I nominate “olders.” What do you think?

I’ve just attended the 2012 Age Boom Academy at the Columbia Journalism School:   five days immersed in expert presentations on all aspects of aging, from healthcare reform to new developments in cognitive science.  Excellent stuff, and more about it soon.  The conference was sponsored by Atlantic Philanthropies, where Pulitzer-Prizewinning writer and New York Times veteran Jack Rosenthal is now a Senior Fellow. On the first day he asked us a question:  what should we call the population we journalists are writing about?

Rosenthal has written about this before, as have I, and none of the contenders (wellderly, senior citizens, elders) have hit the spot.  I propose “olders.”  It’s short. It’s not cute. It’s value-neutral (“elder” and “senior” imply that younger = lesser).  And it emphasizes the intuitively obvious but often overlooked point that age is a continuum.  Language that subverts the young/no-longer young binary that prevails in American society also challenges the ageist assumptions that accompany that theoretical divide. Olders, youngers, fellow Age Boom Fellows, what do you think?

4 thoughts on “I nominate “olders.” What do you think?

  1. in the Spokane Spokesman-Review.  Lots of contenders, none of which, as Nappi observes, really make the grade. She quotes Jack Rosenthal and I think he’s right: “My best guess, and it’s not very poetic, is that we’ll talk about the ‘young-old’ – those 65 to 80. The ‘old-old’ will be 80 to 90. The ‘oldest-old’ will be 90 to 99. The centenarians, of course, would be over 100.”

    I’ve taken to using “olders” when speaking more generally about the older members of an aging population.
  2. Why not use the term elders as First Nations people do? One could still divide this into groups as mentionned above: ‘young elders’; ‘older elders’; ‘oldest elders’ and, how about
    ‘gods’ for the centenarians. Lol. (I don’t mean to be disrespectful to any religion.)

    1. “Elders” is a lovely word also used by many African Americans, as well as many progressive people in the field. It’s not part of my culture so I feel awkward using it. Dividing people into categories (e.g. young-, older-, oldest) is always problematic because it implies that people in a given age group act and look the same, when nothing could be farther from the case, especially among the “oldest old.

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