Why More Boomers Are Rejecting the “Senior” Label
I’ve never been fond of labels.
Labels tend to perpetuate negative stereotypes and prompt people to jump to the wrong conclusions.
With that said, in the context of marketing, labels can be useful to catch the attention of a specific demographic. Hence, my use of the label “Boomers” in this post title.
You’ll notice I dropped the “Baby” part. With the youngest Boomer clocking in at age 52, using Baby does nothing to advance our cause. “Boom,” on the other hand, captures a dynamic this generation has long embraced.
As we prepare for this next exciting life chapter, I’m feeling the need for another “Boom” moment, with more apt descriptors to help the world begin to understand what we’re about. Boomers have reinvented nearly every other life stage we’ve sailed through. Why stop now?
Labels Have a Funny Way of Flipping
Think back to your high school days. Seniors were at the top of the high school pyramid. They were the cool kids, graced with special privileges and crescendo moments. Senior year was a milestone teenagers aspired to achieve, as it marked the gateway to freedom and adulthood.
Fast forward several decades later and senior conjures up different emotions. Boomers hear this word and think, “Hold on, I’m not there yet.”
Harbingers of this future state begin to emerge in mid-life, when…
Store clerks stop asking for your ID when you purchase wine.
That ominous invitation from AARP arrives in your mailbox just before your 50th birthday. “Wow, how thoughtful!” said no one, ever.
Inquiries about retirement plans outpace inquiries about career goals.
Senior, the very label we coveted decades ago, takes on a whole new meaning and it’s not exactly filled with revelry. Expand it to “Senior Citizen” and it can be downright scary.
I keep wondering if this anxiety about the senior label is just a Boomer thing. My parents and grandparents seemed to handle this transition more gracefully. Then again, age 60+ looked very different back then. Grandpas weren’t sporting the same look as say, Bruce Springsteen (age 67). Most Grandmas didn’t look like Goldie Hawn (age 71), either.
Boomers Still Crave Adventure and Discovery
Sure, that’s a sweeping statement that doesn’t necessarily apply to every Boomer, but for most, they’re hardly ready to sign up for the “Shady Acres” rocking chair lifestyle. When you factor in the rapid advances in healthcare and longevity, many have a couple more decades before they downshift for their senior laps.
It’s interesting, but as I scan conference agendas for this “Reinventing Retirement” segment, most tip heavy toward education sessions addressing healthcare, meds and mobility. The trade shows associated with these events tend to have a boatload of vendors serving the needs of customers in their late 80s and 90s, not in their 60s.
Higher Ed is another industry that’s struggling to grasp what matters to the Boomer generation. The other day, I scanned a continuing education catalog for lifelong learners in their 50s and 60s. The more adventuresome topics were largely missing, but this catalog was chock full of nostalgia. There was one course title that made me sigh: How to Become a Better Juror.
Really? Is professional juror the role you think we’re aspiring to master next?
Two Generations Jammed into One Label
The Boomer segment spans wider than other generations, encompassing nearly two decades of people. Truth be told, there are really two generations within this label. Early Boomers (1946-1954) tend to have different needs than the Late Boomers (1955-1964).
In 1935, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, the average life expectancy in the United States was 61 years. Today, life expectancy is advancing well beyond age 80 and is on the rise. The other day, I interviewed a futurist who shared that the first person to live to age 150 has likely already been born.
Retiring at age 65 doesn’t sync with today’s economic or wellness realities, although many Boomers would love to gradually dial down the hours they work after age 60. For those engaged in fields they enjoy, many are designing a segue from full-time job to part-time contractor gig. For some, their employer becomes their first client. Others are charting out brave, new entrepreneurial endeavors, be it income-generating or altruistic.
Boomers were particularly adept at climbing up the ladder, but one social innovation we might champion is creating a more satisfying journey down. Could now be the time for marketers to create new profiles and personas for the 60-ish crowd?
This Boomer thinks so, because senior doesn’t come close to capturing the adventures I intend to pursue next and I’ll be crossing the age 60 checkpoint later this year.
Do you think of yourself as a “senior?” Why or why not? What new label might we claim? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Donna Kastner is founder of Retirepreneur, a collaborative community for professionals in their 50s and 60s, striving for a smooth segue from full-time job to part-time consulting practice. Through articles, videos, podcasts and workshops, Donna’s ushering in new conversations about blending work and retirement. You can visit her website here, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.