Wall Street Journal: Aging Boomers Divided on Being Called ‘Perennials’

Some aging baby boomers are rejecting the term “senior citizen,” but potential replacements like “perennial” are not yet gaining widespread traction.

Other potential new terms, such as “vintage” and “golden ager,” also aren’t catching on widely, according to an article published Thursday in The Wall Street Journal.

Observing that some boomers do not respond well to being called “seniors,” the terminology around aging has been a hot topic for several years among senior housing providers. Some companies have already re-branded to move away from the word “senior” toward more neutral or aspirational names, such as Pathway Senior Living becoming Pathway to Living.

Yet, there are many challenges in finding a new way to describe this growing segment of the population, the WSJ reported. For example, the word “sage” has been floated, but not all older people are wise.

“Perennial” is an option that appears to be growing in popularity. It was first proposed by Gina Pell, content chief of website The What, in 2016. It is not meant to be an age-specific term.

“We are ever-blooming, curious people of ALL ages who know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology, and have friends of all ages,” Pell wrote. “The term Perennials is not a fluffy euphemism for relevant people over 40.”

Since 2016, more people have begun to identify as a perennial, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

However, it’s not universally embraced.

Pam O’Brien, a 69-year-old professor at the University of Pittsburgh, described the term as “contrived.”

“It sounds like a plant,” Dan Reingold, CEO of RiverSpring Health, told the WSJ. RiverSpring operates a large campus in the Bronx, which includes assisted living, skilled nursing and other senior care services.

Reingold prefers the more straightforward “older adults.”

Some aging boomers are not all that concerned with how they are described.

“I don’t feel like I fit any particular category, so I guess I’m not sensitive to it,” O’Brien said.

This attitude may not be all that helpful for senior housing organizations, which need to find effective language to market themselves.

“We have struggled over the years with words like aged, senior, and elderly in promotional materials,” Reingold told the WSJ.

At least one influential figure in the industry believes that senior housing providers will eventually move away from using the term “senior.”

“By the time we get to [serving] the boomers, I think the word senior will be retired,” Bob Kramer, founder and former CEO of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), told Senior Housing News in 2016.

Written by Tim Mullaney