The Third Age

by Sep Meyer [0]


Introduction  [1]

University of the Third Age (U3A) [2]

Living in Later Life (LILL) [3]

Third Age Challenge [4]

Saga Circles  [5]



There are various definitions of The Third Age. 

All of them have one belief in common: it is the concept of a time when childhood and the school years are over (the First Age), and working to make a living while raising a family has likewise concluded (Second Age).  It is at this point that opinions diverge. 

Some believe that the Third Age simply commences when the children have fled the family home.  Your duty of care has largely terminated.  (At some indeterminate future date, the children may assume the mantle of duty of care to their parents . . . but that would have to be the subject of another article!).  You are in your forties or fifties, still working, but able now to devote your leisure time energies to your own pleasures and fulfilment.

Others believe in an arbitrary age: most commonly 50, but sometimes 55 or even 60, as the cut-off date for the Second Age.  Some consider that retirement age is more appropriate, but this raises problems of when does one effectively retire.  Is it 60 or 65 (in England, for instance, it has traditionally been one age for women and the other for men), or is it when you have taken a pension and given up full-time employment?

Whatever the case, this is the time when you can think about what you want to do as opposed to what you need to do and there have been an increasing number of activities available to Third Age representatives, particularly relevant in the context of an ageing population, a tendency towards earlier retirement, and a growth in the leisure industries designed to take advantage of this situation.

This, of course, encourages the possibility of aggressive marketing activities directed at the senior citizen.  Although it is not within the remit of this article to describe all these activities (we are concerned here with the more reputable possibilities open to the older person - but may, indeed, save the unsavoury for another article), an example to serve as a caveat might be in order:

If youth is the first age and child rearing the second, the 'Third Age' is what follows.

But how to define them?

They are neither 'greys' nor 'silver surfers'. Unwilling to be pigeonholed as 'retired' or 'past it'.

They have reached mid-life. With no sign of crisis.

They are in their golden years. With freedom, health and the financial wherewithal to behave how they want, rather than 'act their age'.

They are much more likely to represent society's 'early adopters' than its followers. Discriminating, certainly. Stereotypical, rarely.

They are uniquely time rich. Feel good about themselves and believe that they are at their 'sexual peak'.

And their needs - as well as their attitudes - frequently condition those of society as a whole.

The successful targeting of this 'prime time' generation represents a new marketing challenge.[*]   It has spawned a new marketing service - Age3, providing unique insights and information on third age consumers.

Now, this is not to suggest that there is anything unsavoury or dubious about the organisation from whose website the above was taken.  We have no reason to doubt that they are anything but genuine and above board, even when the website goes on to state: "In pursuing the youth market, many advertisers and marketers seem to have forgotten this uniquely time rich, economically powerful and highly discriminating group of consumers. "The marketing community treats us as second best, either ignoring us completely or pigeon-holing us as over 50 and therefore over the hill. In reality we are in our prime. Enjoying life and with the financial clout to represent a new marketing challenge".

Caveat emptor.  'Nuff said.  A nos moutons.


The University of the Third Age

This is a voluntary charitable organization where retired or semi-retired men and women from all walks of life and of all ages, generally from age 50 upwards, meet like-minded members to expand their knowledge, share interests or acquire new skills.  Although called a University it has members, not students, and no educational qualifications are required or given.  All that is needed is interest and enthusiasm.    To quote one of the founders of the movement, Peter Laslett, "Those who teach shall also learn and those who learn shall also teach".  Members with a lifetime of experience and expertise in professions, occupations or through hobbies are encouraged to form study or activity groups to share their knowledge with fellow members.  A mutual interest in learning leads to new friendships based on an expanded social experience. Many study groups meet in members' own homes, adding an important social dimension.

The concept of  'Lifelong Learning for Older People' was first presented at the Summer School of the Université du Troisième Age held in Toulouse, France in 1972. This led within a year to the formation of the 'International Association of UTAs' (AIUTA).

The idea spread throughout the world. The first British Universities of the Third Age were formed in 1982, under the aegis of the Third Age Trust [**] , which became an associate member of AIUTA.  Contrary to what was happening in France, there was no support from Universities. It was realised that Third Agers themselves had the skills to organise and teach in their own autonomous learning groups and local U3As were formed.

There are now in excess of 450 local U3As throughout the UK, with a growing membership currently numbering more than 100,000 men and women. Local U3As are autonomous self-help organizations, whose individual activities are planned and undertaken according to their members' wishes.  The subjects tackled vary with each U3A and the number offered will depend on the size and enthusiasm of the group. [a]


Learning in Later Life (LILL)

Learning in Later Life was founded in December 1995 as a consequence of representatives of Universities of the Third Age and other organisations from 15 countries gathering to deal with science-oriented continuing education for older adults.  This gathering followed on from the European conference of February 1995, at the University of Ulm in Germany, devoted to "Competence and Productivity in the Third Age", at which 19 countries participated.

