you choose, someone’s going to infer a negative connotation.
So, what term do we use to describe this demographic, without risking offense?
When it comes to mass media, however, “elderly” is out, invoking images of frailty, physical decline and long-term care. That’s so if you’re referring to the entire demographic, and all the more so if you’re referring to an individual.
In a survey of reporters performed by the Journalists Exchange on Aging, participating reporters ranked the term “older adults” first, and “seniors” second. Several years ago, NPR put a survey on its website asking readers about the terms they preferred for aging. Bottom line?
“Nobody liked anything much. Older adults was the winner and it’s the term you hear used most frequently… Seniors was tolerable; likewise for elders. Everything else – golden years, silvered tsunami, geriatrics – all of that, forget about it.”
Even the AARP (formerly the “American Association of Retired People”) has banished “retired” from their public name. “RP” now stands for… Real Possibilities.
(*Old people has been reclaimed by some older activists who believe the standard wording of old people lacks the stigma of the term “advanced age”. “Old people” also halts the euphemizing of age. Euphemizing automatically positions age as a negative.)
Well, that’s confusing. What’s a well-intentioned, respectful person to do?
Ann Fishman of Generational Targeting Marketing, a market research firm, asserts that you shouldn’t use any term when referring to those people beyond a certain age. You can address stage of life, lifestyle, interests and values – but don’t touch or define their age itself.
That may work if you’re addressing a demographic, but if you’re speaking about a demographic, discussing their unique makeup, needs, and challenges, that’s not going to work. You do need a means of identification.
You just can’t make everybody happy.
Why we decided to use “seniors”
After some soul-searching and a good deal of thought, we’ve settled upon “seniors” here at B’Lev Shalem.
One characteristic that defines every staff member at B’Lev Shalem is our deep respect for the individuals we work with. Their life experience and their wisdom, whether outwardly expressed or kept to themselves, is deserving of honor.
In Fortune 500 companies, the senior management inspires respect among their “junior” colleagues based on their experience and domain expertise. It’s in esteem for those qualities that they are referred to as “senior” management.
We see our clients as the world’s “senior management.” What they’ve done, what they’ve seen, what they’ve learned… their decades of life experience have given them expertise at life in this world.
It is out of that regard that we’ve chosen the word “seniors,” and you’ll see it on our site’s pages and in our articles and posts. The older people about which we speak and write have earned their “senior” title.