AMERICA IS GROWING OLDER, NOT AGING
Language matters in communicating. Politicians are masters at it. Most these days avoid saying "Global Warming" in favor of "Climate Change." Others say it isn't an estate tax, but the death tax, to shape perceptions.
The late, great George Carlin once did a whole riff on how politicians speak in doubletalk.
One area where we think it's high time we use language better is with what's happening to the demographics of America. We are growing older, which is better, and more accurate, than saying we're aging.
First, the facts are unarguable: according to the Census Bureau, the median age in the U.S. has increased from 32.8 in 1990 to 37.9 in 2016 and should be north of 40 by 2030. Thanks to the demographic tsunami known as Baby Boomers, those 76 million born between 1946 and 1964, the median age of America is increasing.
Yet we're pretty sure that whether the Boomers showed up or not, everyone alive today in America is actually "aging." It's the wrong term to use. First, it's a process that begins the instant you're born and continues unabated until your last breath. Saying that we're aging is like saying we're breathing.
What's worse is that "aging" comes almost exclusively with negative connotations: crumbling, declining, waning, decaying, fading. Sure, you can add modern feel good modifiers like "healthy aging," "successful aging," and "positive aging," but that's putting lipstick on a pig. Other than a bottle of wine, who looks forward to aging?
One more point: the "aging industrial complex" (our term) in America, which came into existence with Medicare back in the 1960s, has been focused on how to solve the "problems of aging," as if it's a disease that can be cured. Watch the evening news on network TV and you'll see commercials presenting problems/solutions for aging to older adults watching at home. Every spot is about a wonder drug that solves some issue related to aging — usually presented in a way that depicts older consumers as barely clinging to life without a pill replete with gross side effects. Ugh.
Here's the deal. Boomers don't see this next stage of life as dealing with the problems of aging, but pursuing the promise of a longer life. They are optimistic. Still dreaming. Still vital.
So let's stop talking about "aging Boomers" or even our "aging society." Instead, let's use "older Boomers," and talk about America as "growing older." It's clearly more accurate. Plus, growing is a positive term. And older is simply a relative term. For example, since the day I was born I have had an "older" brother. Doesn't matter his age. He's simply older than me. And he will be until the end.
It's frustrating to see names like the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services used in some states, or the U.S. Administration on Aging, and even the Aging Society of America. There are countless other organizations who are not in synch with the mindsets of the generation about to transform growing older in America.
In an America with Boomers over age 65, being older will be seen as cool. Like a 68-year-old rock legend named Springsteen selling out Broadway. I dare you to write a review of his show and refer to him as "aging Bruce Springsteen."