Home Education Inter-generational Financial Giving and Inequality: Give and Take in 21st Century Families
Public Views About Who Has Won 'The Generation Game'
Given widespread discussion about how the baby boomers are a ‘lucky’ or perhaps even selfish or greedy generation (see Chap. 2), we asked respondents in our survey, and also in our in-depth interviews, about this. For example, in the survey, we asked respondents the following question:
Some people think that particular generations have a better deal in life, financially speaking, than others, for example in terms of education, jobs, housing, pensions and so on. Which generation, if any, do you think has had, or might have, the better deal in life—your grandparents' generation, your parents' generation, your generation or the generation after you?
Table 7.1 shows that the most common answer, among those interviewed, was to say that ‘my generation’ has had/might have the better deal in life (36 per cent). But a quarter said ‘my parents’. When we break this into the different age groups broadly reflecting their generations, we see that the older baby boomers (aged 60-69) and the War Generation (aged 70 plus) were particularly likely to say ‘my generation’ (around three in five of these age groups). This is interesting because ‘the’ baby boom generation is clearly split, within itself, on this question. The older baby boomers (born between 1945 and 1955) were much more likely to say ‘my generation’ (61 per cent) and had more in common with those born before 1945 than they did with the younger baby boomers (born between 1955 and 1965). And while the younger baby boomers were still more likely to see their own generation as the most fortunate, a substantial minority (28 per cent) pointed to their parents’ generation as receiving the better deal and 17 per cent pointed to the generation after them. Perhaps some of the younger baby boomers had parents who
Table 7.1 Public views in 2014 about which generation has had the better deal, financially
were close to being older baby boomers themselves but were now retired, whereas the younger baby boomers were still in the labour market and perhaps concerned about their employment and pension positions. This data reinforces the point that we should not necessarily combine all those born between 1945 and 1965 into one group of ‘baby boomers’.
It is also surprising, perhaps, that the War Generation—those over 70—were just as likely as the older baby boomers to say that their own generation had had the best deal in life. This goes against the prevailing discourse about the ‘lucky’ baby boomers but perhaps reflects the reality of the picture shown in Chap. 2, that those born before the introduction of the modern post-war welfare state have actually benefitted quite a lot from the services and benefits it provides. Furthermore, pensioners have been quite visibly ‘protected’ from various cuts in social security benefits in recent years so their response to this question might reflect this protection relative to working-age groups. Finally, the War Generation may have lower expectations about living standards and so feel better off than other groups even where the more objective picture tells a different story.
Those aged below 50 were more likely to say that their parents’ generation had the better deal in life, financially, compared with other generations, including their own. But, surprisingly again, those in the youngest group, aged 16-29, were actually more likely to think their own generation had—or might have—a better deal in life than those slightly older than them (aged 30-39). This is also surprising, perhaps, given high rates of youth unemployment, difficulties with the housing market and the introduction of higher tuition fees. But perhaps this generation is optimistic about the future?
We then asked respondents which generation has had, or might have, the worst deal, in life financially, and the most common answer was ‘the generation after me’ (34 per cent), though this was closely followed by ‘my grandparents’ generation (26 per cent). Once again, opinions differed between much older generations and much younger ones. More than a quarter of 16-29 year olds thought that their generation had the worst deal, financially, but similar proportions also thought it might be the generation after them or their grandparents’ generation. Half of the younger baby boomers (those in the 50-59-year-old age group) said that the generation after them would have the worst deal, but 25 per cent
Table 7.2 Public views in 2014 about which generation has had the worst deal, financially
identified their grandparents’ generation as suffering the most, financially. Those aged 60 or more were also split between their grandparents’ generation and the next generation. There was a clear feeling that older generations had enjoyed a progressively better life, financially, than much older ones, but now this ‘progress’ was stalling, if not reversing, such that younger generations would not be so fortunate.
These questions give a clear indication that the public generally felt that baby boomers have had a better deal in life, financially, than previous generations but that younger generations will find life much more difficult (Table 7.2).
Our qualitative work explored these views in more detail to see what accounted for these opinions. Fieldwork took place between November 2012 and December 2013, and key themes that emerged, when discussing differences between generations were employment; education; housing; the welfare state; the impact of new technology and social relationships. We discuss these views here, starting with those held by the older (War time) generation in our study.
