From the BBC Grandma with Alzheimer

"A pensioner with Alzheimer's faces being split from her family and deported to the UK from Sweden, after nearly two decades in the country."

"A pensioner..." I understand that this person has worked and then retired, but then I wonder why the BBC would want to emphasize her official occupational state, because the news is about an old lady being deported, regardless she is retired or not.

Then I thought maybe "a pensioner" means simply “an old person who is retired” But when I looked it up, Cambridge Dictionary says:

"an amount of money paid regularly by the government or a private company to a person who does not work any more because they are too old or have become ill."*

Then I understand that pensioners must be the same as retired people.

Then “old age pension” caught my attention. I looked it up too. For old age pension Cambridge Dictionary says:

“a pension that is paid by the state to people who have stopped working because they have reached a particular age.”

So I understand these people are actually pensioners, in other words they are retired people, and the reason for which they retired is that they are too old to continue working. So, they must still count as retired, mustn't they? But then, why use another term for the money that they get, which is old age pension, instead of simply a pension.

Another term is senior citizen for a person who receives an old age pension. Collins Dictionary says:

A senior citizen is an older person who has retired or receives an old age pension.

As you see, the dictionary calls the retired people or people who receive old age pension as senior citizen not a pensioner. So, I wonder what about a person who is not getting any money? Do they not count as a senior citizen?

I think all of these terms somehow overlap. So, I need to clarify my questions:

  1. Are "pension" and "old age pension" not the same thing?

  2. If they are the same, why different names?

  3. If they are not the same thing, what are those who get "old age pension" called? Are they still called "a pensioner" or "an old age pensioner"?

  4. In English, if a person says, “I am a pensioner”, does it mean I am a retired person and I am getting paid every month. or does it mean I am not retired, but I am not working either, but I am still being paid for some other reasons other than getting retired (poor, disabled, etc).

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    So, if you think a retired person may or may not be getting a pension, what do you call the money paid to a retired person by the state ? Or do you mean some people are still called "retired" when they stopped working before they are entitled to get pensions?
    – Yunus
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 17:10
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    The word "pensioner" used to mean "elderly person" sounds very British to my American ears.
    – Hearth
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 2:04
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    The pension has been around for as long as the welfare state, but both partners of a married couple working hasn't. Back in the day, up to 50% of the potential workforce were never long-term employed, so weren't 'retirees'. They do receive senior (and likely disability and other) pensioner benefits, so they are 'pensioners'.
    – mcalex
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 2:36
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    @Hearth - that's because it is British, the article is from the BBC. In the UK we use the word "pensioner" - technically for someone who is eligible for state pension (65 and over), but often just as way to refer to an older person in general. Americans might refer to that person as a "senior" or "senior citizen", which sounds very American to British ears.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 10:00
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    @yunus - You are really trying to read to much into it. In the UK the term "pensioner" is someone in receipt of state old age pension, typically over 65. It's a common way in the UK to refer to an older person in that age bracket. It's not used for people younger than that who perhaps might retire early on a private or company pension. This usage is specific to the UK, it may differ in other English speaking countries.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 10:34

9 Answers 9


In Britain, pensioner normally implies old-age pensioner (the abbreviation OAP used to be common, but it's officially called the State pension nowadays). Pensioner is just a synonym for person who is above the usual retirement age.

