Is It Too Late to Abolish the Senior Discount?


It has been six years since I accepted my first senior discount. The young man in the movie theatre ticket booth automatically took $3 off, no questions asked. He just looked at me and assumed that I “deserved” it.

It was a startling realization that I had turned the corner into a new life stage, and everybody knew it. I was a senior citizen.

Before long, I began to appreciate the savings and would ask for them in theatres and museums—$5 here…$10 there. It added up nicely. I admit I liked it when the Senior Discount Guard asked for my identification. Maybe they were polite…or just maybe I didn’t look my age.

Since I travel frequently, I learned that in most other countries, such as the UK and India, it was best to ask for a concession rather than a discount. In this socially acceptable way, I’m afraid I supported the spread of ageism across the globe.

How so?

The senior discount puts me into a segregated category, a consumer willing to take a monetary benefit based solely on age.

As a marketing consultant, I understand the senior discount is a powerful sales tool. Discounts are always a popular way to incentivize customers. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it is more than that. It is a societal presumption that old means financially needy.

This is a blatant lie.

You’ll find the truth of how economically viable and contributive we are at Longevity Economics: Leveraging the Advantages of an Aging Society. The report reveals that seniors spent $5.6 trillion in 2015…$40.6 billion to travel in 2014…and make on average $100 billion per year in charitable contributions.

Not too shabby.

Unfortunately, the senior discount also reinforces the false image of financial dependency and the presumption that all elders need extra help. Ironically, this notion makes us misunderstood in the very marketplace that tries to seduce us with discounts.

And the discount gives a false message—that age alone makes us worthy of a reward, so we must be cherished by society.

Don’t be fooled. A 5% discount is a poor substitute for real respect and a contributory place in the community. Age alone gives you no extra rights when a demeaning culture accompanies it.

Surely, you may be thinking; it’s not as bad as all that. Yes, it is. Here’s why.

Ageism is different from racism, sexism anti-Semitism, anti-Islam or any other “ism.” It is the only prejudice that we hold against ourselves for the one thing that unites us all. Everyone everywhere right now is aging.

Yet, the senior discount—that small, ubiquitous way of making us the “other”—is a ritual of passage into separation. Yes, it acknowledges our senior status in society but in a pandering way rather than as one of honor.

Despite all the “60 is the new 30” rhetoric regarding our youthful outlook and vibrancy, discounts are offered at ever younger ages. As far as discounts are concerned, “50 is the new 65”!

The Senior Advisor lists numerous senior discounts for 50-year-olds on up. The threshold of what is considered old gets advanced, making us older earlier, with all the societal baggage attached. Still, I bet you’ll peek at the list to see what concessions you are missing. As every shopkeeper will tell you, discounts are irresistible.

A classic marketing technique is to offer discounts on certain days of the week or times of day. Early bird dinners have been available for eons—but they’re expanding.

Put it on your calendar—a sushi outing every other Tuesday or the day to buy discounted cosmetics at the pharmacy. Need a vase or a blouse? Fashion and home-goods emporiums are in the loop, with senior discounts at stores like Kohl’s, Marshall’s, TJ Maxx and Ross. Different days, different discounts depending on your location.

Who needs tracking chips? Follow the trail of day and time-dated discounts.

What with over-55 communities, early bird specials and Tuesday is “Senior Day” at the mall, youngers never even have to see an elder other than a family member until they reach 50.

Mind you, many elders need these discounts and deserve even more support than they are currently getting corporately or governmentally. And for some families, no movie discount might mean Grandma stays home. But means-based programs are very different from age-based programs.

Do I have the guts to refuse the discount…or will greed, disguised as wise-spending, prevail?

In 1972, I refused the then-prevailing custom of taking my husband’s last name. In those days, this was a very deliberate act of protest.

I was not allowed to register at our honeymoon hotel. I held out and refused to sign in as Mrs. Bochner. If I was strong enough to disrupt my wedding night, should I not now loudly disrupt the ageist practice of these identity-driven discounts?

At present, I don’t believe many folks in the US will give up their discounts to make a point.

Ever since the days of Green Stamps, consumers have been trained to enjoy a sale and a discount—any discount. In the 1960s, when boomers came of age, there were three times as many Green Stamps issued than US stamps by the Postal Service. Consumerism may be no match for ageism.

Still, it would say something if we all agreed that the first step in abolishing ageism is to refuse to benefit from it.

Changing the attitudes of others starts with changing ours. We have a history of questioning accepted practices, and we shattered some of them. It was much easier to throw away all of our trash. But our awareness of the environment heightened in the 1970s, and we started to recycle. We do it for a significant purpose. I see age-based perks the same way.

And…if you still want those perks, as most of us do, make noise about ageism wherever you see it. After all, I did get married. I just questioned the dynamics, along with millions of other boomers. So, too, we can recognize ageism…one self-aware moment at a time.

Think about it.