Members of the older generation in our study (aged between 67 and 86) often began, for example, by referring to how the labour market had become much more difficult for younger generations. They also reflected on the changing nature of society which, according to some, had become less ‘social’. Another theme, however, was the difficulty in making clear comparisons between the past and today given the risk of looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles. One of our interviewees captured many of these points when he said:
We think that we had a better deal than younger people have got today. ... When we were younger we never had to worry about work because we got a job. ... I know older people will say, ‘The good old days!’, but they were better, you know ... in many respects. People were better to each other. People weren’t so insular as they are now. (Older Generation, Allen Family)
Another member of the older generation also lamented the passing of the ‘good old days’. This interviewee pointed out that people had fewer material goods but were, in her view, better off in terms of relationships and well-being. It is slightly ironic, however, that this participant initially suggests that some traditional practices have been lost (e.g. grandparents telling stories to their grandchildren) but then mentions that her partner keeps the practice going with their own grandchildren. Perhaps this does, indeed, suggest a rose-tinted view:
I was happy in my generation. We didn’t have as much as they have today. But we were happy. We played more. You do feel sorry for this generation really. Things are so much harder for them now, although there’s more universities and things like that, but I just feel sorry for them. Yes. A lot of people might not agree with me. The good old days, as I remember them. And [my husband] sits for ages talking to the children about his growing up, things they used to do. He used to go for walks with the granddad every Sunday morning and be telling them stories and things. They don’t do that today. [The grandchildren] often say, ‘We’ll have great memories of you, your story telling and things’, and I think that’s lovely. I’ve got great memories of going down to my grandma’s and tinkling on an old piano. (Simmonds Family, Older Generation)
Another participant, this time in her 70s, also made reference to the way that people helped each other in the past because people were generally in similarly difficult situations. She referred to growing inequality as a cause of reduced social solidarity and cohesion but was unwilling to criticise those who were affluent, believing that they deserved their good fortune as a result of working hard for it. The importance of individual hard work and effort therefore appears to take precedence over more collective forms of support. Indeed, hard work is seen as a route out of needing to rely on others, even though there is some nostalgia attached to memories of neighbourly solidarity:
Well, when I was growing up, my parents hadn’t got anything at all. My dad, he used to be a builder, but if it rained they never got paid. He got sent home and never got paid, but we wasn’t the only family. Everybody that we were growing up with was in the same situation. The money wasn’t there at all. So it was a, kind of, neighbours used to be what we classed as neighbours, and they’d probably come round and say, ‘Can you let us have a cup of sugar, until we get paid?’ like, you know, and you’d help each other out like that. And then if you got, as regards clothes, they’d be handed round, you know. .. But now there’s such a big distinction with people that really haven’t got anything, and them that seem to have everything. But they’ve probably worked hard to get there. They’ve probably worked hard to get what they’ve got. So, that’s difficult, really. But I don’t think you should expect life to owe you anything. I think if you need—you know, you’ve gotta get out there and make your own way in life, really. And I think it made us stronger. (George Family, Older Generation)
It seems that these respondents were reflecting an image of the past in which people in society generally had less material wealth (which meant that life could be a struggle) but that this was directly linked to greater social support and family solidarity (which was seen as a good thing). These respondents appear, therefore, to feel ambivalent about the growth of living standards in the past because while such ‘progress’ was seen as generally a good thing, it also, their view, led to a weakening of social relationships, something they regretted. People also lamented the growth of inequality and conspicuous consumption alongside individualism. The general picture emerging here was that people wanted a society where everyone had enough to live on without struggle while also valuing social and family relationships above consumer goods.
