Hello again brudenell-ga;
Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to answer your interesting question.
Let?s start with the dictionary and see what we can derive from the academics:
Merriam-Webster defines a ?senior citizen? as ?an elderly person;
especially: one who has retired?
It goes on to define ?elder? as ?one who is older?an aged person? and
also says that the definition of the term elder as ?of or relating to
a more advanced time of life? is considered obsolete.
However, this same source defines ?elderly? as ?rather old; especially
being past middle age. Old fashioned; of, relating to, or
characteristic of later life or elderly persons?
It seems then that your position on the matter is exactly correct?in
theory, at least. Having been in law enforcement my entire adult life
and having both my wife and my mother retire from a branch of AREA
AGENCY ON AGING, I can tell you from experience of dealing with olders
persons almost daily that any ?seniors?, while certainly our elders,
do not widely accept the term elder as a social position because of
the stigma attached to it. Like it or not the implication is not one
of wisdom and experience but rather, with some, one that suggests a
person who is spent and of little value. It has also been my
experience that the truly elderly however, for the most part, seen to
have come to terms with the reality that they are elders and easily
adapt to the title ? not because they prefer it, but because it is
simply a fact.
How we perceive our aged citizens is not so much a matter of what they
really are, but the customary way of referring to them. In fact, the
practice varies from region to region, based on traditions, semantics
and of course the life expectancy relative to the region in which the
older person lives. In Canada (and the Gage Canadian Dictionary) for
example, a senior is defined as one who is older or elderly; an older
person. A senior citizen, on the other hand, is defined as being: any
member of the community who is of advanced years. Where one makes the
delineation I suppose is a matter of preference but as a rule the
concept of being 'senior' and beyond begins at what is considered
retirement age. The retirement concept, in itself, was the brain child
of Otto von Bismark in 1889 Germany, when, out of the goodness of his
heart, he arbitrarily chose the age of 65 as the age in which one
should be recognized for years of hard labor and deemed this the point
at which he should enjoy some leisure. The fact was, rarely did anyone
live to that age in 1889 Europe since the normal life expectancy at
that time was 45, but it was a nice gesture I suppose. This custom has
been retained because every census since that time has indicated that
people are living longer ? so long now in fact that in some circles
discussions have been held on whether to raise the minimum age of
retirement. Otto would probably roll over in his grave if he only
By American standards, one who is 55 to roughly 70 is readily
recognized and referred to as a senior citizen. Elderly persons (or
?elders? as you prefer to call them) range in age from roughly 70 to
75 and beyond. Of this group, persons of a particularly advanced aged
are, by all standards, simply considered ?old?. There do seem to be
exceptions however in that those in any group who are older ?and?
especially frail or infirm, may be classified by some as being in a
group beyond (or in some cases, well beyond) what they actually are.
Again, it is perception that makes the difference ? both yours and
theirs. If the issue happens to be one of sensitivity to the person, I
assure you (again, from experience) that they will tell you in no
uncertain terms how they prefer to be addressed. If there were
specific titles, a person who is 69 might not show any resistance to
being called an elder, for example, but an 80 year old, given the same
situation, might. If he wanted to be called a senior citizen he would
technically be correct ? and even if he weren?t, what benefit would
there be in correcting him? I?d venture to say none.
The question arises then: ?For what purposes should we make this distinction??
If the goal does not meet the muster of necessity then we have
expended debate for no practical or beneficial reason. Let?s assume
for just a moment however that such a distinction must be made and all
else is of no importance. How then do we decide who is who and where
we shall draw the line?
Since most Americans qualify for retirement between the ages of 55 and
65, this appears to be the point at which one would be socially
defined as a ?seniors? or ?senior citizens?. Medically speaking, the
MERCK MANUAL indicates that the current life expectancy in the United
States is 72 for males and 79 for females. Since this appears to be
the point at which one exceeds his or her medical expectations in
terms of longevity, it stands to reason then that this is the point at
which one would be considered ?elder? or in practical terms, ?older
than the majority?. Once again though, I reiterate that a man of 69
who is blind and on a cane could very well fall into a category beyond
his years if he physically fit the description. If the issue were to
be addressed by a ?company? in insure compliance, I would envision a
voluminous policy being born here.
Should we voluntarily make such a distinction? Probably - if for no
other reason out of sheer respect. Older persons commonly suffer from
loneliness, feelings of worthlessness and frustration in today?s
disposable world. To refer to someone as an elder would most likely be
a welcomed title assuming that overt efforts were made to remove years
of negative stigma attached to the term. We must remember that today,
in a world where people routinely modify their lifestyles, their
attitudes and even in some case their physical bodies through surgery
and other means to avoid ?becoming old?, age is not perceived as an
achievement so much as it is a distasteful obstacle. For those who
are at present, elderly, if customs were changed and attention was
given to the politically correct method of regarding our elders, such
a term might, in some small way, prove to be a respectful tile used to
honor our older citizens as opposed to a way of collecting them under
a loosely defined, and sometimes offensive umbrella. For the
baby-boomers among us who are currently ageing and soon to fall into
one or more of these categories, I predict that we will readily accept
the title when our time comes, because, when it?s all said and done,
there will be more of ?us? than there are of ?them? ? and if we
baby-boomers are consistent with their selfish past, we always get
what we want, don?t we?.
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Tutuzdad ? Google Answers Researcher
WHAT IS A SENIOR CITIZEN?
THE MERCK MANUAL
?THIS BUSINESS OF TIPTOEING AROUND THE WORD `SENIOR' IS GETTING OLD?
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SEARCH TERMS USED:
Elderly, Elders, Seniors, Senior citizens, Geriatric citizens, Aged,