‘Seniors’ have long experienced a problem with the terminology surrounding older people. All of the existing words are either insufficiently descriptive, lacking in inclusivity or imbued with pejorative connotations. Every conversation about seniors soon turns to who we are talking about and what responses are appropriate to various segments of the senior population.
Seniors are defined in many ways according to the context – those over about 50 or so in the workplace, those above 55 for superannuation purposes, 60 for eligibility for a Seniors Card, around 65-70 for pension purposes and so on. References to Third Aged people generally ignore the existence of their Fourth Aged compatriots. Terms such as older people, the aged, mature aged, the elderly, the aged and infirm, even grandparents, all carry a strong connotation of conservative or decrepit old folks in their Fourth Age, dependent on the community, waiting for a bed ion a nursing home, or worse. Even the term ‘ageing’ is misleading because we all start ageing at birth. The great majority of ‘older people’ are vigorous, vital and active, cogent contributors to all facets of modern society, many still working in key positions or filling demanding voluntary roles, growing our economy and supporting our institutions (and our younger people): certainly not deserving of the derogatory implications in most of our ‘ageing’ nomenclature. There are problems with every descriptive term we now use: older people? A 5-year-old is older than a 4-year old. Mature people are rarely ‘ripe’ and many would not like to be referred to as staid. Baby Boomers? What name for those born on 31 December 1945 or 1 January 1965? The Third Age and Fourth Age are not defined and are transitionary at best.
Many attempts have been made to soften the opprobrium associated with ageing. For example, Over 50 and Active Retirement have been used to characterise younger seniors as, was the term Third Age a few years ago – except so few people differentiate it from the Fourth Age. This nomenclature also begs the question as to what ‘Retirement’ is in the 21st Century. Baby Boomers defines quite a narrow segment of the population and within the next year or two, the older Gen-Xers (and not too much later, Gen-Yers) will also be Over Fifties and part of the ‘ageing community’ – as if they aren’t already ageing. Active Ageing seems to be gaining currency over Positive Ageing, but both ignore the question of ‘what are the intended limits of ageing?
I recently came across a description that seems to reflect a more generic, inclusive and non-pejorative connotation of older people – the Second Half of Life – and I would like to see this adopted across the entire community as the preferred term for people who are no longer as young as they were, probably around 50-plus.
We still need to differentiate groups of people within the broad ambit of seniors – because the community response needs to reflect the services they need – or don’t need. At present, public policy is focussed almost entirely on supporting Fourth-agers: after all, it is easy to count and cost the number of Meals on Wheels delivered to people in need. It is much more difficult to quantify the public resources saved as a result of an investment that keeps older people fit and active, contributing to the community, avoiding depression or suicide, deferring high-cost medical and other support, and so on.
As important as it is to differentiate groups within the seniors community, it is important to adopt a new term that describes the whole ageing population more appropriately: one that does not alienate younger seniors. I therefore propose adoption of the term the Second Half of Life.
I accept that the phrase may not roll off many tongues comfortably, but it could, and probably would, quickly be acronymised to 2HL and its individuals as 2HLers. If this caught on, I could imagine 2-Aitch-Ellers becoming corrupted to 2-Ay-Chellers and possibly later to simply ‘chellers’ – but whatever it is, we need a new term and I like that one.
Some of us have already started using 2HL and 2HLers in a variety of contexts and we hope that it will fall fairly quickly into common use as a means of describing older people in more generic terms – equally applicable to Baby Boomers, Third Agers, Fourth Agers, Mature Agers, Seniors, Older Persons/People and so on. In the very near future, it will also refer to Gen-Xers and by the early 2030s, Gen-Yers, ad infinitum.
Let’s start a movement – just a very modest one – to invent a new word – Chellers.
Views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author.