Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The Senior Side: What do you call a senior?

By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published January 12, 2017

Not all seniors are pleased with being called a “senior.”

Marilyn Gardner, columnist for The Christian Science Monitor, said, “As the first wave of the huge boomer generation marches toward retirement, a linguistic question looms large: What should we call those in the middle and later years? Baby boomers? Older people? Senior citizens? Elders?” She raises a good point.

In a survey conducted by of over 1,000 seniors, the results indicated that half of them are not comfortable with the term “senior,” but 71 percent of them are okay with “baby boomers” while others prefer only “boomers.”

In another study by the Journalists Exchange on Aging, nearly 900 journalists who cover issues on aging determined their top choice for a neutral and flexible term for all segments was “older” as in older adults, older people, older individuals or older Americans. The second most widely accepted term for older adults was “seniors,” though many felt it more accurately described those seniors over age 65.

Here’s the problem. The senior population consists of older adults from age 50 to over 100. A great deal of difference exists between a newly minted 50-year-old with a brand-new AARP card and a veteran adult in his or her 80s or 90s. It appears that one name may not fit all categories of seniors.

The survey found that “elderly” is the term that seniors dislike the most, while “elders” conveys a sense of respect, as in being an “elder” of a tribe, church or elder statesman. So where does that leave us?

These studies suggest the reality that there are definitely categories or segments of seniors. I have proposed three categories of seniors: the younger senior, the senior and the elder. The young seniors are the youngest of the boomers, age 50 to 59. The maturing seniors are in the 60 to 75 group, while the elders are 76 and up.

It may be impractical and unnecessary to come up with one comprehensive name that covers all categories of seniors.

Tell me what you think

I’d like to find out what you think about the various segments of the senior population.

Here are some of the names currently being used to identify those who are older than 50: seniors, older adults, olders, oldults, older seniors, young seniors, elders, active seniors, matures, baby boomers, boomers, active adults, wisers, advisors, coaches, masters, senior citizens, seasoned citizens, third agers, JALOs (Just a Little Older), EWs (Experienced and Wise), YAHs (Young at Heart), NQYs (Not Quite Young) and sagers.

My request for you: review the list and decide if there is one name that you think can describe all seniors. If there isn’t one name, what names would you suggest for the younger, middle and upper segments of seniors? Also, please send me your thoughts about the whole age issue. Drop me an email at the address below, and I will publish the results in a future column.

Alpharetta group offers lifelong learning

The issue of names for seniors was brought home rather strongly at a meeting I had recently with the SEL Group. SEL stands for Seniors Enriched Living, an organization devoted to lifelong learning for seniors. SEL, founded 25 years ago at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Alpharetta, outgrew its facilities and broadened its base by inviting other denominations to participate. The group now meets at various churches on the north side to provide education and social contacts for more than 700 participants. Some 400 came to the program I attended, so I was surrounded by a sea of seniors of all age groups. SEL operates just like a university and offers an extensive list of courses for personal growth but with no academic credit.

I was chatting with the director, Dick Higgins, and a longtime participant, Carol Hopkins. Both are in their 80s and yet still young in mind, body and spirit. They think of themselves as mature seniors and feel strongly that the senior population has definite categories. SEL provides them with the opportunity to intermingle with all categories. For more information about SEL, visit their website,, or contact Dick Higgins at

Dick and Carol truly reflect the views of Frank Kaiser, author of the Suddenly Senior newsletter. Kaiser said, “To be truly deserving of the privilege of growing old, worthy to be called a senior, the younger seniors must appreciate that they are entering an age where they will learn the true meaning of courage, beauty and wonder. And the limitless power of love and forgiveness, faith and gratitude. Understand that, and it won’t matter a bit what people call you.” Thanks, Frank, sage advice.

Let me hear from you.

Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send Bill your thoughts on this and other topics, send an email to