Baby Boomers. No-one likes us, we don’t care

Mark Beasley examines the Baby Boomer phenomenon.

It has become fashionable to write books blaming the so-called ‘Baby Boomer’ generation for a multitude of sins. The general argument of such books is summed-up as follows by Robert Colville, writing in the Telegraph: “Via demographic accident and bloody-minded selfishness, the Baby Boomers have come to monopolise the country’s wealth, politics and culture…leaving their children nothing but debt.” This article begs to differ.

Two brains are better than one

The ‘inter-generational’ debate started in 2011, with the launch of ‘The Pinch – How the Baby Boomers Stole their Children’s Future’ by David Willetts – now a Government Minister. This is a fascinating and well-argued economic and social discourse – as you might expect from a man whose nickname is ‘Two Brains’.

However, the argument gets taken into the realms of inter-generational warfare with a new book called ‘Jilted Generation’, by Ed Howker and Shiv Malik. And it sounds like other books on the subject out around now share a similar theme – ‘What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us’ by Francis Becket, and ‘It’s all their Fault’ by Neil Boorman.

Man the barricades, boomers – Generations X and Y are not happy. Maybe the so-called Millennials as well, whoever they are.

On the face of it, there is a very good case to be made. The facts are, apparently, undeniable. A large number of people (how many, it’s not clear – but certainly many more than previous generations) within a certain age group (i.e. those currently aged 46 – 65) have benefited from educational and social mobility, generous pension schemes, property inflation and inheritances . However, current conditions are nowhere near so favourable, meaning that those younger than 46 will not benefit in the same way that the ‘previous generation’ allegedly did.

Furthermore, the Government has created unprecedented levels of debt, which will take many years to pay off. And all the time, like a ticking bomb, the population continues to age, meaning an increasingly small proportion of the population will have to work to pay for an increasingly large number of elderly people.

So who’s to blame?

And who or what is responsible for all this? The so-called Baby Boomers, according to these writers, that’s who. And that’s where I disagree.

It is an undeniable fact that there was a peak in birth rates between 1945 and 1964, creating a so-called ‘baby boom’. It is also the case that, overall, fings ain’t what they used to be. But I disagree with just about everything else.

Here is my case:

1. There is no such group as ‘Baby Boomers’ in the UK. Everyone currently aged between 46 and 65 shares, by definition, a period of time during which they were born. Period. Otherwise, this group does not share a common set of attitudes, behaviours and lifestyle characteristics. Importantly, it does not have a shared identity: I have never heard anyone in the UK describe themselves as a ‘Baby Boomer’.

People of this age group are as complex and diverse as any other age group, by any criteria you care to apply. The concept of ‘Baby Boomers’ originated in the USA, within a very different economic and social context (post-war economic boom vs. post-war austerity, for example). Images and stereotypes of ‘Baby Boomers’ are cultural artefacts made and perpetuated in the USA.

2. It is undeniable that many people of the ‘baby boomer’ age group have benefited disproportionately from an extremely fortunate set of economic and social circumstances. However, to label an entire age group as having done so is to deal in averages, always a weak statistical basis for any argument. For example, more than 30% of people aged 50-65 are unemployed. More than 50% of people in this age group are worried about how they will support themselves in retirement. Many are disabled, disadvantaged and poor – as in other age groups. It is true that some people are very wealthy – but so are people in other age groups. There are just more of them aged 46-65.

3. Because there is no such self-defined group as ‘Baby Boomers’, it is illogical to suggest that this ‘group’, acting together against an explicit or implicit agenda, was somehow responsible for the set of circumstances we now find ourselves in. Many of the people responsible do not fit within this age group – the whole of the massively influential Thatcher Government, for example.

And in any case, is the situation in which we now find ourselves mainly attributable to UK-based individuals or groups of people? What about globalisation and the massive changes it has exerted on so many of our old assumptions and certainties? And isn’t this as much about attitudes to education, family and social mobility – which are not defined by age.

4. Many people aged 46-65 may be wealthy, on the face of it. However, the value of that wealth is in freefall, while employment and pension prospects are uncertain at best. Care for their parents has to be funded, as does education (and just about everything else) for their children. That wealth is being re-distributed, fast!


And if there were any truth in the idea that a whole group of people born at the same time had conspired to disadvantage the next generation, would I care?

Before I answer, let me change out of my yellow polyester golf slacks, before jogging and cycling with my well-preserved wife, both of us sporting Hollywood smiles and stylish greying hair.

Then, please wait while I drive my sports car back to my maximum-security gated retirement community, pausing only to don further smart leisure clothing, before chuckling genially with my extended family around the pool and barbecue.

The genial chuckling will of course be undertaken via clenched teeth, as I am funding the lifestyles of most of the family members present.

Mark Beasley – Mature Marketing Consultants

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