Others, however, saw their generation as better off than others but felt that this was at least partly because their generation was prepared to work hard. This ideology of self-improvement and success by individual effort was quite pervasive. Younger generations, one respondent thought, were less hard-working and responsible:
I had the opportunity to come to England and visit other countries. They [parents] never had that opportunity. And when you come here your mind is enlarged more. You can see what happens. ... I think my generation is better off, because we are accustomed to work hard and save something. But these generations, they want it yesterday. Easy come, easy go. And if you don’t work for a thing, you don’t know the value of it. Well, we worked hard for whatever we had. (Older Generation, Frederick Family)
Another member of our older generation pointed to increased materialism in a very positive way. This respondent compared his generation to previous ones, reflecting on the progress that had made life easier in terms of new technology and consumer goods—particularly for women:
I think we’re luckier ... Well; everything’s gone right for us. We’ve had things easier . in my mum’s case, she never had a washing machine, whereas I’ve got a washing machine, I’ve even got a dryer. They never had anything like that. ... We’ve had it easier ... much easier. (Docherty Family, Older Generation)
Turning now to our baby boomers, this group generally felt that they were the ‘lucky’ generation, though we must remember that our qualitative sample was deliberately skewed to include more baby boomers who were middle class and home owners. This group had avoided the war year deprivations and left school at a time when jobs were relatively plentiful and reasonably well paid with affordable housing. But as well as discussing the economic structures facing different generations, this group also referred to different generational attitudes and expectations. In some respects, this generation felt lucky in comparison to the previous generation because they had not taken for granted the idea that they would do so well. Their expectations had been lower than the current generation’s expectations, and so this generation might feel particularly unhappy with their situations given the difficult economic position they faced. The younger generation would therefore suffer not only from a lack of economic progress but also from not meeting their own expectations for financial security/wealth:
I think we had it differently. I think my parents’ generation were, sort of, young adults in the war years, and had a particular approach, which has meant that, as they’re in reasonable health, they’re in a reasonably good position, financially. ... I think I’m of an age where there weren’t the, sort of, worries or concerns that there are, in terms of the economy, when I left school. So there’s was no question of me not doing something as soon as I left school. I bought my first house when I was 19, you know, on my own with a mortgage, which was fantastic. I mean, there’s no way my daughter would be able to do that. ... And now there’s, like, I think we’ve brought a generation up with a different set of expectations, and the reality is so horrible for so many of them, and I think it’s awful. So I almost think that it’s been easier for us. (Baby Boomer, Allen Family)
The baby boomer in the Bennett family was perhaps the archetypal ‘lucky baby boomer’ who had benefitted from free grammar and higher education, steady employment and a relatively generous occupational pension:
Oh, yeah. I think we’ve had the best of every world. So, I was born in [the 1950s], so I grew up with the welfare state and everything that that brought, which, of course, the previous generation didn’t have. So health and all that sort of thing. . I went to free grammar school because, of course, before a certain point, you know, grammar schools weren’t, you know, there were either explicit or implicit charges. So, of course, you know, I had all of that. ... Three years at university; never in debt; working in the summer; going abroad in the summer; never an overdraft; never a penny off my parents, for three years at university. ... I came back and worked for a bit. Lived at home, so I was, kind of, getting, effectively, assisted by my dad ... so never had it so good. ... Joined [my work pension scheme] when I was 25 years old, and I’m [in my late 50s] now. (Baby Boomer, Bennett Family)
Another respondent pointed, in particular, to the labour market as a source of her ‘good luck’:
When I left school in ‘76 I literally went for four interviews on one day and I got all four jobs! That’s the reality of it. And, you know, and I’ve worked every day of my working life since I was 16. I’ve worked right the way up and I’ve had three weeks when I was unemployed. So from that point of view we’ve been really lucky where we’ve both been employed throughout. [My husband has] been employed at the same company since he was 17 do you know so we’ve had a serious amount of stability. And obviously our parents had to bring us up, mind there was six of us. That was desperate. They had to work hard. I would say we had it easy, easier yes. ... I think from the financial aspect and the security aspect we’re better off than the likes of [my children— the Younger Generation] will be. (Baby Boomer, Connelly Family)
One respondent mentioned the improvement of working conditions since his grandparents’ time and also the difficulties that the older generation had faced in terms of bringing up very large families:
I think if you compare with my parents’ generation they went through a lot of hardship. I think we’ve been very lucky compared to them. But now my children I can see they struggle. My grandmother, my grandfather’s time, conditions of working, they were supporting a lot of people on one income. (Kapoor Family, 60, Baby Boomer)
While younger people were universally seen as having greater difficulties in the labour market, the expansion of higher education was seen, by some, as a positive development for that generation. Others, however, were concerned that too many younger people might be going to university, amassing debt and not finding commensurate jobs at the end of their studies:
I don’t think there’s ... ever been a more difficult time to be a young person, you know. The job market’s a nightmare. Up until last year, you got this huge push towards getting as many people as possible, and keeping them in education for as long as possible. ... ‘Go to university, the best investment you ever make, jobs at the end of it’. There’s bugger all at the end of it’ for lots and lots of people. (Baby Boomer, Allen Family)
As well as talking about favourable socio-economic structures, however, respondents also felt that they had ‘made their own luck’ by behaving responsibly.
