We Should Establish “Junior Citizen” Discounts

In the past week, a professional organization and a club to which I belong have both announced that they will no longer offer discounted rates to members who are senior citizens. Good on them.

Many senior discounts have their origin in an era when low incomes were concentrated among the elderly. In Western Europe and the United States, that world is gone. Whether you look at poverty rates or unemployment data, there is no question who is getting crushed economically these days: Young adults and children.

If you are a senior citizen and you live in poverty, then God bless you. But if you are a senior citizen who is doing well, and you eat in a restaurant where young adults (some of them parents) receive poor wages and benefits in exchange for working their tails off to serve you, do the right thing and add your senior discount to the tip.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

33 thoughts on “We Should Establish “Junior Citizen” Discounts”

  1. Junior citizen discounts will happen on a large scale about the same time Satan buys ice skates.

    This is a culture that utterly despises its young people.

    1. Curmudgeon wrote: This is a culture that utterly despises its young people.

      It is an odd thing about the culture: We wax rhapsodic about how much we love children and then let a quarter of them grow up in poverty.

  2. Never had anything to do with poor seniors. Has everything to do with price discrimination of customers.

    1. The specific rationale in my professional association is that older members have less money than young ones…but now many young members are unemployed and underemployed and can’t afford to subsidize older members, many of whom are doing very well financially.

        1. Benny: I have cut your second sentence in keeping with RBC civility guidelines — if you want the whole comment struck, post a request here and I will do so (But in any event please stop degrading whole groups of people).

          p.s. Check out “It’s fantastic” by Harold Pollack a few posts back.

  3. Well, there are kids’ menus for kids up to 10 or 12, depends on the restaurant. At 14, my kid still orders off of them sometimes and no one bats an eye.

  4. Well, there, young fella (b. ~1966?), I wonder if it has occurred to you that some of us fairly well-preserved 60-somethings are not exactly rapacious about seeking out “senior discounts” for which we are eligible; downright ambivalent, in fact. It seems counterintuitive to reward a whippersnapper, one who has gone out of his or her way to identify one as elderly, with an additional tip, but it is actually a decent idea; I will consider it.

    1. Ken D wrote I wonder if it has occurred to you that some of us fairly well-preserved 60-somethings are not exactly rapacious about seeking out “senior discounts” for which we are eligible;

      Of course it has Ken, else I would not have made the suggestion. I know other publicly spirited people of a respectable age (but still of handsome and youthful appearance) and that’s why I figured there were others out there, such as yourself.

  5. Or at least, tip as though you were paying full price.

    And Keith, you might want to consider that for most senior citizens, even if they aren’t actually struggling financially, there’s a limit to their resources, and they have no idea how long those resources are going to have to last. Taking advantage of a senior discount isn’t a matter of greed so much as it is a matter of prudence. Once the money runs out, that’s it. If it runs out before your life does, you’re going to have to live off some form of public assistance.

    1. Swift Loris wrote: most senior citizens, even if they aren’t actually struggling financially, there’s a limit to their resources, and they have no idea how long those resources are going to have to last.

      What is the implied contrast? The quarter of American children who live in poverty have limited resources, so do the 40% of Spanish young people without jobs, so do the people who are already on public assistance now.

  6. I never thought of it as being about helping seniors. I thought of it as being about filling seats during slack periods because senior citizens have a lot more discretion about when and where they eat.

    1. Paul: How would that explaining discounted professional association dues for older members?

      1. Does the association discount apply to working members, or only retired ones? If the latter, then I can see a price discrimination rationale, since the membership may be less valuable to retirees.

        1. Yep. Even if someone older is still working, a lot of the things for which professional associations are useful (networking, keeping up with new developments, career-building services) may be less useful, because someone in their 60s isn’t that likely to be going on to another fulltime job, and even if they are, they’ll likely be doing it based on their own contacts and reputation, rather than with the help of their professional association. Furthermore, the older members (who may not be working quite as long hours) may be more useful to the organization (for editing journals, coordinating other activities, giving the organization an in at high levels of business and government, mentoring usw) than younger ones.

          1. In my primary association (American Statistical Association) it is active vs. inactive, although there is an age requirement as well. We do offer substantially discounted student memberships. Looking at employed vs. unemployed is a good idea, too.

      2. The explanation for that is that seniors tend to quit professional associations when they retire – they don’t need to keep up with developments or to do networking any more. The associations would prefer to have some money from them rather than none, so they provide lower dues – and the seniors don’t use much in the way of services, so it’s basically free money. I think if you asked most seniors who continue to pay dues why they do it, they would say that it’s like to giving to a charity, like annual giving to your alma mater.

