Silver / aging / senior / whatever industry

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Goods and services for senior citizens are a big business in China.  In general, the manufacture and marketing of such products go by the designation lǎolíng chǎnyè 老龄产业.  But, oh, how to render that in English?

Here are some of the translations I've come across:

silver industry

senior industry

ageing industry

aged care

Google Translate has "aging industry"

Baidu Fanyi has "aging industry" and "mature industry".

Bing Translator has "mature industry".  (enter 老龄产业)

This report has "silver industry" in the title, while it has "aging industry" and "industry for the elderly" in the text.

As is usually the case, iciba offers many choices — "aged industry", "industry of aging", "mature industry", and, somewhat surprisingly, "industry for the elderly", which is not bad.

But I don't know if any of these would sail in the United States.

[Hat tip Liang Fan]


  1. chips mackinolty said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 11:17 am

    Interesting, the use of "silver" as a term for the aged. It may not work in all contexts. I have recently (on application) been issued with a "Seniors Card" in the Northern Territory of Australia. It entitles me to cheap bus fares and, I gather, cheap cinema tickets and the like. The card enjoins viewers to understand that I am "a valued member of our community" and to "extend every courtesy and assistance".
    So far so good.
    But "silver"?
    In political parlance up here the epithet "silver circle" refers to a long term political system, more than notionally corrupt, that looks after itself and its mates, and at the expense of ordinary people. Not necessarily a grouping that "senior citizens" would like themselves associated with!

  2. Keith said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 1:14 pm

    I would definitely not suggest "mature industry", because that refers to an industry which is mature, usually one which has a few dominant businesses and where it is hard for newcomers to establish themselves.

    I've seen the money that these businesses are chasing described as "grey pounds" and "silver pounds" in the same way that the term "pink pound" was used a few years ago.

    I would use an expression like "services targetted at seniors" or "at senior citizens", rather than try to fit all the meaning into a single adjective. Describing these people as "OAPs" or the "elderly" seems to be out of fashion these days; "elders" might be acceptable. In the US, the term "older people" seems accepted.

    Here in France, the term "senior" (pronounced seˈɲoʁ) has been adopted in its English sense of "high ranking" and also "at or beyond retirement age"; there are terms like "services pour les seniors".

  3. Michael W said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 1:27 pm

    In the US, Centrum Silver [vitamins] is one product that uses the word as a marketing term for older people. Although apparently it's trademarked, so other pill products will probably have to state it more plainly.

  4. Richard W said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 3:40 pm

    The term "aged care" has a lot of currency in Australia. For example, the government has set up a website called My Aged Care:

    In Japan, "silver" has a lot of currency: シルバー産業 (shiruba sangyo — lit. "silver industry") the elderly care industry; industries for the elderly. [Kenkyusha definition]

    From the Japan Times: The original priority seats were called “silver seats,” and were first introduced on Respect for the Aged day in 1973. The name was later changed to “priority seat,” possibly because there weren’t many silver colored people.

  5. Mark Mandel said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 4:23 pm

    When I started on Medicare (US Federal medical coverage for older people), my discount card for the pharmacy company I use was replaced by one for a program called SilverScript.

  6. Bathrobe said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 5:01 pm

    Didn't Silver start with the Japanese? Shirubaa (シルバー), which is a borrowing from English, is conventionally used in Japanese for senior citizens.

    The most famous example was "Silver Colombia" (シルバーコロンビア), a plan launched in 1986 in the midst of the Bubble, to provide attractive conditions and/or locations in overseas countries for Japanese senior citizens to spend their retirement. It ran into rather a lot of opposition in the proposed destinations.

  7. Bathrobe said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 5:02 pm

    Sorry, missed Richard W's comment.

  8. julie lee said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

    I'm behind. I haven't heard of "silver" used for senior citizens, though I know and like the term "golden oldies".

  9. Richard W said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 6:35 pm

    OED: silver surfer n. [with punning allusion to Silver Surfer, the superhero of a 1960s Marvel comic book; compare sense B. 5b] colloq. an elderly or retired person who uses the Internet.

    See also

  10. William Steed said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 6:37 pm

    In Australia (and probably elsewhere) I've heard grey (as in 'grey nomads') and silver (as in 'silver fox') to describe the age group. Aligning it with another use – the 'pink dollar' to talk about the gay-focussed business sector – I suggest either the 'silver dollar' or the 'gray dollar'. 'Silver dollar' is perhaps not as useful, as it has another meaning, but sometimes that's a good thing. Grey isn't as good as silver, because silver sounds more valuable and empowering, but avoids the potential for ambiguity.

