The Coming Clash of Generations

Tuesday, November 29, 2005
In an article in today's Telegraph, Alice Thomson describes the struggle of British twenty-somethings to survive being burdened by taxes and debt. British demographics suggest that, while every one hundred British workers today support 27 pensioners over 65, by 2060 that same one hundred workers will support 48.

Compared with the older generation swanning around on their cruises, [those in their twenties] seemed anxious, exhausted and alienated. A few months [ago], the think tank Reform took up the term the iPod generation, labelling them insecure, pressurised, overtaxed and debt-ridden. Now the pensions crisis has made it even more clear. To be young in Britain is not a carefree experience. The real divide in this country is no longer between toffs and council estate lads, the public sector versus the private sector, or middle-class culture compared with the benefits culture. The big gap now is between the old and the young.

In a situation like this, it seems one always has to add insult to injury, and accuse those in their twenties of being "selfish."

But the generation now in their twenties are going to suffer even more [than those in their thirties]. They are called the selfish generation, but in fact research shows that they give more to charity and are more concerned about the environment than any other age group. They must look at their elders and wonder who really are the selfish ones.

Last week, I went to a party for a friend who is 28 to celebrate the fact that she had finally paid off her student loan. She is now saving for a fifth of a share in a house in Hackney. She can't even consider a pension. At a talk I gave at Cambridge University last week, the majority of students wanted to go into the City or become solicitors or accountants "to make money". If they don't start immediately, they will never scramble on to the housing ladder.

This generation is so debt-ridden that they have to live at home after university. It is not because they have been mollycoddled and want their washing done, it is because they can't afford anything else.

Of course, the British situation is different from ours here in the U.S. One of the upsides of our immigration problem may be that it provides an influx of relatively young people, who seem inclined to reproduce. (Don't misunderstand me; I know that presents its own set of issues.)

It seems safe to predict, in any case, that over the next decade we are going to be forced to confront our own version of the "Clash of Generations," and the first front in that battle is likely to be the looming crisis in Medicare.


[Disclaimer: As the father of four boys in their twenties, all engineers or engineers-in-training, one still in graduate school and one still in college, I have an obvious interest in this issue. If my health permits, I plan never to retire, and would like to die with my boots on. I work all year, and I take no vacations. I put myself through post-graduate training, and was fortunate enough to start out in life not in debt.]


David Thomson said...

Many of these younger citizens of the British isles will emigrate to the United States. If nothing else, the Islamic nihilists are too dominant. It may be too late to save the nation. I’m sure that this is the case regarding France. “England’s” demise may also be right around the corner.

There is only one way to bring about a growing economy. You must allow jobs to be created---and destroyed! The principle of creative destruction must become second nature to our citizens. “Protecting” the employment of the politically influential impoverishes the nation. No one has the right to demand special treatment.

There really is no such thing as total retirement for goal oriented human beings. You might wish to shorten your work day or seek new challenges. Nonetheless, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, we are doomed if we opt for a life of unending frivolity. The great scholar Bernard Lewis, for instance, is still active and he is close to eighty. He still spends much of his waking hours studying the problems of the Middle East.

Julian Biggs said...

jamie - i've never thought much of the retirement model either, but, just out of interest, why "no vacations."?

Jamie Irons said...


I think it's because I started life as a Presbyterian...(Became a Jew later. That should have helped, but somehow Judaism didn't, at least in the sphere of a reasonable amount of leisure, completely "take"... ;-)


Eric Blair said...

I'm not really planning on retiring either...but I have co-workers planning to 'retire' at 55.

I think what is going to happen is that at some point these European pension programs are going to collapse. Not just go in the red, but collapse. It won't be particuarly pretty.

Something of the kind already has happened in Japan the government has already reduced pension payouts some time ago, as have the Russians--but they're culturally less stuck with the 'greedy geezer' syndrome than the US or Europe is with the boomer generation.

Seneca the Younger said...

I'm not planning on retiring, for two reasons: first, if I were to retire, i'd spend my time reading, writing, and messing about with computers, and that's what I call work now; second, in my family, retirement seems to have been consistently followed quickly by death.

MeaninglessHotAir said...


I've always been curious: how does a professional psychiatrist who obviously loves his work and is good at it become the father of four engineers? What went wrong?

terrye said...

The only people I know who want to retire early are people who do some sort of physical work in their jobs...they are getting tired. Feet hurt, back hurts...things like that.

As for Medicare, Jamie is right. This thing is big now and when the boomers retire it will be huge.

The reaction to Bush's social security reform is indicative of the kind of response we will see when and if any serious attempt is made to reform Mdicare or Medicaid for that matter.

There will be changes in January and most of our clients are terrified that somehow someway it will take something away from them. My company is worried as well.

I don't think peple realize how many Americans are dependent on these kinds of programs. This is where I differ from Glenn Reynolds and his pork busters etc....these programs are not all like that bridge to nowhere. Many of them effect members of virtually every family in America.

Buddy Larsen said...

Amusing, tho the subject is deadly serious, and a hugely important aggravator of the demographic problem (ht, ad found on Hewitt site as "Charlatan's Web").