At the end of the conference it became obvious that a working and all-encompassing European Network was needed in order to create opportunities for the people entrusted with the education of older people, as well as to promote projects which should include exchange of experience, information and collaboration  It should at the same time inform 'senior students' of the possibilities for scientific continuing education of older people in Europe and offer possibilities of exchange programmes.  The Centre of General Academic Continuing Education (Zentrum für Allgemeine Wissenschaftliche Weiterbildung - or ZAWiW) of the University of Ulm was appointed to coordinate the network.

The ZAWiW has stated: "LiLL is not an end in itself.  It shall serve to inform as many older people as possible within Europe about opportunities of continuing education, to support them in their search for new tasks and duties, and to provide contact among people with similar interests. You, as an individual or as a group, are cordially invited to use LiLL with all its manifold possibilities. Senior citizens are required who are courageous to join us in following a new avenue and who understand „virtual communication" (communication in the internet) as a means for improving „real communication" among older people, independent of physical distances."  [b]


Third Age Challenge

Third Age Challenge Ltd (TAC) is a not-for-profit organisation, set up in the UK in 1993, whose primary mission is to support older people to maintain a fulfilling life mission. During its lifetime, TAC has been supported by the Department for Education and Employment, the European Social Fund and European Directorates in addition to Local Authorities, Training and Enterprise Council, and the Learning and Skills Council.

TAC offers a variety of in-house services including information, advice and guidance on job search and career change, training courses, educational courses, and a resource centre.  TAC has helped and managed several third age projects to set up and offers advice and information to anyone who is interested in setting up a third age project. TAC has produced a manual which includes information on constitution, administration, legal matters, funding opportunities, background statistics, useful links, financial accounting procedures.  [c]


Saga Circles

It may seem strange that having knocked a commercial enterprise's targeting of Third Age consumers, I should now praise an organisation which exists specifically for the purpose of supplying goods and services to that very same group of people.  I hasten to state that I possess no shares in Saga and I am not going to extol any of their commercial services - although, in fairness, I must say that I have heard nothing but good of their holiday and insurance activities.

My praise for Saga is specifically directed at the Saga Circles service they provide.  It is free of charge, not overtly commercial (and I will explain later what I mean by this), concerned entirely with the over-50s, and offers an exceptional networking opportunity to that group of people.

Saga Circles at its bottom level is an internet friendship agency, but that does not begin to describe what it does and what it can do.  It is the only agency of its kind that I have located which is completely free of charge.  To revert to my earlier statement: I have little doubt that the intention behind his service is to hope for some spin-off into marketing other Saga products.  I see nothing sinister in this.  Although Saga Circles shares the entire Saga website, there is no insidious attempt to direct its users to any of the other Saga activities.  They are simply available if one wishes to avail oneself of the opportunity.  There are no irritating pop-ups, nor marketing messages.

I referred above to the bottom line purpose of Saga Circles.  In fact, although many of its users do want to meet people of the opposite sex and may be looking for romance, there are equally many of them who simply wish to find people with common interests.  The Circles (i.e. the interest groups) are whatever the members wish to have.  As a member you can start your own group, but it is highly unlikely that there are not already in existence all the groups you are likely to want.  My own choices, for example, include Bridge, Complementary Therapies, Education, Foreign Lands and Cultures, Foreign Languages, Good Food, Psychology, Rambling and Writing.

Nurturing Potential has, believe it or not, benefited from Saga Circles to the extent of finding contributors of articles and book reviews . . . surely a circumstance not to be sniffed at!

And if people join the Saga Holiday Circle in order to find kindred spirits with whom to travel, and they then choose to travel on a Saga Holiday . . . well good luck to them, say I, and good luck to Saga. [d]

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[*] My italics (SM) 

[**} The aim of this charity is given as: " . . .  the advancement of education and in particular the education of middle aged and older people who are not in full-time gainful employment."

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Footnoted Web resources




[d] (the Saga Home page - click on Saga Circles)

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Other Web resources This section of the UK U3A site gives a large number of further very useful sites and resources. This section of the Third Age Challenge site also contains links to many other useful resources.

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Sep Meyer is a graduate of the London School of Economics and, since his retirement from a commercial life, has been devoting his time to a totally non-commercial activity, writing poetry, magazine articles, book reviews and drama.