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    Some UK occupational pensions, e.g. military, police, fire service, etc, can (or could) be claimed at around 50 to 55. Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 18:12
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    "Pensioner is just a synonym for person who is above the usual retirement age." - No, absolutely not. It is commonly used to mean 'someone who has retired', but technically it just means someone who is drawing a pension. It is perfectly possible for someone to draw a pension without being particularly old, e.g. Military, and conversely, some people who have retired, may not be eligible to draw a pension.
    – MikeB
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 14:28
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    @MikeB - I know that, of course, but I would still maintain that in UK everyday speech, as in the sentence quoted by the OP, it implies a person old enough to draw the State pension. Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 15:10
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    @MikeB - that would be a technically correct definition, but not common parlance. There is a difference, and Kate is right. When you say "pensioner" in a normal conversation, the usual meaning is "old person".
    – Davor
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 20:13

The generic term 'pensioner' is just newspaperese for someone of advanced age. It is not a precise definition.
They tend to apply it to anyone they wish to invoke sympathy for. By implication, they are too old to 'defend themselves', so the newspaper must enlist the help of the British populace to supply a large fluffy cushion of sympathy to the cause.

Sure, I'm being cynical, but this is emotive language, not technically descriptive.

It doesn't define whether they still work, receive a state pension, or have their own retirement fund to draw on. [It's quite possible in the UK to do all three simultaneously.] There's not even any single defining line any more. The age to qualify for state pension used to be 60 for women, 65 for men, but now seems to go up every other year. By broad definition, once you reach that age you qualify as a 'pensioner', whether you actually retire at that point or not.

To add anecdote, which really serves to emphasise the potential for confusion if you're not used to British terminology and/or 'newspaperese'…
I'm retired from one industry, though currently work in another. I have not yet reached state pension age. I'm therefore [semi-]retired but not strictly a 'pensioner' in newspaper terms.

  • The state pension age increases much less often than every other year. It's currently 66 years, not rising to 67 until 2028. And there are no current plans to increase beyond age 68, in 2046. Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 8:17
  • People often take my hyperbole literally... Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 8:25
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    I don't think that two changes since the 1995 Act (matching women to men, then increasing both by a year) is anything like "every other year", even figuratively; I guess your opinion differs. Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 8:28
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    … sometimes too literally… Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 8:29
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    I think there is a a subtle bit of British class-ism at play here. While there is no strict distinction between the two, I think the word 'pensioner' is used to evoke an image of someone of modest means, perhaps working- or lower-middle-class, such as might be the case if one relied primarily on the state pension. In contrast, the word 'retiree' or similar conjures and image of someone who is likely to be upper-middle or upper class, (percieved as) better off, with income derived from savings, investments, and/or private pension funds.
    – avid
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 14:38

In the United States, we don't usually use the term "old age pension". (It sounds like the equivalent of what we call "Social Security". A person who receives it may be called a Social Security recipient.) The other terms, however, are pretty clear:

Retiree: someone who has retired from work (although the person might still work part-time, as a volunteer, etc.).

Pensioner: someone who receives a pension, usually from his or her former employer. (While "pension" is common in the U.S., Americans do not often use the term "pensioner".)

Senior citizen: a person above a certain advanced age, often 65.

Of course, people often fall into multiple categories simultaneously and thus can be referred to by multiple terms.

I'll leave it to others to answer your first three questions, since I'm not very familiar with the term "old age pension". Regarding your fourth question, "I am a pensioner" simply means that the person receives a pension. Such people are usually retired, but not necessarily, since some pensions might be paid out before a person is fully retired.

The BBC presumably used the word "pensioner" to portray the woman sympathetically, since that word implies that she is probably old and no longer earning a full salary or wage.

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    @MichaelHarvey Well, to be fair, I wrote "advanced", not "extreme"! :) Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 18:16
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    @MarcInManhattan - It spends most of its time telling us what happens in another country, irrelevant to the OP's question. It only gets round to an actual answer right at the end. Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 7:03
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    @MarcInManhattan - It's the BBC. Clearly that means it is written from a British perspective. If it was CNN, equally I'd expect it to be American, no matter where in the world I happened to be. Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 11:42
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    This answer usefully clarifies that the word pensioner is only used in certain dialects of English. The OP does not state anywhere that they are interested in British English specifically, and this is clearly information that the OP does not have and would probably be interested in learning. Don't understand why anyone would downvote. Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 12:19
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    @abeboparebop I didn't downvote, but I don't think the answer does clarify that the word pensioner is only used in certain dialects of English. Furthermore, I think the answer would be improved by doing so. Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 13:46

The current official retirement age in the UK is 66. Once you reach 66 years of age, you receive a government pension, even if you decide to carry on working. So you can be a pensioner but not retired. (Or you can be retired but not a pensioner if you decide to retire early.)