  11. William Steed said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 6:39 pm

    Side note: Ageing industry and aged industry don't work well for me, because they just sound like adjectival modifiers (with the implication of the industry being aged) rather than nominal modifiers.

  12. LIANG Fan said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 8:08 pm

    The reason for "silver" is actually rather simple: it is intended as an allusion to the fact that people's hair tends to turn that color as they age. In fact, many Chinese would probably react with incredulity that the justification for this choice of word isn't patently "self-evident". Thanks to an infinitely sensible editorial decision by China Daily, in their reporting of the release of China Report of the Development on Silver Industry (which is on the book's cover), the paper opted to insert "hair" after "silver" (,).

  13. Alicia said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 10:00 pm

    "Mature industry" is a non-starter. It sounds like an extra-tortured euphemism for pornography, as in, "Our studio is a world-recognized leader in the Mature Industry, and is consistently rated among the top five producers by Mature Industry consumers, particularly the top level consumers."
    That sounds way more Wall Street than "Our smut is smuttier than their smut, and is especially beloved by people like the guy in the cubical next to yours who wanks off under his desk all day long and doesn't seem to wash his hands."
    If I read it in an article about senior services I would eventually figure out what it meant, but that wouldn't stop me from giving an immature giggle every time I saw it.

  14. Vyasamoorthy said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 12:32 am

    Taken from an article written by me long ago
    Words denoting Senior Citizens
    Baby boomers
    Geezers – An old person, especially an eccentric old man. Derogatory usage
    Oldies –a lot to do with appreciation of music of certain period.
    Older persons – Government of India's preferred term for senior citizens.
    Elders and elderly (respectful)
    Senior citizens – Politest term devoid any contempt
    Retirees -one who has retired from active life
    Retired persons – One who has retied from active serve
    Pensioners – Those who get a monthly subsistence after retirement
    Veterans – Ex service men in the USA
    Old timer – used earlier for old people.
    Oldster – slightly uncommon derisive word
    Golden ager – just Older person
    Senesced -to reach later maturity; grow old
    Ex-servicemen -one who has served the armed forces for a number of years
    Old hang – highly experienced old person
    Old stager – someone who has seen many battles & wars
    silver citizens

  15. Duncan said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 12:49 am

    Here in Arizona (and most of the US sunbelt according to wikipedia), a popular expression referring to the elderly is "snow birds", "snow" of course referring to their hair, while "birds" refers to the fact that so many of them are migratory (RVers or otherwise), spending winters down here where it's warmer, summers up north where it's cooler.

  16. MattF said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 12:56 am

    I've noticed some recent semi-jocular use of 'Old', rather than the unpleasantly coy 'senior'.

  17. Nicki said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 2:19 am

    Just came across this, here in Hainan it's a "Silver Industry Fair"

  18. Keith M Ellis said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 4:45 am

    The term "silver fox". Silver to connote retirement aged folk is not unknown in American culture.

  19. Doreen said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 6:48 am

    @Duncan –
    I'm originally from a part of the US where a lot of "snowbirds" come from and always thought the "snow" part of the name referred to the actual snow that they were escaping–as the Wikipedia entry you linked to states, "Snowbirds are typically retirees who wish to avoid the snow and cold temperatures of northern winter."

  20. hwu said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 7:38 am


    There is a similar term in Chinese for "snowbird": 候鸟老人.
    候鸟:migratory bird
    老人:elderly people

  21. Mr Punch said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 10:40 am

    In Massachusetts there has been, since 1980, a state-sponsored political involvement program for the elderly called the Silver-Haired Legislature.

  22. Mr Punch said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 10:44 am

    The parallel case for elder goods and services are those aimed at teenagers and young adults. In English, I don't think we ever speak of this as the youth industry – we refer to the youth market.

  23. Mark Mandel said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 12:59 pm

    @Duncan: I'm with @Doreen. I grew up in NYC and lived 20 years in Massachusetts. My mother retired to Oaxaca, then to Florida; my stepmother to North Carolina. To me, the "snow" in "snowbirds" was always literal, especially with the connotation of migratory birds that fly south in the winter to escape the cold northern weather.

  24. Duncan said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

    @ Doreen and Mark

    I think the "snow" in "snow birds" is actually doing double duty, hair and literal, that being part of what makes the term so apropos.

    Or have you seen the term refer to younger people as well? I never have, so if it does, that'll be new usage to me. =:^)

  25. Terry Hunt said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 3:33 pm

    @ Vyasamoorthy

    I don't know how comprehensive you were trying to be, but in the UK the term "Wrinklies" is quite popular. It might seem on first hearing to be mildly disparaging, but is generally used semi-jocularly: my own parents – well into their 70s – sometimes use it.

