What Makes Someone a Senior Citizen?

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.

3 Responses

  1. I love your analysis, but i would take it one step further. While defining the words "senior" and "senior citizen" may be important to determine when a person is entitled to government benefits, and perhaps to a marketing plan based on an erroneous assessment of both the independence of people over 65, as well as their "human factors" and buying likes, dislikes, and habits, I believe that it is the hidden, unfortunately mistakenly inferred synonym "old" that must be redefined before one can truly attempt a definition of how to define the words and concept embodied in "senior citizen." In fact, in some ways, the word "elderly" more honestly defines what most mean when they use the more "politically correct" monikers "senior" or "senior citizen" or "elder." After much time and effort trying to wrap my arms around the task of answering the question "What is a "senior?" and "Who is "old?", I decided try to stay away from the temptation to generalize by trying to fit 40,000,000 people into the same mold, but rather choose to look at "old" and "aging" as the aging of key functional elements necessary to compete on an individual basis with respect to individual tasks. The word "old" usually means less efficient or inferior, and with respect to people refers to a physical and mental decline. However, mental and physical decline may or may not be the same. And by the same token, the decline of some human factors in an individual doesn't mean that there is a decline in all. In my opinion, as one grows older, one must understand that these differences exist and do an honest assessment of physical and mental strengths and then choose to "compete" at those things which depend on their strengths to succeed instead of competing at those things which require functional elements they don't possess at the level necessary to successfully compete. What constitutes "successful" competition is a subjective judgement which each individual must make for themselves. In sum, i believe it is not possible to accurately apply the word "senior" or "senior citizen" to other than a class of people, and that the concept of "old" or "old age," in order to be useful, other than for statistical analysis of a class of people over a certain age, must be not only be applied to each individual, but further applied to the individual set of human factors that individuals have applied to the specific task or activity that person is performing. This is the approach to aging we take at <a href="http://www.eldergadget.com" rel="nofollow">ElderGadget</a>, and one I believe in personally. And that redefining "old" and "age" in this way, and "senior" and "senior citizen" in reference to it, could create a "brave new world" for the over 60 set, especially if they understand and embrace the "new usable" technology that is out there, and the doors it can open for them. On another more personal note, i have been watching the ElderCareABCBlog since its inception. I visit regularly and find it chock full of useful information for seniors and their caregivers. i would like to say hello to Steve and Mary and all the others involved and experts who have contributed articles and insights from a caregivers perspective. I wish such a blog existed 10 years ago, and we are all lucky to have it as a resource and a friendly, empathetic resource that seems to read the minds of its readers, answering many important questions we all have in what they publish. Thanks for all you do, and keep us the good work! Elie Gindi, Founder and CEO of <a href="http://www.eldergadget.com" rel="nofollow">ElderGadget.Com</a>
  2. Great article! I really enjoyed reading it along with Elie's comment. . As a boomer a bit past 55, I love being a senior for coupons and a plain old baby boomer otherwise. And I'm hoping to emulate your great example, staying active and busy til I head home to heaven.
  3. I heartily agree with you Kaye. Elie's comments are spot on. My Dad at 91 and my Mom who will turn 85 next week, continue to age as I do, but 'old' is not an adequate description. As always, Elie offers wonderful insight! Thanks Elie! And thanks Kaye for stopping by!