Edited to add: As Michael Harvey points out in the comments, "retirement age" is not an official term. These days they call it State Pension age.

  • There is no official 'retirement age' in the UK. Anyone can stay working as long as they want. Workers cannot be made to retire at State Pension age. Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 10:54
  • @TonyK, You say "Once you reach 66 years of age, you receive a government pension". So, someone who has never worked can still get pension when they reach 66, is that right? Also, someone who is very rich can get this pension just because they turned 66, can they? Also, you say "(Or you can be retired but not a pensioner if you decide to retire early.) Then what do you call the money that this person is paid to every month? Since they are retired but not a pensioner, we can not call that money as "pension", can we?
    – Yunus
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 12:58
  • @yunus - yes to both your first questions. State Pension is an entitlement for everyone [you can get more or less depending on how you contributed towards it in earlier life, but everybody gets something.] btw, it's taxable too, just like any income. See my answer for some attempt to differentiate & why 'pensioner' is not an accurate description but a simplification/generalisation. Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 13:55
  • @MichaelHarvey: Thanks for the correction. It used to be called the "default retirement age", but now they call it the "State Pension age".
    – TonyK
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 14:27
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    @MichaelHarvey As you've probably learned from the protests in France, "retirement age" doesn't mean the age that you MUST retire, it means the minimum age where you CAN retire and receive retirement benefits. That's why raising it is so controversial, it means people must wait longer to receive benefits.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 14:37

“Pensioner” and “retired person” are nearly synonyms. It’s possible that someone might retire without any pension, but rare. The difference between them is regional: Americans do not say, “pensioner.” “Retired person” and “retiree” can be used in either British or American English.

  • It's less common, but I wouldn't call it rare. Many boomers were able to take advantage of economic conditions over their lives to build up savings and investments which have let them take early retirement, before their pension funds would mature or the state pension would become available. My parents managed this - with a reasonable salary to be sure, but only around 75th centile, not anything spectacular. With the economics of the 80s and 90s, it was within reach of most middle-management on a reasonable white-collar salary if they were frugal. These days of course, not so much!
    – Graham
    Commented Apr 9, 2023 at 11:42

Receiving the old age pension and being retired (no longer working) are two independent variables. A person may be pensioner, retired pensioner, retired (and no pension) or none. Not all this may be permitted by law but this is highly time and country dependent. Same as "jailed murderer".


First, we often have multiple words that refer to the same, or virtually the same, concept. For example, if you wanted to describe a person over seventy-five, you could say:

  • Senior
  • Senior citizen
  • Old person
  • Older person
  • Elderly person
  • Old timer
  • Old folk (this should only refer to multiple people)
  • Person of advanced age

This is to say, it's possible that in some contexts, there is no difference of meaning between pension and old age pension. It's just two different ways of saying the same thing.

In this case, though, there are some contexts where the two terms could have a different meaning. A pension is typically a way of making payments to a person who is no longer working. But a person might have stopped working for some reason other than that they're too old. A person might stop working because they have become too ill, or otherwise physically incapable of working. A person might also retire at a young age. There are pension plans that allow sick or disabled people to access the funds before they've reached "old age", and there are pension plans that do not.

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    That isn't how this is used in the UK. The question is about UK usage, and the article is from the BBC. A "pensioner" is technically someone who is eligible for the state pension - around 65. We don't use this term for someone younger who is in receipt of a different pension, such as a company pension. It only applies to people who are old enough to qualify for the UK state pension. Also some of those terms you used are extremely unusual in the UK - especially calling older people "seniors". That's very American.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 10:12

One historical note to add to the answers above, regarding the difference between "pension" and "old age pension" ... until the early 1900s, a "pension" was only paid to retired public servants, typically the Armed Forces. One example of this lasted until modern times - the Chelsea Pensioners were veterans of World War 1.