        I know that’s how my father thought of it – he belonged to the AAAS, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the American Chemical Society til the day he died. After he turned 70 or so, he never went to meetings or conferences, and barely looked at the publications he received, but belonging to these associations was part of his self-identiy and he wanted to support the work they do.

  7. What is the implied contrast? The quarter of American children who live in poverty have limited resources, so do the 40% of Spanish young people without jobs, so do the people who are already on public assistance now.

    Not implying a contrast, rather the opposite. You were the one suggesting the contrast!

    Actually there is a contrast, in the sense that unless seniors are wealthy, their resources will inevitably run out. The trick for them (me) is to manage things so that their lifespan doesn’t extend beyond the end of their resources. That isn’t the situation younger people face; there’s at least the potential for expanding their resources in the future, even though the current outlook appears bleak.

    Of course nobody, least of all children, should have to live in poverty. You don’t begrudge poor seniors their discounts; but nonwealthy seniors who take advantage of the discounts are attempting to avoid having to live in poverty in their very last years by postponing as long as possible the exhaustion of their resources. As I said, it’s prudence, not greed.

    And please note that I suggested tipping based on the full price of the meal rather than the discounted price. That seems to me to be a good compromise.

    1. And please note that I suggested tipping based on the full price of the meal rather than the discounted price. That seems to me to be a good compromise.

      I did see that, it’s a nice thing to do for sure.

      On the other point we will have to agree to disagree, fundamentally it seems to me the more years you have left the harder it is to guess what will happen to you economically in the future.

      1. But there are also more possibilities the more years you have left, is the point I’m making. For seniors, there are only two: The money you have will last till you die, or it won’t. Once you’ve become too old to work, there’s no chance of increasing your resources.

  8. Senior citizen discounts aren’t there to help the seniors. They’re there to help the businesses.
    People who work and have children at home have severe time constraints on their ability to go to the movies, eat out, visit museums, etc. Most of them wouldn’t go more often even if you cut the price by 10 percent.
    But seniors have lots of free time, and therefore are more price sensitive – so you can use seniors to sop up some of your excess capacity. And because seniors tend to eat dinner or go the movies on the early side, they don’t take up space that could be sold to full-price customers.

  9. Financial institutions are allowed to discriminate in favor of senior citizens. Keep that in mind the next time you shed your crocodile tears for poor old people.

  10. One thing no one has mentioned is that very often, “senior” meals in restaurants contain smaller portions, without the discount being proportional. For example, a 2-egg “senior” omelet and reduced quantity of sides instead of a 3-egg regular omelet, for just a 50¢ markdown, or a much smaller turkey sandwich with many fewer fries, etc. Food-wise, the restaurant often has a net saving of money by serving the reduced portions, which is fine with me because regular portions are too large anyway, and I don’t like wasting food that wouldn’t travel well. Of course, I’ve always preferred smaller portions, so maybe it would be better to offer the “senior” menu to everyone.

    I agree with some who’ve said the discount is simply a means to draw customers, and that’s true. And, if one person is encouraged to visit a restaurant, they’ll often pull in others to join them there, and it’s also true that seniors tend to prefer visiting at non-rush times, further increasing a business’s traffic. I also think everyone needs to tip service staff well, because those are hard jobs that don’t pay very well. And, when I dine alone, I always toss in some extra tip to make up for the fact that my ticket/table received full service but generated only one tab.

    1. That is a good point — it’s also true of the child’s menu that Ohio Mom mentions. In contrast discounted professional and club memberships are the same “size” as fully priced ones.

      1. “discounted professional and club memberships are the same “size” as fully priced ones”

        I don’t know what this is intended to mean. Typically the only service an association delivers to its members in exchange for membership dues is a subscription to a publication. Obviously that takes only a fraction of the dues. Most of the money the association spends is on activities that benefit the profession as a whole – activities that benefit active members of the profession far more than they benefit retired members.

        BTW, the AAAS has a number of membership categories, including reduced memberships for students, doctoral candidates, and “emeritus” (i.e. retirees). I believe that most other professional associations have student memberships as well. So I don’t accept that there are no “junior discounts.”

  11. I think businesses should charge what the market will bear. At 4:30pm, very few working adults are eating dinner, so a restaurant is paying its staff, electricity, gas, rent, etc. and not selling any food. Offer older people an incentive to come in and eat at that time, and you can sop up some excess capacity. Businesses are generally not concerned with their customers’ financial realities, nor should they be.

  12. Andrew is correct about measurement of poverty/wealth and its dependence on the definitions and assumptions. He is also correct about the “generational warfare” that’s being waged (which is probably being done to increase public support for the gutting of Social Security and Medicare). To beautifully illustrate BOTH of his contentions is the recent widely (and uncritically) reported claim that senior wealth has outpaced that of younger generations, based on a recent Pew* study.

