Why Seniors Don’t Deserve the Senior Discount

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On average, citizens who earn the most money and have the most net wealth are 50 and over. So why is it this group that’s entitled to discounts at the movies, supermarkets, hotels, and nearly everywhere else you turn, while the young and poor pay full price?

Here’s an idea that’s sure to go over about as well as the fictional “death panels” discussed ad nauseum during the 2009 debates over Obamacare. In an op-ed for USA Today, a journalist named Don Campbell calls for the end of across-the-board senior discounts.

Therefore, firstly, address all of your angry notes about giving up senior discounts only if they’re pried from your cold, dead hands directly to Mr. Campbell. This is his idea, not mine.

Secondly, to answer the inevitable question: Yes, the writer is, in fact, old enough to be eligible for just about every senior discount on the planet. It’s just that he feels he doesn’t need the discount. Neither, he claims, do the majority of seniors.

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For evidence, Campbell points to studies such as those conducted by the Pew Research Center (more about that here), which shows that older Americans today are much wealthier than older Americans were a generation ago. After adjusting for inflation, the median net worth for households headed by adults 65 and up was 42% higher in 2009 than their counterparts in 1984.

The typical younger American, by contrast, has gotten poorer, with median net worth for households headed by someone under 35 decreasing 68% between 1984 and 2009.

Another study, conducted by the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances, indicates that the group suffering the least financial damage due to the recession was that of households headed by seniors ages 65 to 74. What’s more, according to the study’s data, the median net worth of households in the 55-64 age bracket—prime years for snagging senior discounts—was $222K, substantially higher than the $69K median net worth of families in the discount-ineligible age bracket of 35-44.

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Campbell is especially puzzled with why many senior discounts start at age 50, which is roughly when managers and skilled workers tend to start commanding the largest-ever salaries of their careers. And why is it that so many senior discounts take effect once someone hits 50? It’s not the government or any official agency dictating the age for senior discount eligibility, nor what percentage discount seniors should get. Mostly, senior discounts come down to marketing: Companies are understandably eager to attract the business of a group of citizens known for having plenty of disposable income and time, and discounts seem to do the trick.

Also, as Campbell writes, the AARP, a.k.a. “the nanny-conglomerate lobbying group committed to running your life once you turn 50,” has proved to be pretty good at applying pressure on businesses to offer senior discounts. By the way, you can join the AARP, which originally stood for the American Association of Retired Persons, at age 50, long before most people retire.

Here’s how Campbell ends his rant:

What I wonder about is why thirty- and fortysomethings aren’t livid that senior citizens — the most pampered, patronized and pandered-to group in America — get to save money simply by maintaining a pulse.

Well, one reason we’re not up in arms about senior discounts is that we’ve been taught to respect our elders.

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Also: We’re probably a little scared that if we get on the bad side of our elders, they might spend all of our inheritance.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

2 comments
JohnJT1961
JohnJT1961

I agree that the discounts probably shouldn't be offered to anyone under 65, roughly the retirement age for most people, after which many are forced to live on a fixed income.  However, I don't think that older people should be criticized or penalized for having a higher median net worth than younger people.  The fact is, if an older person is worth more than a younger person, it's usually because they had the foresight and discipline to save for their later years, while the young people of today spend everything they have (and much that they don't) without any regard to the future or financial consequence.

becky
becky

I don't want their crappy discounts.  It is insulting---you are old and poor is what it says.  The next time they automatically give me one or ask if I want it, I will tell that little smart a__ what I think of them and their discount.  It isn't like you are getting much anyway--for God's sake we can afford a cup of coffee at mcdonald's.