Sometime around 1910 - I think the Liberal government of Lloyd George reformed the situation of people too old to work, with the Old Age Pension allowing retired people to live in relative dignity compared with the Victorian poorhouse. (actually 1908)

So older sources will refer to the Old Age Pension, and those receiving it as OAPs, to distinguish it from military pensions, though nowadays this distinction can safely be forgotten, it it officially the State Pension.

There is a charming story among Neil Munro's "Para Handy Tales" from that era, where the gallant crew of the Vital Spark (a shabby coastal cargo steamboat in W Scotland : warning - English learners may find the language difficult!) are giving a ride to a very unhappy woman on her way to the poorhouse, saving her a 25 km walk, when they discover she has completely missed the news about the old age pension!

On discovering she is wealthier than she thought (by 5 shillings or £0.25 a week), she can return to her comfortable home ... this time by fast passenger steamer!

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    Monarchs granted 'perpetual pensions', often to people who had done them favours, from the time of Charles II onwards. Some could be left to heirs; others were for the life of the recipient or the monarch. They were later incorporated in the Civil List, and I think the last may have been bought out around 1947. Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 13:20

To be a pensioner in the UK unambiguously refers to those eligible by their age to receive the state retirement pension.

In the post-war period, the threshold ages were 60 for women and 65 for men, and most corporate workforce policies enforced retirement at these ages too.

Except possibly in special usage (such as when an actuary is discussing the beneficiaries of a pension fund), pensioner does not specifically refer to those actually in receipt of a pension, whether the state pension or a private occupational pension. It is an age category.

Once upon a time, the correlation between being of a particular age, being retired from employment, and being in receipt of state or occupational pensions, was almost total. Nowadays, the correlation is far looser, but the term pensioner has continued to mean a particular age group, rather than status as a pension recipient.

The terms retirement and retiree would be used to generally refer to those of any age who are actually retired and in receipt of a pension - including the early retired. There is implicitly no concept of "retirement" without being in receipt of a pension.

  • thanks for the answer. However, I could not quite underdestand your sentence: "There is implicitly no concept of "retirement" without being in receipt of a pension." Does this mean, anyone who is getting a pension is already a retiree?
    – Yunus
    Commented Apr 9, 2023 at 8:48
  • @yunus - no, it means the reverse, that most people (not anyone) who are considered to be retired are getting a pension. Some may not be; they may have other sources of money. Commented Apr 9, 2023 at 9:23
  • @yunus, no, you can get a pension without being retired (such as those who "retire early" from one job with an occupational pension, but then continue working another job), and you can be a pensioner who works (i.e. you can be over state pension age, and entitled to receive a state pension, and continue to work), but you can't be retired if you have no pension at all. In that case, you're merely "unemployed".
    – Steve
    Commented Apr 9, 2023 at 17:23
  • @Steve - you could be retired from regular gainful work and not be receiving any pension at all. You might have income from an annuity, or be spending down savings (or living on the interest, or a combination), or just rich. There are people who have never worked in all of their lives, and I don't think it would be accurate to call them 'retired' if they are past some milestone, e.g. pension age. Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 10:14
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    @MichaelHarvey, you can certainly retire if you are financially independent, without technically having a pension. The point I was intending to make is that "retirement" is generally a status that applies to those who have worked for a living, but who now have the means not to work, and who don't intend to work again. It doesn't really apply to the lumpenproletariat or to workers who are "on the scrapheap" (those in their 50s and 60s who are too young to receive a state pension, but regarded as too old or worn out to be employed anew), and it doesn't apply to the idle rich.
    – Steve
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 10:31

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