    Pew counted 401(k) accounts as assets in their comparison between 1987 and now, but but they did NOT include pensions. Both serve the same purpose, but 401(k)’s hardly existed in 1987, and pensions hardly exist now, while workers were contributing to pensions but now put those funds into 401(k) accounts. From the Pew study:

    “Although most of the major forms of asset ownership are included, SIPP** does not attempt to measure the value of defined benefit retirement assets…”

    In other words: the study purporting to examine the “wealth” of seniors does not even address the major asset of 1980s seniors–pensions–which have now largely been replaced by 401(k)’s for 2010s seniors and which the study DOES include.

    It is amazing that such an obvious bias has largely been overlooked by most commentators, so amazing that I suspect it is deliberate. Pew’s report simply reached its predetermined conclusion by cherry-picking which things to look at, which is simple misrepresentation, and very easy to do when “measuring” such complex parameters as “wealth.”

    Garbage in >>> garbage out.

    * http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2011/11/WealthReportFINAL.pdf
    ** US Census Bureau “Survey of Income and Program Participation”

      1. That’s okay Bloix is a ridiculous name, anyway. It started out as a random bunch of key strokes. I should dump it.

  13. The young adults (and their children) are “getting crushed economically” because of one thing: the depression of wages and benefits, and that is the direct result of globalization.

    Michelle Bachmann said that America should be “more like China” (specifically noting that China does not have food stamps, Social Security, etc.) and that is exactly what GOP forces have been driving us toward for more than a generation. Reduced wages that have resulted from trade policies are wrongly seen as an unfortunate side effect, when in fact “reduced labor costs” was ever and always the goal: cheap labor is the main feature, NOT a bug, outsourcing program.

    The funny thing is: now everyone acts “surprised” at the hardship that has been brought on by low wages, especially to younger workers, and now lay blame for this on greedy seniors–they expect us to misunderstand the “downward equalization” that has always been sought by the moneyed interests! Wages in this country have been on that downward equalizing-with-third-world-nations track for 30 years, and now seniors must be pushed downwardly too, all in the interest of “fairness”?

    It’s like the private vs. public sector argument: first they trashed the wages and retirements of private workers, and now public workers are supposed to bow down to be downwardly pushed too, again, in the interest of “fairness”….short version: they really think we are stupid, and maybe we are, because we’ve gone along with all this up to now. An awakening does seem to be happening (I hope).

    Bloix is correct: it is the income inequality that is destroying us, and that income inequality has been the primary goal of those pushing globalization and outsourcing from the beginning. “Free trade” was never about free trade, but was always about how to marginalize labor, since labor costs are seen as the great hindrance to profits. It is interesting to me too, that it was also about 30 years ago that “personnel” renamed itself “human resources” as if labor was just one more widget in the assembly process, another cost driver that should be minimized.

    Unrestrained capitalism will always destroy labor, if given the free rein to do so. And nearly every policy of the last 30 years has had that as its overriding intent. Surprised at the outcome? Hardly.

  14. “Downward equalization” or “global balance”; whatever….it has always been the goal……

    American Wages Out of Balance, New York Times (Business section), 11 Nov 2009:

    “American workers are overpaid, relative to equally productive employees elsewhere doing the same work.”

    “The global wage gap has been narrowing, but recent labor market statistics in the United States suggest the adjustment has not gone far enough.”

    “the recession shows that many workers are paid more than they’re worth”

    “It’s possible to run the numbers to show that American manufacturing workers should take average real wage cuts of as much as 20 percent to get into global balance.”


    Some of us have understood from the beginning that business interests in America have as their primary goal the depression of wages paid to American workers, and view with admiration the kinds of worker oppression seen in other countries—with forced labor only distinguishable as a matter of degree.

    Some of us have always understood that if business could get away with paying their workers a bowl of rice a day as payment in full for their labor, as a kind of indentured servitude for the privilege of eating anything at all, that this would be seen as an ideal situation: cheap (nearly free) labor AND a bowed and broken “citizenry”—a real two-fer!

    And now we wail about the “inequality” between young workers and senior citizens? It would be funny if it weren’t pathetic. It was by DESIGN, folks!

  15. You learn something new every day. Living 65 years in England, France and Spain, and travelling a lot in the rest of Europe, I don´t recall ever coming across a senior discount in a restaurant. Public transport, museums, yes. Brazil has preferential queues almost everywhere there´s a queue, lumping the ¨idosos¨ together with the handicapped, mothers with small children, and pregnant women. The demographic pyramid is still of course pretty young here.

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