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Inclusive Language

Age: Introduction and Definitions

When you are referring to someone’s age, avoid using stereotypes or words that may discriminate against people. A person’s age communicates the number of years they have spent alive and has no qualitative value. It does not communicate a person’s maturity, experience, or physical or mental capability. Unnecessary reference to age can contribute to exclusion, ageism, or discrimination. 

The term "ageism" refers to two concepts: 1) a socially constructed way of thinking about older persons based on negative attitudes and stereotypes about aging and 2) a tendency to structure society based on the assumption that everyone is young, thereby failing to respond appropriately to the real needs of older persons.

In general, avoid referring to someone’s age unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing about (for example, when referring to benefits that are available to people of certain ages). Do not use sentimentalized language that patronizes, distorts, or ignores people based on their age number. Avoid using generational names like "Boomers" or "Gen Z" because these terms tend to overgeneralize a vast array of experiences, and can lead to negative stereotyping.

When possible, use the numeral instead of a term — for example, ‘aged 75’ instead of ‘senior.’ Terms like seniors, elderly, the aged, aging dependents, old-old, young-old, and similar “othering” terms connote a stereotype; avoid using them. Terms such as older persons, older people, older adults, older patients, older individuals, persons 65 years and older, or the older population are preferred. Use older adults, a term less likely to connote discrimination and negative stereotypes, when describing individuals 65 years old and older.

Like when referring to older people, younger people are not a homogenous group. This age group includes children and young adults. Use young people, youth, adolescents, children, or babies — when referring to specific developmental phases. Avoid using “youths” — it can carry unwanted negative meaning, and “young adults or kids” — unless these terms are required and defined in the content.

Avoid using age-related terminology to metaphorically describe a situation, especially if the phrasing is an insult. For example, don’t use women or older relatives as a substitute for “novice” or “beginner,” e.g., “Something is so simple your mother can use it.”
Sources: Age Inclusive Language and Content, Agesim and Age Discrimination, Age-inclusive language: Are you using it in your writing and everyday speech?

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