The senior members of the Baby Boom generation are turning 65 at a clip of roughly 10,000 per day. Even so, the generation famous for being at the center of the “youth culture” of the ’60s, doesn’t particularly like to think of itself as old. Senior citizens? According to boomers, the term refers to their parents, the World War II generation, not the folks who could have gone to Woodstock. So even though Baby Boomers love getting a deal as much as the next person, they hate the idea of getting a “senior discount”—which is tantamount to accepting the fact that they’re officially old.
A Hartford Courant columnist recently covered the odd phenomenon, in which Baby Boomers are torn between wanting a discount for their seniority in the population and refusing to admit to senior status:
“There is definitely a different mindset between boomers and the World War II generations and the language you use encapsulates everything,” says Jo Ann Ewing, senior services coordinator for the town [of East Hampton, CT]. “Many individuals in their 70s and 80s are fine with ‘senior’ status and senior savings, while baby boomers mostly are not.”
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The solution, from a business point of view, may be a silly game of semantics. Restaurants, associations, and various businesses often replace the phrase “senior discount” with something less overtly age-based, so as not to turn off the lucrative boomer customer base. The AARP welcomes “members” (not “seniors”) starting at age 50, and all the perks are referred to as “member benefits,” not senior benefits or senior discounts. The word “senior” never pops up in the list of discounts at the boomer-specialty site StageofLife.com either.
Marketing to boomers — a generation sometimes criticized as being vain and self-involved — can be tricky business, especially when the products and services at hand are clearly intended for people struggling with the aging process. Businessweek pointed out that contractors expect that the renovating of Baby Boomers’ homes will be a huge business going forward, with boomers increasingly in need of “age-appropriate remodeling” ranging from toilet grab bars to elevators. But contractors must be careful how they propose such projects.
To varying degrees, age-appropriate updates are necessary should boomers want to stay safely in their homes as they get older. And yet, “Nobody wants their home to look like a hospital facility,” says Bill Millholland, an executive at the remodeling firm Case Design. This is especially the case for a generation that doesn’t like to think of itself as old, let alone aged and dying.
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A separate issue entirely is whether or not boomers or seniors actually deserve discounts simply because they’ve managed to reach the age of 50, or 62, or 70. A lively, occasionally bitter discussion on the topic came after USA Today published an op-ed arguing that all senior discounts should be killed because, by and large, older folks are wealthier than the average citizen, and it’s the young who are essentially subsidizing the discounts enjoyed by their older, richer counterparts. The rant, penned by someone old enough to enjoy the full range of senior (or “boomer”) discounts, ended thusly:
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.
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Well, now we know how to take out some of that anger, in passive-aggressive fashion, against our Baby Boomer forefathers: Just call them senior citizens.
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.