Senior Power: Is There a Senior Culture?

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Tuesday September 07, 2010 - 09:51:00 AM

Culture : Noun. The word "culture" is commonly used to refer to the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group, which suggests the possibility of a senior culture. 

In the twentieth century, "culture" emerged as a concept central to anthropology , encompassing all human phenomena that are not purely results of human genetics. Following World War II, the term became important, albeit with different meanings, in such other disciplines as cultural studies, organizational psychology, and management studies. Margaret Morganroth Gullette suggests “age culture;” Berkeley author Theodore Roszak refers to an “elder culture.” 

In some cultures ( Serbian , for example) there are 4 ways to express age: by counting years with or without the current year. For example, it could be said about the same person that he is twenty years old or that she is in the twenty-first year of life. Psychologically, a person in the 20th year perhaps seems older than one who is 19 years old. 

Fame is often perceived as part of the culture. Individuals who became famous in their old age include author Harry Bernstein , who published his first book, The Invisible Wall, at 96; civil rights activists Sadie and Bessie Delany; Ruth Ellis, 101-year-old African-American LGBT activist; Florence Holway, rape survivor and activist; Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, Irish-American labor organizer; Maggie Kuhn, activist and founder of the Gray Panthers; Mae Laborde, who began acting in her 90s; Grandma Moses, American folk artist; Mary Jane Rathbun, nurse and activist arrested for serving marijuana brownies to AIDS patients. 

In 2009 Barbara Morris self-published “No more little old ladies! 15 essential & specific proven anti-aging strategies…” No. 6 cautions: Beware of the senior culture club - Just say no to anything ‘senior.’ Morris, a retirement productivity coach, contends that : the traditional retired senior culture promotes decline; midlife women should focus on being ageless instead of trying to stay young; women should not tell their age; women who want to stay ageless should avoid retirement communities; and choosing to "age gracefully" is a trap that accelerates decline. 

Instead, read Roszak’s The making of an elder culture; Reflections on the future of America’s most audacious generation (especially chapter 4, ‘Elder insurgency;’) Gullette’s Aged by culture (especially chapter 10, ‘Age studies as cultural studies’;) and Jennifer Weiner’s novel, “In her shoes,” available in large or regular size print. 

Maggie retorts defensively to her sister Rose, “It’s a retirement community for active seniors.” Social Security could not provide sufficient income to support the lifestyles enjoyed by the fictional seniors pictured in the motion picture version of “In her shoes.” Their environment provides choices that include independent and assisted living, apartments equipped with guest rooms, tea dances, swimming pool, personal shopper, cars, credit cards, golf, etc. They are shown sharing and doing lots of things, including reading the Wall Street Journal, although not books. Apparently, they are, or would be, self-sexigrated, with no couples visible. Much of “In her shoes” was photographed in Delray Beach, Florida. 

It is, withal, a great movie! Shirley MacLaine (1934- ) received several awards for her portrayal of Ella Hirsh, the sisters’ grandmother. Jerry Adler (Hesh of “The Sopranos”) plays “a widower.” Rex Reed called this "a movie to cherish", arguing that MacLaine has "found her finest role since the Oscar-winning ‘Terms of endearment’ -- funny and poignant, she uses abundant humanity and smart psychology to great advantage, lending her knowledge to the other actors generously." 

Roszak refers to the elder culture that is being improvised all around us. “It may not turn out to be an endless vista of fast-paced economic expansion and technological gadgetry, but it promises to be the road toward a saner, more compassionate, more sustainable world—altogether, a more important turning point than ever presented itself in the 1960s when boomers were coming of age. … The next generation of elders may see le troisieme age, as the French call it, leading on to a fourth age, a stage of life we have failed to notice. Why? Because so few have lived that long enjoying decent health and a degree of independence.” George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), in Back to Methuselah, proposed a fourth age. But he also contended that “ we don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. ” 


A new survey report released by AARP occasioned by Social Security’s 75th anniversary shows that 75% of adults age 18+ rely on or plan to rely on Social Security for their retirement income, including a large majority (62%) of younger adults age 18-29. A majority of those polled oppose reducing Social Security benefits for deficit reduction (85%). 

Do you think raising the retirement age is a good idea? The case against raising the retirement age can be accessed at Reasons for a “no” response recently presented at a briefing included “The Top 5 Social Security myths”:  

#1 Social Security is going broke. 

#2: We have to raise the retirement age because people are living longer. 

#3: Benefit cuts are the only way to fix Social Security. 

#4: The Social Security Trust Fund has been raided and is full of IOUs. 

#5: Social Security adds to the deficit. 


The California Department of Insurance has a Senior Information Center advisory for people who might have questions or problems with life insurance or annuities. The Department of Insurance 1 800 927-HELP or


Attention, candidates… Running for election? You are invited to email to Senior Power ( ) a statement of your “platform” concerns regarding senior citizens. If you are running for re-election, please describe the h ighlights of your record on issues important to seniors.