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Is age the great new divide? Let’s not forget class

by on April 13, 2015

This is the question posed in this article in yesterday’s Observer, in fact taking us back to the topic we looked at just before our Easter break, namely a focus on age in relation to the general election. In common with other more general pieces on age and work, ‘baby boomers’ are singled out for comparison with other age groups. None of these other age groups are here clearly defined; indeed the full title of the article is ‘Baby boomers v the rest’.

Here older voters are initially positioned as having reaped the benefits of the welfare state and the housing market, as well as now being able to spend their pension pots and pass on what’s left without paying any inheritance tax when they die. David Willet’s book The Pinch, which argued that baby boomers enjoy these benefits at the direct expense of younger generations, is said to have paved the way for a new discourse about intergenerational conflict.

The rest of the piece is a more considered analysis of both the housing and the labour market and considers aspects of intergenerational solidarity.  Some of the interesting observations:

  • Far from generation replacing class as a divide, age accentuates the importance of class, as better-off baby boomers pass on wealth and connections to children and grandchildren.
  • The term ‘lost generation’ may be used to describe young people but many aren’t lost at all, having tremendous job prospects.
  • Higher employment rates for older workers reflects the drive to encourage older people to work longer as life expectancy increases, which economists agree is critical to the long-term stability of the country.
  • The labour market has failed to respond to long-term structural and social shifts, particularly around the creation of better quality jobs (for all ages).

It ends with a comment on how politics has thus far failed to respond to some of the big sociological trends (e.g. the demands for an affordable care sector which is not dominated by low quality poorly paid jobs – or indeed by poor quality care) and how this affects all ages. With the launch of the manifestos this week, it’ll be interesting to see how (or if) these are addressed by the various political parties.

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