I often wonder how different my life would be had I been born 30 years earlier. I often wonder how life would play out for me had I been a baby boomer instead of a millennial. Would I already be living in my forever home? Or would I still struggle with rent as it is the case today?
This kind of questions, more often than not, leads to the discussion of the generational wealth gap. Of course, each side has its own arguments. Millennials, like myself, would argue that our parents failed to set us up for success, while baby boomers would simply say that they worked harder than youngsters these days.
Some, however, like British politician David Willetts, argued that the societal problems that young people have to face nowadays are, to some extent, baby boomers’ fault, even though he is a baby boomer himself. He presented this provocative thought through his book, “The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future – and why They Should Give It Back”.
Willetts’ book shows that baby boomers, through their cultural, demographic, and political dominance, have stolen their children’s future. He has many interesting arguments, but what’s more interesting is that he also feels that baby boomers need to do something to make it right.
Baby boomers, as we have known, are people who were born between 1946 and 1964. World War II had just ended, and their parents simply decided that it would be a great time to start a family. Most of these young families lived prosperously, and thus it became widely known that baby boomers had it relatively easy when it comes to living.
If we use 1946 as a reference, the oldest baby boomer today would be 74 years old. Donald Trump is 74 years old, and he is, as of this writing, still the president of the United States. Being the number one person in America, Trump obviously is able to do something to make it right. After all, his motto is “Make America great again”.
But are the baby boomers really to blame for our current state of living? Is it really baby boomers’ fault that millennials can’t buy their own house? In case you didn’t know, millennials are the first generation that actually earns less than their previous generation. Millennials are better educated, so why do they have a hard time making money?
Often times, parents of millennials would argue that their children don’t work hard enough, that success is earned, not inherited. How come millennials can work hard if there simply weren’t enough jobs for them? I’m talking about the Great Recession, of course, which happened during the time that most of the millennials had just begun to build a career.
Speaking of inheritance, though, there’s always the factor of luck, which is basically out of anyone’s control. But luck isn’t always about inheritance. Luck is also about timing.
If I was born in 1959 instead of 1989, would I consider myself lucky? Would I feel lucky enough to become a middle-class worker in the 90s as opposed to in the 2010s? Seeing as how there are less Fortune 500 companies that offer pension plans now compared to in the 90s, I would say I am lucky.
Seeing as house pricing wasn’t as high in the 90s compared to today, I would absolutely consider myself lucky. I wouldn’t blame you for calling me envious to the baby boomers, but as the wage growth rate in the US shows – 3% in the mid-80s to mid-90s, 0.3% in 2007 to 2017 – I would definitely feel more financially stable had I been born 30 years earlier.
But money is not the only defining factor of the quality of life. Others, like climate change, is also a very important factor, and we wouldn’t even consider this a crisis had the baby boomers cared enough about the environment.
As Willetts puts it, young people earn less, have less space in terms of housing, but at the same time have to pay more taxes without having the confidence of a so-called pension plan. To put matters even worse, young people have to turn into anti-consumerism in an attempt to protect the environment. Is it too much then to say that millennials are the most unfortunate generation?
In some occasion, millennials are labelled lazy and unwilling to take risks. In his presentation, Willetts mentioned that young people are less likely to change jobs, and this contributes to their underperforming wages. With all these insecurities – unable to buy a house, unable to save up for emergencies or retirement, and not to mention parents’ pressure – it’s easy to see why some millennials are too hesitant to take a risk and are less likely to start their own business.
On the other side of the coin, being a baby boomer wasn’t all bells and whistles. For one, access to information wasn’t as easy back in their days, and the healthcare system wasn’t as good either. This kind of upgrades is what makes baby boomers look down on millennials. They’d see us as ungrateful and whiny, while in truth, we should be thankful for how things are way better now with all the technological advances.
In that regard, I couldn’t imagine how hard it would be to apply for a job without the convenience of the internet. To put it simply, there are things that were better in the old days, and there are also things that are better now. Maybe intergenerational theft isn’t really a thing at all. Maybe millennials are just less lucky than baby boomers.
Feat Image via: BBVA