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How Old Is a “Senior Citizen”? Age 65 – or Maybe Not

Poll: At What Age Do You Consider Someone to Be a “Senior Citizen”?

Sure, in your heart, you’re only as old as you feel. But the U.S. government, companies, retiree associations, and retailers are a bit blunter in whom they consider a “senior citizen.” Age 65 is still the standard senior-citizen threshold for Medicare, but the tipping-point age elsewhere can vary from 38 to 80. So how old do you really have to be to be a senior citizen? Let’s consider the answer from several organizations.

seniors wearing party hats, to illustrate article on how old is a senior citizen

U.S. Census Bureau: 37.8 and 65

The median age of the U.S. population is 37.8. Half of Americans are below that age; half are above. So, once you reach 38 years old, you’re statistically on the “senior” side of the population. Feeling old now?

Generally, however, the U.S. Census Bureau lumps Americans age 65 and over into the “older population” category. In the 2010 census, 13% of citizens were in that senior category. You can expect that percentage to increase, too. Census projections show that by 2060 the senior population will double, from 46 million in 2014 to 98 million in 2060. That will make seniors 24% of all Americans.

This aging population is what’s causing lawmakers and others to reassess and bump back the “senior citizen” line.

AARP and Senior Associations: 50

You know you’re in the sights of the AARP as soon as you reach 50 and start getting membership appeals in the mail. You may not be a “retired person,” but you can still join AARP to start receiving the discounts and benefits the organization offers.

Conservative-learning alternatives to the AARP, the American Seniors Association and Association of Mature American Citizens, also let you sign up at age 50.

Senior Discounts: 55, 60, 62, 65

Many older people complain about the “senior citizen” label, saying they don’t feel old. However, here’s the good news: Those few extra years can pay off in big savings with senior discounts.

A few senior discounts start as early as age 50, especially with an AARP card (see above). But the senior savings really kick in at ages 55 and 60, with a few businesses and organizations making you wait until 62 or 65.

senior couple dancing, to illustrate article on how old is a senior citizen

Senior Housing: 55 and 62

The federal government’s Housing for Older Persons Act is the source of 55+ and 62+ senior housing, including senior apartments, independent living, and retirement communities. This act sets aside a special status for housing communities in which the majority of residents are age 55 or older or all the residents are age 62 or older.

Retirement Plans: 59½ and 70½

The IRS has an odd obsession with half years. With some exceptions, if you tap a pension plan, 401k or IRA before age 59½, you may have to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty tax. After 59½, you can withdraw from retirement plans without a penalty if you are not working. If you are employed, check with your plan holder on specific rules. Generally, you must start receiving payouts the year you hit 70½.

Driver Licenses: 64-80 recently looked into the extra scrutiny that states place on older drivers when it comes time to renew a license. Among major retirement states, special policies for senior drivers kicked in as young as age 64 in Georgia to age 80 in Florida. Most of the states require a vision test for those older drivers.

Medicare: 65

65 birthday candles, to illustrate article on how old is a senior citizen

You can enroll in the federal health insurance program at age 65. You can sign up even if you’re not receiving Social Security yet. As noted below, that’s good since the Social Security age has become a moving target.

Social Security: 65, 66 and 67

Uncle Sam is your most important judge, of course. In the United States, past generations were considered to have reached full retirement age at 65. In recent years, however, legislation has moved the age requirement for full benefits from 65 to 67. The reasons cited: Older people are healthier, and average life expectancy is increasing, as noted above by the Census Bureau.

The Social Security Administration still considers 65 to be full retirement age if you were born in 1937 or earlier. But if you were born in 1938 or later, that gradually rises. If you were born in 1943 to 1954, for instance, your retirement age is 66. If you were born in 1960 or later, sorry, your full retirement age is now 67. (Note: You can still start withdrawing as early as age 62 but at a reduced rate.)

OK, you’ve read all the evidence. Now you get to have a say and vote in our poll.

Keep the Conversation Going

Would you pick another “senior” age that’s not in our poll? What do you think makes someone a “senior citizen”? Tell us in the comments!

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  • Mark Edelen

    About Mark Edelen:

    Welcome to the Senior Living Blog. I direct and edit the blog for the best senior-housing and senior-living insight and advice, while also conducting search-engine optimization for the site as a whole. Follow me on Twitter @MarkEdelen.


    1. I believe 65 is a good age to be considered a senior citizen. Now American citizens are aging slower and 50 is way too young to be a senior. Most look like the 39-40 year olds of years ago. Even at 70 many still look and feel good. Just check most of the celebrities.

      • I do agree that many people look good and feel good at 70, but many do not ,so there fore I feel that 65 is still the right age for retirement. A lot depends on what you have done your entire life as far as work.

        • I agree with you. It isn’t just what you’ve done your entire life but life events that may have occurred that can create a different levels of income & health to contend with.
          By the time you are 55 to 60, no matter if you had a successful career previously, it is difficult to remain employed, or find another job if your job is eliminated! The ‘golden years’ for many are riddled with challenges not expected. This is when the reality hits & the concept of being a ‘Senior’ settled in!

    2. Nora calera says:

      I think 60 -65 is a good age for retirement,

    3. None. Go until you can’t. Just a number that we put too much attention.

    4. Marci Williams says:

      It’s hard for me to say at what age to consider being a senior citizen. I’ve observed so many people looking and acting so old from the time they hit 40! On the flip side I’ve observed people in their 80’s who looked and acted like they were in their 50’s! I guess people could be considered “seniors” at whatever age they physically feel they can no longer work, and really need to Retire. Sorry! This is the best I could do – just couldn’t come up with a number!

    5. I agree on 65 but age don’t really count anymore. I am 70 and I
      still like I am 30. My wife keep asking me when am I going to
      grow up and I keep asking her when is she going to grow up
      and people keep asking us when are we going to grow up. Age is
      just a state of mind. Act like tomorrow is your last day because
      it will be one day. But I still like my Senior coffee at Wendy’s.

    6. Paula Davidsen says:

      I didn’t look or feel elderly until age 70…to me there is a big difference between 65 and 70 in brain brightness and physical agility…and appearance

    7. I believe is at 65 years of age

    8. David Bubier says:

      70 is a “good” age for seniors… even healthy seniors start to show age problems at that point… but can maintain an active lifestyle. If you are ill or have serious problems you can be “old” at 50, 55, 60. 62, etc. FYI: I’m 71.

    9. I think, that 65 is the right age

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