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Are you sure you are a senior citizen?

I’m a bit confused: I am not quite certain any longer what the definition of a senior citizen is.

There was a time – long ago – when a person who reached the then venerable age of 65 years was considered a “senior.” It all started back around 1880, when Prince Otto von Bismarck, first chancellor of the German Empire, introduced the concept of “social security” into German society. The basic tenet was to guarantee certain retirement benefits to German workers when they reached the age of 65.

This age was chosen somewhat arbitrarily, since the life expectancy of German citizens hovered around that age, and so only a small percentage of the work force would live to be eligible for benefits. Bismarck was quite a clever fellow, it seems.



It took many years until this concept took hold in the United States. Social security made its debut here under President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, probably as a result of the Great Depression. Thus, the term “senior citizen” was used to describe folks when they became 65 years of age.

I don’t know how or when it came about that the term senior citizen was used more indiscriminately – perhaps by people who applied that moniker to anyone older than they were or who sported gray hair, if any.




Talk to the people at AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) and they let you join – and pay your dues – at the age of 50 (it used to be higher). Drop the senior rate amount of money into the fare box on a bus, and the driver will give you a casual glance to see if he/she agrees with your evaluation of yourself.

And do you ever have to prove your senior status when you purchase a ticket to the opera or a musical where the price difference can be substantial? Certainly not when you go to the movies. You tell the cashier you are a “senior” and that’s it. And to the teenage ticket-taker anyone who looks older than 30 years is without a doubt a senior! No question about that.

I can only think of a few exceptions when you really have to prove your senior status – assuming that you look over 30 or so. One of them is when you purchase a discounted “senior” airline ticket, although I’m not really sure if even that means you need to be 65 years old.

Now that the average life expectancy is around 73 years for men and 77 years for women, maybe we should revise the term somewhat. How about these definitions?

Middle age – 40 to 65 years

Young senior – 65 to 80

Elder senior – 80 and up

That, of course, brings up one other point. Just what, and whom, do you consider old?

My own definition is simply anyone who is at least one or more years older than I am. That seems fair enough!

Walt Fraser lives in Grass Valley.,


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