I think our generation have had it good if we’ve been smart and prepared to work for it. (Baby Boomer, Frederick Family)
Much of the discussion, in the interviews, revolved around financial aspects of life, as directed by the interviewers, and the baby boomers, generally, saw themselves as a lucky generation in terms of the education system, housing market, labour market and welfare state more generally. They compared their lives with their parents who had generally had much more of a struggle to achieve financial security, often with more children to support and less money to support them with. But while the focus of the discussion was on aspects of financial security, some respondents spontaneously mentioned other aspects of life that had changed over the years, affecting their well-being. For example, one of the baby boomers referred to positive ‘progress’ in relation to a decline in particular forms of very explicit racism:
Where our parents came from, looked like hell, ‘no dogs, no Irish, no blacks’, that’s where our parents came from. ... And our kids don’t know, ‘oh he’s being racist to me’, they don’t know what racism means now, because they never really experienced it. (Baby Boomer, Frederick Family)
This ‘progress’ was, however, questioned by others who felt that racism had just changed form rather than necessarily been reduced:
I think each successive generation has an easier passage but each successive generation has newer issues to deal with than the previous generation. I think the previous generation may have dealt with patent racism, my generation may have to deal with latent racism. It’s still racism but in a different format. And the next generation will still be subject to racism but maybe in a different format, to one that we have not been subjected to. (Sharma Family, Baby Boomer)
And, finally, we consider the views of our ‘younger generation’. This group varied in age from 18 to 38. The youngest members of this generation pointed to their parents’ generation as have a particularly good deal, financially, with a degree of freedom and comfort in their lives. They contrasted this not only with the position of their own generation but also that of their grandparents:
I look at my dad. He went to a state school ... and he’s done really well for himself. He’s living the life, you know, I would hope to achieve. He’s comfortable. He does all the things he enjoys. Lives in a really nice house and is secure and, like, doesn’t have too many stresses. So, you know, my mum, I’m sure she leads the exact life she wants to lead ... my grandma worked in a shop her whole life, and then had two kids and then was a stay-at- home mum. My granddad, what was he? A mechanic, something like that, working with cars, and so the aspirations for them were a lot lower. (Allen Family, Younger Generation)
The younger generation in the Bennett family discussed this issue in terms of the different opportunities available to different generations. He also felt that his grandparents had far fewer opportunities than either his generation or his dad’s. However, he was uncertain about the relative opportunities of his generation compared with his dad’s. While acknowledging that higher education had expanded, he did wonder, as one of our baby boomers above mentioned, whether there would be enough graduate jobs to make higher education worthwhile (especially in the context of higher student loans perhaps). The development of new technology and chances to travel and do ‘amazing’ things were, however, seen by this 21 year old as a reason to consider his own generation the one with the better deal in life: 
Some people were explicitly conscious of the idea of a ‘baby boom’ generation. The fact that this generation received free higher education was a key issue for current students. But they also mentioned new technology, sometimes hinting that they couldn’t imagine how people might have lived without it:
Luckiest? ... My parents ... were in the sort of baby boom generation weren’t they so financially they’re quite prosperous I mean but not necessarily my parents but I mean that generation got all their education for free, a lot more. We have to pay for a lot of things now that were free then but I guess there’s all kinds of differences like, from my generation there’s a lot, like technology’s much more advanced, I couldn’t imagine. (Younger Generation, Connelly Family)
Other participants referred to housing as well as labour market and education issues:
My parents’ generation definitely had it lucky in terms of assets and houses, and house prices, and being able to get onto the housing market, without doubt. My parents’ generation definitely had more employment, and easier to get into employment. I think it’s much easier for my generation to get to university. Although the fees make it more difficult. (Younger Generation Irvine Family)
Some people suggested that younger people had greater access to mate- rial/consumer assets but more difficulty accessing housing wealth. This led to an interesting consideration of the relative value of different kinds of assets: 
material assets but no house, she had neither. I should imagine in the ‘60s people weren’t as material. Everything was a necessity. So you don’t get things just because you want them; you get things because you need it. And I would imagine for her to buy her first house probably was a struggle. (Younger Generation, Jacobs Family)
Better opportunities for all, including people from black and minority ethnic groups, was mentioned by some participants, though, again, they were conscious that racism still existed:
I’d say we’ve been luckier in the sense that there are more opportunities available. [But] racism, for example, discrimination still exists. (Frederick Family, Younger Generation)
In reviewing the data from our qualitative study, we must bear in mind that our sample was not ‘representative’ in any way. In particular, we had had a greater share of middle-class families than we would find generally in the population. This might mean that the young people in our study are more protected from some of the economic storms facing other younger people, and this might explain their relative optimism. On the other hand, their expectations of life in the future might be higher than younger people in poorer families, and these expectations might be more difficult to realise. Only time will tell.
