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What is a Pensioner?

By C. Mitchell
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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A pensioner, often also called an “old age pensioner,” is an elderly person who is no longer a part of the workforce. Pensioners are so called because they often derive the majority of their income from pension payouts. Retirement benefits range from savings and stock plans to limited-access trust and investment accounts, but pension plans are by far the most popular. A pension plan makes a regular payment to those enrolled that in many ways mimics a paycheck and is usually designed to cover at least a significant part of an elderly person’s medical and living expenses. In some countries, pensions are awarded to all citizens upon reaching a certain age, and employers also frequently offer pension plans as a benefit to certain workers.

The term “pensioner” is most commonly used in British English. American and Canadian English usually use “retiree” to refer to the same category of person. A large part of this is likely owing to the fact that in the UK, nearly every old person is receiving a pension as a social benefit from the government. In both the United States and Canada, pension and social security plans work on a pay-in system and are not issued automatically. In these countries, employees pay into the account while working, often in the form of a standard paycheck deduction, and stand to receive that same amount back once retired.

In common vernacular, labeling someone a pensioner is not as much a comment on his income details as it is on his age and place in society. There is not usually any practical difference between “pensioner” and “senior citizen,” “aged person,” or “elder,” to name a few. A person can permissibly be called a pensioner even if he or she does not receive a pension.

Where pensions are not a prescribed part of social welfare, employers often use the promise of pension payouts as a way to encourage employees to devote the entirety of their working lives to service of the company. Pension plans vary in specific details, but most offer lifetime payments to retired employees, typically on a monthly or bi-monthly basis in the manner of a paycheck. Most government employees are automatically enrolled in pension plans. US government pensions are often believed to be the most lucrative and dependable employer-sponsored pensions available.

Depending on location, financial benefits are only some of the provisions a pensioner can expect to receive. The medical needs of the pensioner population are usually different than for working-age people, and social benefits in most places include special medical care for the elderly. Elderly care in nursing homes or assisted living facilities is often either underwritten or paid for with government funds. In some places, counseling services and even reminiscent therapy sessions are available to aging members of society to help them transition into their new stage of life and to cope with the challenges they will face as they age.

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