Politically correct ways of referring to older people?
July 6, 2009 2:42 AM   Subscribe

Politically correct ways of referring to older people? Those over 50-60? Any suggestions should work in all western countries (i.e. not just the US and/or UK). Thanks!
posted by humblepigeon to Human Relations (32 answers total)
senior citizens..?
posted by Danniman at 2:48 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this is any help, but today I did my mothers tax return, she's 62, and she is classified by the Australian Taxation Office as a mature-aged worker. I think being over 60 got her that classification.

(FWIW, she goes off like a frog in a sock when someone refers to her as a senior citizen. She's a very fit and healthy 62 year old, and she takes being offered a senior citizen discount as an insult!)

I have no clue if 'mature-aged' is appropriate overseas, though. Or useful for your purposes. But it popped into my head so I thought I'd throw it in here, she says apologetically.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:53 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

What is wrong with either "people between 50 and 60 years old"? It's unambiguous and has no negative connotations (unless you think that singling people out by age is rude, in which case there is no polite alternative for you).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:55 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Tricky. They are old, so they are "old people". But by you saying older people
you suggest that calling them "old people" is negative somehow.
posted by devnull at 2:57 AM on July 6, 2009

Can you clarify? When you say "politically correct", are you looking for ludicrous formulations? Or seeking to avoid offence? Or just after a neutral expression for an age range? Eg, my 70 year old father winces at "elderly", which implies a lack of vigour and health he does not feel, but will happily cop to "old", while finding "senior citizen" amusingly patronising. The best most accurate reference to his age is "70 year old."
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:59 AM on July 6, 2009

Can you clarify?

Yes, I should have mentioned that I'm looking for short and and even witty descriptive phrases. For example, "people over 50 and 60 years old" is correct but too wordy.

This is for an advertising slogan.
posted by humblepigeon at 3:16 AM on July 6, 2009

I think by bundling 50s and 60s together you're off the track. This is 2009, not 1809. 50s are not 'old', in any sense (at least not in typical first world countries).

20s ~ 30s = 'young adults'
40s ~ 50s = 'middle aged'
60s ~ 70s = 'seniors'
80s ~ = 'elderly'
posted by woodblock100 at 3:18 AM on July 6, 2009

The problem was summed up by Bernard Baruch who said "To me old age is always 15 years older than I am".

I would go with woodblock100's terms - but not the term "Senior" is not a term with such a clear meaning for a UK audience (I guess we might say "Pensioners").
posted by rongorongo at 4:22 AM on July 6, 2009

I'm with woodblock100. Unless your target audience is decidedly young, or the campaign is intentionally irreverent, you should avoid referring to anyone in their fifties as old. There’s no politically correct solution, imo, because the offensiveness lies in the concept.
posted by applemeat at 4:37 AM on July 6, 2009

Bleeding over from the First Nations into Canadian society is the term "elders". A different connotation to elderly and as Elders are revered for their wisdom and life experience in the First Nations community it is generally received as a compliment.
posted by saucysault at 4:47 AM on July 6, 2009

Lately I've been seeing the phrase "55 or better" in advertisements for active adult communities.
posted by candyland at 4:59 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I work for an extremely language-sensitive and PC nonprofit in the US, and we say "elders." We would stay away from "elderly/old/older people" because we emphasize "people first" language, in which the word "person" or "people" always comes before the modifier to emphasize that they are people first and categories second (e.g., "people of color" rather than "black people"). Also, the word "elder" has more respectful connotations, like saucysault said.
posted by emilyd22222 at 5:09 AM on July 6, 2009

Is "Over-Fifties" too inelegant for your purposes?
posted by bunglin jones at 5:37 AM on July 6, 2009

This is for an advertising slogan.

Then pay me!

Otherwise go with "Finely Aged"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:40 AM on July 6, 2009

"Over fifty" and "Over sixty" wouldn't irritate this 63-year old.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:46 AM on July 6, 2009

I think a lot depends on the terms being used for the other age groups and the target audience for the campaign.

As one who is six months shy of claiming 60, I find myself observing with increasing annoyance the stereotyping that goes on based on age.

Just this weekend, after media reports surfaced about 73 year old Marion Barry, ex Mayor of Washington DC being arrested (again); I was struck by the comments from folk whose opinions ordinarily are enlightened, that Barry should "act his age."