Participants of all ages were also asked to share their thoughts about the impact of the recession on different generations. The themes which came across were: greater insecurity, particularly in terms of the labour and housing markets; and a greater reliance on family support for younger family members. Younger people were particularly seen as the victims of the recession:
The obvious impact of the recession, is young people’s unemployment, I think it’s been pulling the bottom out of the housing market to an extent hasn’t it? (Baby Boomer, Bennett Family) 
Some people thought that the impact of losing a job or living on a low income would be greater on younger people because the expectations they had in relation to living standards were higher. They would therefore have to change their lifestyles more and take more care with their money:
Probably my generation [has suffered most from the recession] because we’re more used to expecting things, whereas my Nan, or even my mum, doesn’t really expect as much. We’re more used to having everything around; we’re more used to having a TV in every room and a computer to ourselves, whereas they never knew that growing up. Yeah, I think we would suffer a bit more. (Younger Generation, Edwards Family)
For me, personally, it’s, kind of, taught me to be more careful with my money. ... I started saving my student loan. (Younger Generation, Allen Family)
Young people were not considered to be the only possible victims of recession, however, and people also recognised that those in particular jobs were also more likely to lose them, thus age was not the only factor relevant to the recession:
Well, my dad lost his job in this recession. I’ve almost lost my job on about three occasions because of the recession. I think it depends what sector you work in really. But my dad keeps telling me he’s lived through three or four different recessions, through two or three different housing dips, and he’s quite an optimist and he says it always comes better in the end. I don’t believe him because I’m a bit more of a pessimist I think. I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, he’s much more optimistic like that. It’s harder for him losing his job at 65, to get back into employment, but he was ready to retire anyway so it made the decision for him. (Younger Generation, Irvine Family)
Thus, other forms of inequality were mentioned alongside age differences. Another respondent also reflected that it was important to consider different groups within particular generations:
It definitely has an impact on different generations in very different ways.
I wouldn’t say that the recession has had any major impact on my dad, and probably not my grandparents, just because they’ve always been careful. I’ve got lots of friends whose parents have lost their jobs and things like that, and no great help has been offered to them. ... I think that the help is obviously focused at people lower down in society. ... And, obviously, in my generation, there’s, a saturation in people coming out of university, and it’s very difficult to find a job. (Bennett Family, Younger Generation)
The recession has not just had an impact on the labour market, but the housing market too which had differential impacts on generations:
I think it impacts us all, on us all ... no actually.it’s harder for the next generation, the younger generation because, although it meant low interest rates for my mortgage, which is great for me, it meant that it was more difficult to borrow, hence the huge deposits. (Baby Boomer, Jacobs Family)
While there was much concern for younger people and people of working age more generally, there was also some concern for pensioners:
I think it’s hit the pensioners and it’s hit their incomes drastically because they’ve got such a small amount of income. (Baby Boomer, Connelly Family)
There was also some concern about how future economic changes might affect baby boomers if mortgage rates were to increase:
I think it’s hard for my generation because of the mortgages. At the moment [interest rates are] low but they’re going to go up and when they go up— we’re going to be struggling. (Docherty Family, Baby Boomer)
There was also some discussion about the longer-term impact of an ageing population. 
of money to spread around the population, people like [my children], when they get to retirement age they won’t be in a strong position unless they have exceptional finances. ... That’s the way I see it. (Baby Boomer, Irvine Family)
|< Prev||CONTENTS||Next >|