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Is the generation gap growing wider or growing older or both?

Updated on March 25, 2014

The Generation Gap

Generation Gap
Generation Gap | Source

The generation gap is alive and kicking

The generation gap is alive and kicking. Age prejudice still exists at both ends of life's timeline but the big difference is that gap has shifted upwards in years. As life gets tougher for twentysomethings it is getting easier for fiftysomethings. Will this tension make the age gap into a chasm or is there something that can be done to heal the wound?

Getting old is inevitable, growing up is optional

It's a worn out phrase that's been battered to death by greetings card companies the world over. Usually a legend to a photo of old people doing something childish. But it's a maxim that seems to resonate with the current crop of 'olds'. I'm coming up to mid fifties and don't feel old in the slightest (except when trying to drink with twenty year olds). My parents are long gone now but I wonder did they feel old in their fifties? They certainly behaved old, at least by modern standards and so did every other person of their generation who I came into contact with (apart from one rogue aunt who liked sports cars, golf and gin). Did their parents 'act their age' or were they even 'older' by the time they reached fifty. I'm talking now about successive generations who lived through the two world wars in their turn. Enough to prematurely age the best of them. To my grandparents, getting to fifty was an achievement. To my parents, passing sixty-five was pretty close to the finishing line. Now my generation is looking at the retirement goal post being moved back several years from what it is now. Not just because the semi-bankrupt Government needs to save money but because we are living much longer.

If we are all growing younger why is there still a generation gap?

I'm perhaps stating the obvious here. 'So long and thanks for all the fish' is a statement that belongs as much to the Baby Boomers as the Dolphins in The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. We all know that people are living longer and that the Silver Surfers have, for the most part, a great life on final salary pensions and real estate paid off and vastly inflated in value. But I think the gap between the young and the fifty plus demographic is just as great as it always was. In a survey of people in their late teens and early twenties the perception of their parents lives, values and behaviours remains as outdated and prejudicial as it always has been. The reverse is also true. The older generation have the same 'youth is wasted on the young' opinions as they always have done.

The real difference here is that the whole generation gap has shifted upwards. The gap remains the same, it merely occupies a different zone on life's timeline. Kid's don't seem to grow up until they are in their late twenties and early thirties. Old's are getting into their dotage in their eighties instead of seventies. I don't have hard evidence to back this up. But governments pushing back state pension ages, insurance companies pricing young drivers out of driving, maternity ages going up, everything points to the generation gap shift.

Generation Gap in the Fifties

Generation Gap in the Fifties
Generation Gap in the Fifties | Source

Twenty First Century Generation Gap

Twenty First Century Generation Gap
Twenty First Century Generation Gap | Source

The young have never had it so bad

Younger people today are inclined to think that the world is biased in favour of older people. “They want a special place on the bus” or “you can never get in the gym because it's an 'over 50's' class” or “no one wants to see wrinkly people in magazines”. I think there is an underlying feeling that older people are the 'have's' and the younger generation are the 'have not's'. There is some justification for the young feeling hard done by. It's harder to get a job, harder to get a mortgage, you pay for your education for the rest of your life. No wonder they just go down to the pub. The video below – Old Syd – reflects some opinions expressed by young people in a recent survey with a little humour and irony thrown in.

Old Sid

The older generation have never had it so good

As is the prerogative of the older generation, they commonly look down on the youth, probably tutting as they do, and observe that they are still partying into their late twenties when in their own youth they would have been working for ten years and already have a young family and a mortgage. If the older generation are living the high life it's because they are reaping the benefits of having already put in the hard yards. They are not ashamed to flaunt their 'youth' and vigour in the face of their kids. They deserve it. Okay they have benefited from spending the early part of their lives in one of the most peaceful and productive era's of the last century, but all you can do is make the most of the prevailing conditions and that they have done. The video below – Lollipop Man – is an expression of life for the average fifty something and above.

Lollipop Man - the lighter side of turning 50

Mind the gap

SAGA an insurance company specialising in the over fifties recently had a video competition to try to build a bridge across the generation gap by showing older people in a positive light and for the older generation to appreciate some of the perspectives of an increasingly estranged younger generation.

There is no doubt that the generation gap is growing wider and also shifting up the age scale. Perhaps it's time for the older generation, particularly in government, to give the younger generation a helping hand and for the younger generation to not be too proud to accept it.

I'll leave you with a message of inter-generational harmony -

Fatal Attraction

An older man announced he was to marry a young actress on his seventy-seventh birthday.

'Be careful,' his doctor warned him, 'prolonged sex with a girl that young could be fatal.'