As most will find out, the years that we live on this earth are just markers for the experiences that we get to have.

Honestly, perhaps the wisest course is to rethink the campaign.
posted by cmh0150 at 5:54 AM on July 6, 2009

As someone who is both over 50 and in advertising, I would recommend using the term "person". If this is a client insisting you illogically label us something else, then you don't need the logical answers you'll get here.
posted by lpsguy at 5:58 AM on July 6, 2009

"the mature demographic"
posted by heather-b at 6:17 AM on July 6, 2009

For what it's worth, I gave my answer after seeing a TV commercial advertising "a lifestyle resort for over-50s" and, while I'm a fair way from being over 50 myself, the phrase didn't strike me as being too unwieldy nor could I see it being offensive or upsetting. YM, of course, MV.
posted by bunglin jones at 6:25 AM on July 6, 2009

yep, stick with the facts and avoid descriptive/cute/witty words..

If you mean 50 to 70 years old, just say "50 to 70 years old"...
posted by HuronBob at 6:38 AM on July 6, 2009

I prefer "older adults."
posted by jennyjenny at 7:07 AM on July 6, 2009

My late colleague Peter Laslett attempted to popularise the term 'third age'. I remember Peter once rebuking me for using the term 'elderly', which he believed was as inaccurate and insulting as 'senile' or 'geriatric'. He argued that as people were now living longer, there were many active retired people who were enjoying the prime of their life in their fifties and sixties, and who could not be considered 'old' in any meaningful sense. Hence 'first age' (the age of dependence, immaturity and education), 'second age' (the age of independence, maturity and responsibility), 'third age' (the age of personal fulfilment) and 'fourth age' (the age of final dependence, decrepitude and death). The term hasn't found widespread acceptance, but is best known through the University of the Third Age which Laslett helped to set up.
posted by verstegan at 8:17 AM on July 6, 2009

Citizens of the third age.
posted by hciadt at 8:22 AM on July 6, 2009

I think that phrases such as "active adults 55 and up" are effective. It's basically a marketing trick of finding the positive aspects that define your audience.
posted by dhartung at 8:43 AM on July 6, 2009

Tread very carefully here. People now in their 60s brought you punk rock.
posted by sageleaf at 9:19 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Seasoned adults? Well seasoned adults? Can you tell it's lunch time...
posted by Gonestarfishing at 9:37 AM on July 6, 2009

posted by plep at 10:32 AM on July 6, 2009

I'm 52, presumably a candidate for your product/service/whatever. If you pitched something that included "elder," "senior," "seasoned." "older," "aged," or any permutations thereof, I would not pay the slightest bit of attention to you. Forget offensive (though most are -- I assure you, none of my peers would take "elders" as a compliment), they simply don't apply. We don't think of ourselves that way.

Pay very close attention to what applemeat, cmh0150, lpsguy and HuronBob said.
posted by sageleaf at 12:04 PM on July 6, 2009

"Middle-aged." It's kind of confusing around here because you can get a "seniors" card at age fifty but the retirement age has just been put up to 67, so you don't qualify for the aged pension until you're almost 70.

In my head, you don't qualify as "elderly" until you've reached retirement age. It's kind of weird to classify people as "old" when they're not even halfway through their predicted adult life-span - especially when the expectation is that they'll be out there earning a living for another 17 years. "Old" and "elderly" shouldn't kick in until an age at which having lower expectations of people due to their age. Call me "elderly" when the highest expectation of me you have is me "pottering around the house".

I think being over 60 got her that classification.

I'm in my late forties and the Commonwealth government classifies me as a "mature-aged" worker. Mind you, for the purposes of university entry you're a "mature-aged" student at twenty. Go figure.
posted by Lolie at 12:17 PM on July 6, 2009

posted by easilyamused at 4:51 PM on July 6, 2009

I prefer silverback. A gorilla like me often has to beat up the younger simians, steal their food and women, and kick their adolescent asses, so silverback sorta works.

Use it or I'll come find you, steal your food and women and kick your ass.
posted by FauxScot at 6:31 PM on July 6, 2009

Are you in the U.S.? 50 to 60 are the Baby Boomer generation.
posted by gt2 at 7:18 PM on July 6, 2009

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