  26. William Steed said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 6:50 pm

    "The wrinkled market" – I like it.

  27. Brett said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 10:46 pm

    @Duncan: The snow in "snowbird" is certainly suggestive of white hair, but I definitely perceive the weather-related meaning as the principal one in the expression.

    Incidentally, I have also heard "snowbird" used as a verb, as in "My husband's dad snowbirds in Florida in the winter."

  28. Richard W said,

    November 28, 2014 @ 12:32 am

    I was entirely unfamiliar with "snowbird" until now, but the OED entry is interesting. It traces the word back at least as far as the 1920s, and suggests that the "snow" part is more to suggest the cold, at least originally, than white hair, because it seems to have been used more in reference to workers than tourists back then.

    1. One or other of various small European or American birds […]
    2. The ivory gull, Pagophila eburnea.
    3. U.S. slang. One who sniffs cocaine (cf. snow n.1 5d); gen. a drug addict.
    1914 L. E. Jackson & C. R. Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Slang 78 A ‘snowbird’ is the customary designation of the cocaine habitue.
    1952 Sunday Times 3 Feb. 5/4 Present-day New York is not..a city overrun by ‘snowbirds’ jabbing needles into their arms.
    4. U.S. slang.
    a. (See quots.)

    1918 Sat. Evening Post 23 Nov. 11/1 They belonged to a shiftless class, the members of which often enlist in the army late in the fall because they want a job for the winter—the boys call them snowbirds.
    1930 W. H. Waldron Old Sergeant's Conferences vii. 123 A ‘Snow bird’ is a deserter who surrenders in the fall to get a place to stay through the winter.
    b. (See quot. 1924.)
    1923 Nation 31 Oct. 487 In winter, when building is at a standstill in the North, northern workmen, ‘snow birds’ or ‘white doves’ in Negro parlance, flock south.
    1924 ‘Digit’ Confessions 20th Cent. Hobo 12 Snowbird, in the Southern States a Northerner who migrates south to avoid the winter.
    1962 Economist 22 Dec. 1206/1 The Negro, who regularly loses his job to the ‘snowbirds’ from New York in the winter holiday season.
    1979 United States 1980/81 (Penguin Travel Guides) 243 This figure swells..during the winter months when ‘snowbirds’ arrive. (‘Snowbird’ is a tricky term as used in Miami, it refers primarily to tourists escaping the Northeastern freeze.)
    5. colloq. A person who likes snow; a snow-sports enthusiast.
    1928 D. H. Lawrence Let. in F. Lawrence Not I (1934) 269, I am no snow-bird, I hate the stark and shroudy whitemen, white and black.
    1973 Globe & Mail (Toronto) 8 Dec. 43/8 No joy yet for snowbirds. Snow enthusiasts will have to wait at least one more week before they can start up their snow-mobile engines or put on their skis.

  29. Victor Mair said,

    November 28, 2014 @ 12:02 pm

    From a highly migratory friend, native of Iowa, but on the road most of the time, including wintering in Arizona:

    Very interesting discussion. I enjoyed reading it and have two comments. In the US, the term for seniors usually revolves more around gold, as in golden agers, than silver; and I am one and here in my part of AZ, the term snow birds has nothing to do with the color of our hair, but with the fact we have fled the winter weather and gone south like migratory birds. This is especially so as many snow birds don't have white hair and can be younger than typical "seniors."

  30. Terry Collmann said,

    November 28, 2014 @ 5:08 pm

    'The reason for "silver" is actually rather simple: it is intended as an allusion to the fact that people's hair tends to turn that color as they age. In fact, many Chinese would probably react with incredulity that the justification for this choice of word isn't patently "self-evident".'

    But in my experience you rarely if ever see silver-haired Chinese people, since they all, to a man and woman, dye their hair deepest black as soon as it starts showing any signs of being gray …

  31. Duncan said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 3:16 am

    @snow-bird sub-thread,

    OK, seems I was emphasizing the less common nuance for snowbird, then. Richard W's OED reference and Victor Mair's migratory friend with AZ-specific experience, together with the earlier opinions, convince me I must have inferred the wrong reference on original hearing and simply never had anything conflict with it so never had an opportunity to reverse that.

    I'll have to ask some folks on the bus and at work and see how lonely I was in my interpretation. Should be fun! =:^)

  32. Mike Briggs said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 9:56 am

    Q How do you know it's spring in Wisconsin?
    A That's when the geezers drive north.

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