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How is the language of aging changing? (Getty Images)
How is the language of aging changing? (Getty Images)

As we move into 2024, the subject of aging seems to be a topic of increasing interest, transforming how we think about the process.

Times are changing and with that our age-related language and use of words are changing as well, reflecting a dynamic environment. Some of these terms are relatively new, others are just being use more frequently.

I’m going to present the top 10 from my perspective and how they are being used today: Five this week and five next week.

Unretirement: This refers to retirees who reenter the workforce after they have retired. According to , about 20 percent of retirees are working either part-time or full-time. Several factors are contributing to this trend that include longer life expectancies, cost of living and other financial considerations and the desire to have structure, meaning and social engagement. The word appears in book titles and columns. Chris Farrell has written the book “Unretirement: How Baby Boomers are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life” (Bloomsbury Press, 2014). Steve Lopez, the Los Angeles Times columnist, writes a “View from Unretirement” column for MarketWatch and other publications. Then there is Richard Eisenberg former managing editor of Next Avenue (a PBS site for people ages 50 and older) who embarked on unretirement two years ago and writes about it. 

Gerontocracy: The term originated around the seventh century BC as a form of government in Sparta, Greece. It means a state, society or group governed by older people or rule by elders. It often has led to negative stereotypes and attitudes about older politicians. Here is one perspective from . “As the population ages, it is paramount that society focuses on potentially more important considerations in the evaluation of the actual caliber of a politician.”

CoGenerate: This term is the title of founded by Marc Freedman and co-led with Eunice Lin Nichols. It envisions a “world where older and younger people join forces to solve problems, bridge divides and co-create the future.” It acknowledges that we live in the most age-diverse society in human history and of one of the most age-segregated. Examples of this age segregation include housing, education and the workplace. The organization accelerates cogenerational solutions to pressing social problems and holds events that showcase the ideas and the people that bring the generations together for mutual benefit and social impact. Note that Freedman and Lin Nichols are leading from different generations, setting an effective example. 

The longevity economy: This refers to the US economic contributions from those age 50 and older. According to , this cohort contributes $8.3 trillion to the economy each year or 40 percent of the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2018, 56 cents of every dollar of direct spending was attributed to this cohort. Furthermore, they contributed $745 billion worth of unpaid activities such as volunteering and caregiving and $97 billion in charitable contributions with $4 billion contributed to educational institutions. The also contribute to tax revenues. Note in California, this cohort . Joseph F. Coughlin author and founder of MIT AgeLab perceives the increasing number of older adults as an opportunity rather than a burden. See Coughlin’s book “The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market.” (Hachette Book Group, 2017). 

Golden: This gem might replace the term “silver” when referring to older adults between aged 65 to 80 and beyond. Think about the “golden age,” considered a peak time in history of the greatest achievements. A most recent use of the term popped in the television show, “The Golden Bachelor,” an American reality dating show that culminated in the marriage of 72-year-old Gerry Turner to 70-year-old Theresa Nist. Even Steve Lopez’s column for the Los Angeles Times called “The Golden State” by focusing on the “blessings and burdens of advancing age — and how some folks are challenging the stigma associated with older adults.” 

Next week, we’ll look at the next five terms that reflect our increased longevity, changing environment and individual aspirations. 

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity

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