The Silver Tsunami

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The Silver Tsunami (also known as Grey Tsunami, Gray Tsunami, Silver Wave, Gray Wave, or Grey Wave) is a metaphor used to describe population aging. The silver tsunami metaphor has been used in popular media and in scholarly literature[1][2][3] to refer to the late-twentieth-century demographic phenomenon of population aging in major media platforms including The Economist,[4],[5] and multiple news outlets.[6][7] The phrase has also been used to refer more specifically to health and economic implications associated with population aging by major medical publications including The British Medical Journal,[8] New England Journal of Medicine,[9] and professional organizations including American Psychological Association.[10]

According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, variants of the Silver Tsunami metaphor (for example, age wave, grey hoard, rising tide, grey or gray tsunami)[11] first occurred in reference to population aging in the 1980s.[1]


Scholars from a range of disciplines including humanities, health professions, and social science have argued that the silver tsunami does not constitute neutral language to describe population aging, calling it "dangerous"[12] and "a nasty metaphor for older adults".[1]

Critics of the silver tsunami phrase (and its variants) have argued that it represents an important example of ageist language. For example, Andrea Charise (2012) writes that the prevalent use of this metaphor in popular and professional media "testifies to the barely conscious figurative language that serves to construct perceptions of an aging population."[13]

"The Winter 2010 President’s Message from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research begins by invoking "the ‘grey tsunami’—the tide of chronic diseases arising from an aging population which threatens to swamp our health-care system, economy, and quality of life." Similarly, in 2010 the Alzheimer Society of Canada published a major commissioned report on the projected impact of dementia entitled "Rising Tide." This ominous rhetoric of rising, swamping, tides, and disease—amplified by the authoritative tones of medical and health policy expertise—conceives of population aging as an imminent catastrophe" (Charise, p.3).

In a 2013 editorial in the Journal of Gerontological Social Work entitled "The Aging Tsunami: Time for a New Metaphor?", Amanda Barusch builds on this objection, by describing the "inaccurate, damaging perceptions" of older age. "The specter of millions of dependent elders sweeping over the land makes us shiver. And this is what fuels the aging tsunami metaphor".[1]

In a content analysis (2009) of The Economist’s digital archive between 1997 and 2008, Ruth Martin, Caroline Williams, and Desmond O’Neill conclude that "There is a noticeable trend to ageism in one of the most influential economic and political magazines in the world."[14] In place of the silver tsunami's "apocalyptic" imagery,[15] critics have suggested abandoning the metaphor in favour of different, and ideally more neutral, terminology with less overtly ageist connotations.[16] "Geriatricians and gerontologists who want to influence policymakers to improve services for older people will need to engage in a dialogue with journalists in areas other than the biomedical literature."[14]


  1. ^ a b c d Barusch, Amanda (2013). "The Aging Tsunami: Time for a New Metaphor?". Journal of Gerontological Social Work. 56 (3): 181–184. doi:10.1080/01634372.2013.787348. PMID 23548140. S2CID 41067427.
  2. ^ Jasper, Mila (14 June 2019). "A silver wave? California braces for elderly boom that could overburden state". The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 28 July 2023.
  3. ^ "Aging America forecasts a 'gray wave' for U.S.| Opinion". The Tennessean.
  4. ^ "The silver tsunami". The Economist. 2010-02-04. Retrieved 2016-03-03.
  5. ^ "A Silver Tsunami Invades The Health Of Nations". 2015-08-11. Retrieved 2016-03-03.
  6. ^ "Our hospitals are not ready for the grey tsunami". The Globe and Mail.
  7. ^ "Preparing for the 'grey tsunami': Editorial". 30 September 2015.
  8. ^ Bob Roehr (2012-07-10). "US geriatric mental health workforce needs to expand, says Institute of Medicine". BMJ. 345: e4686. doi:10.1136/bmj.e4686. PMID 22782905. S2CID 34744518. Retrieved 2016-03-03.
  9. ^ Bartels SJ, Naslund JA (2013). "The Underside of the Silver Tsunami — Older Adults and Mental Health Care". The New England Journal of Medicine. 368 (6): 493–6. doi:10.1056/nejmp1211456. PMID 23343039.
  10. ^ "Preparing for the 'silver tsunami'". Retrieved 2016-03-03.
  11. ^ "Let the reader think of the burden': Old Age and the Crisis of Capacity" (PDF). Occasion: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities. 4: 1–16. 2012.
  12. ^ "Gray Tsunami: A Dangerous Metaphor in Aging Discourse? | Annals of Long Term Care". Archived from the original on May 11, 2015. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  13. ^ Andrea Charise. ""Let the Reader Think of the Burden": Old Age and the Crisis of Capacity" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-03-03.
  14. ^ a b "Retrospective Analysis of Attitudes to Ageing in the Economist: Apocalyptic Demography for Opinion Formers". British Medical Journal. 339: 1435–37. 2009.
  15. ^ Stephen Katz, Disciplining Old Age: The Formation of Gerontological Knowledge (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), 69.
  16. ^ "'Silver Tsunami' And Other Terms That Can Irk The Over-65 Set".

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