What Makes Someone a Senior Citizen?

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by: Lynn Dorman, Ph.D.

Good question!

Developmental Psychologists have long used either ages or stages to define segments of the population. Many developmental textbooks are divided into chapters based on one or the other of these definitions.

Age definitions are ones that use numbers - such as: being 65 or older means you are a senior citizen; or all over 55 get a senior citizen discount.

Stage definitions are usually feeling and behavior related - along the lines of: "you are only as old as you feel or act."

Over the last few decades, as we learn more and more about the later stages/ages of the lifespan, the thinking about aging is changing - and so are the textbooks. But the definitions are still stuck in the past.

The field of Developmental Psychology is itself aging - as are the original developmental psychologists - and more information is becoming known and understood about the lifespan.

Add to this that we are living longer. In 1940, the average life expectancy at birth in the USA was 62.9 years; in 1960 it was 69.7; by 1980 it was 74.1 and in 2000 it was 77.2. [The statistics differ by sex and ethnicity but these are the averages for all persons.]

Average only is a middle figure. Half die before and half after the ages cited. And if one lives past infancy, life expectancy increases and it increases every year one is still alive. So those who were born in 1940, and are obviously now well past 62.9, have a far different life expectancy than when they were born. That expectancy is now somewhere into their mid 80s.

So as to defining what makes you a senior citizen? It is often left up to the language or stereotypes we use and some legal definitions.

Most jurisdictions rely on when you can start collecting social security benefits to define what is their senior population. Eligibility for full Social Security benefits will increase to age 67 for those born in 1960; yet as we can still sign up for Medicare at age 65 - 65 seems still to be the "age" definition of senior citizen.

Will that change? It might...but not for those who are already at or near 65. We ARE labeled senior citizens.

And what about behavioral definitions - the stages aspect?

That is up to us. We can continue to do what we have been doing - living life to the fullest and not becoming the stereotypes many have about senior citizens.

We are who we are - and are the ages we have accumulated!

If we let someone else's characterizations of "senior-ness" define us or our behavior - then we are falling prey to their stereotypes. Create your own definition of senior.

I am of the thought that we are only as old as we feel and act!
So feel and act young!

You may still be called a "senior" but you'll wind up confounding a lot of people.

I invite you to read more of my take on aging at http://growolderbetter.com - and where you can sign up for even more tidbits.

From Lynn Dorman, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist who was around way back then and is now a 70-year-old-senior-citizen who is still figuring out what she will do when she grows up.

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