Young lives: is now a good time to be young?
Young lives: is now a good time to be young?

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2 Intergenerational unfairness

While many inequalities are long-standing, and different ways of looking at divergence can emerge, there are also more recent developments. An example of a new inequality relates to ‘intergenerational unfairness’. Some people believe that a new trend has developed where older people’s lives are prioritised over those of younger people. ‘Baby boomers’ (those born between 1946 and 1964) have supposedly been prioritised over ‘Millennials’ (typically those born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s to early 2000s) and that the older generation have ‘pulled up the ladder’ (most often referring to the housing ladder) behind them, leaving the younger generation with no hopes of a mortgage or a good pension, and with an environmental catastrophe (climate change) to deal with and pay for.

In the next activity, you will look at evidence of the argument that young people today face a ‘perfect storm’: a combination of low wages, precarious employment, an insecure labour market, student debt and high housing costs. When you listen to some young people today, the feeling is that it is not a good time to be young and that things were much better for their parents and grandparents. They believe that they can’t ‘get on with their lives’ until intergenerational unfairness is fixed.

Activity 2 Intergenerational unfairness

Timing: Allow about 1 hour

First, watch Video 1.

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Video 1 Intergenerational unfairness
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The Resolution Foundation is a ‘think tank’ working to improve the living standards of low- to middle-income families in the UK; it has drawn together a range of people to debate this issue and devise a way forward. Don’t forget that if you are particularly interested in the work of a specific organisation such as this one, you might want to follow their Twitter feed: @resfoundation.

Now read:

Do you agree that intergenerational inequality is real? If not, why not? If so, is it a problem?


There certainly are differences between generations, but you can argue that while the evidence about jobs, pay, housing, lower incomes and less spending is clear enough, other issues would be relevant in any discussion of whether life is worse for young people today; living standards were lower, and health care and health outcomes were certainly worse for older generations, while younger people benefit from the profound social changes brought about by previous generations.

Yet the intergenerational dimensions of inequality cannot be ignored. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is that, as some young people will inherit property (and perhaps other assets) and some people will not, wealth inequality is constantly self-perpetuating, across the generations.

Perhaps it is too easy to focus on the division and conflict between generations. Lots of intergenerational support and help continue, for example, the ‘bank of mum and dad’ often helps with university costs, while many children and young people still provide care and support to older generations.

Discussions like this about whether this is a good time to be young can be very revealing; perhaps we need more of them.

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