What is Retirement?

“Generatarian” Does it describe us? by Patricia Cavanaugh

By June 8, 2009 May 23rd, 2023 5 Comments

Introducing “Generatarian”: A Term for Navigating the Challenges of The 3rd Act

I have been searching to find a word that describes those of us in The 3rd Act.  The word “Boomer” or “Elder” doesn’t really discretely describe who we are and for that matter neither does “Retiree” or “Empty Nester”.  This dilemma was brought home to me as I read Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s new book The Third Chapter.  In it, she writes that every one hundred years we have to come up with a name for a new developmental stage.  In the last century the word adolescent was coined to describe a time of life that hadn’t really existed before, the age between childhood and adulthood.

In thinking about this new stage of adulthood, I remembered my days in graduate school studying for a master’s in counseling psychology.   We had been assigned a course in developmental psychology, which included Erik Erikson’s Life Stage Virtues.  In his developmental schema he describes the life challenges at each transition point.  The life challenge and tension as we move into mid life and before old age is the one between generativity and stagnation. If we choose generativity, we are satisfied with what we have accomplished and are drawn toward assisting the younger generations.  If we choose stagnation, we feel that we have failed ourselves and the generations to come.

In trying to combine Erickson’s work and my own thinking,  I have come up with the term for those who are working to successfully resolved this challenge, “Generatarian”.  What do you think?  I would appreciate your thoughts and feedback.  Please click on comments and type away.

Warmly, Patricia


  • Perry says:

    Who knew that adolescent was a ‘new’ word. What would I do without it? How would I deal with my pre-teen/teen narcissism positively without a great neutral word like adolescence?
    So, I’m with you in wanting to find a word for 3rd Act.
    I notice with my clients that Gen X/Gen Y is on the tip of their tongue. They’re ready to assimilate the designation.
    Gen 3?
    or the designation you’ve already started:
    3rd Actor!

  • Bonnie says:

    I love the concept…and can’t pronounce Generatarian! It doesn’t roll off the tongue easily..for me anyway. What about a contest or virtual brainstorming session..we do need another word. This new stage of life is too big for our current vocabulary.

    A new word would go a long way to stomp out stereo-types and fire up our imaginations.

    It’s got me thinking. Thanks.

  • Sue says:

    I’ve been groping for a word for this phase as well and love this topic. I was laid off last fall at the chronological age of 61. Most of my peers are either working or looking for part time and/or volunteering.

    How do we describe this state of “semi-tired” in a more productive way?

  • Patricia:

    I enjoyed your blog since I also like thinking of words to describe our current social trends. While I like the idea of generativity, which implies being open to new ideas and options, Generatarian is a mouthful of syllables.

    Since I love working for myself and can’t have a traditional “Retirement”, I’ve decided to embrace “Refreshment”. This means working until you need a break, doing something recreational for as long as you need (and can afford) to “refresh” (travel, personal growth, etc.) and then returning to work renewed.

    Perhaps Refreshers is a good word for this age and stage. What do you and others think?

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