The old man shrugged, 'if she dies, she dies.'


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    • Johnny Parker profile imageAUTHOR

      Johnny Parker 

      6 years ago from Birkenhead, Wirral, North West England

      @DonDWest Good point well made - you should put all that into a Hub of your own!

    • DonDWest profile image


      6 years ago from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

      The biggest problem is housing costs; when baby boomers charge 400x times more adjusted for inflation on the sale of a home vs. the time they first bought it; they're sending a clear message: I don't love my children. “Home equity” is merely an unconstitutional tax on the young.

      The past ten years I've noticed a huge income transition. Money that used to go to salaries is now going towards real-estate and stocks. People such as me, aged 29, are priced out of the raising real-estate/stock values and can only work for diminishing wage returns. This is a large transition of wealth from young to old and it's simply unacceptable. What makes it even more unacceptable is it rewards people for not working; and punishes people for working. When my father can earn more than me in investments/real estate, effectively sitting on his romp, than I can earn in 60 hour work weeks, what incentive is there to work hard?

      To make matters worse, the boomers brag about their fortune and the misery of their kids. They believe it's an accomplishment to simply be born in an era where assets were cheap and to subsequently watch them appreciate tumultuously during the past 20 years. They tell me I should "quit whining;" and then suggested that if I were smart I should have bought a house 20 years ago. Of course I couldn't buy a house 20 years ago because I was in grade school. They also seem to think that if I work longer than 60 hours, spending yet more time on this depreciating asset (wages); that this will somehow lift me out of poverty.

      Capitalism doesn't work when it comes to housing. Capitalism only works when PEOPLE HAVE A CHOICE. When it comes to shelter, people have no choice; they must either buy it or rent it. You can't opt out of paying for the product when it's overpriced. This means the current generation of homeowners can overcharge everything equally; thus inserting an effective monopoly on high housing costs.

      What needs to be done is the young have to have the option to opt out of the "free market" that's failing them. They should have to option to build colonies outside the cities; and to build their own communities. We shouldn't be forced to play the real estate game. We should be allowed to use housing for its actual purpose; housing our families. Land shouldn't cost anything, and the wholesale value to build a house isn't any more than 50K. It's ludicrous that young people have to pay 10x the wholesale value of a house because everyone else is offering the same ridiculous 10x the wholesale value of a house. Any other business that offered their products at 10x times wholesale value would run out of business because with other products people have the choice not to buy. If we were given an option to break free from this market by building houses off our own sweat and tears; our future would still be a lot of hard work, yet hopeful.

      As far as I’m concerned, any suggestions to house my generation within the current capitalist system are moot point. Obviously the real estate system is profitable without the need for first time buyers; so there’s no incentive for the capitalists to change their ways. I don’t even look at real estate magazines anymore or scout the market. It’s like getting coal in your stocking every Christmas. There’s no market for me.

      I can’t exactly be entrepreneurial and take advantage of this huge market demand that isn’t being met; because I don’t have the capita to start a home development business. Unlike other businesses, you can’t “bootstrap” your way up in home development. You need to take the traditional route of taking out a huge bank loan; and banks won’t loan out millions to young people.

      Young people simply need an alternative out of free market capitalism when it comes to real estate. Either we take the socialiam route of getting the government to force the baby boomers to charge no more than 30% of someone's wage on rent/mortgage (not likely to happen); or we take my colonial advice, which allows the youth to establish colonies on freely offered crown land.

    • Johnny Parker profile imageAUTHOR

      Johnny Parker 

      6 years ago from Birkenhead, Wirral, North West England

      @NotPC thanks for reading. As Arterial says, the gap is definitely deepening. I let go of the Baby Boomer coat tails so fall between the two stools of older prosperity and younger asperity. I wouldn't want to be 21 again.

    • Arterial profile image


      6 years ago

      Well written and argued Bro. I have just started an MA, my group contains a 30ish and 4 x 20ish members. They each have a student loan debt nearly as large as the national debt of Ireland and in my opinion not a cat in hells chance of securing a job in the "Arts" with a decent income. At their age I was married with 1.5 children, a mortgage and a half decent salary. From next year students are going to be graduating with an average debt of £50K of which £27K will be tuition fees. With no final salary pensions, probably no assets and a retirement age of near 70 what are the prospects for these young people. To paraphrase a famous politician, "They will never have it so good"! The gap stays the same, but I regret to say the chasm gets deeper.

    • NotPC profile image


      6 years ago

      I've never looked at the generation gap that way.. I simply assumed that it was getting bigger not smaller. This is a very well thought out and convincing argument! Well done!


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