Pitting young families against older generation isn’t helpful

Andrew Wister, Professor and chair, Dept. of Gerontology, Simon Fraser University; Vancouver Sun

Re: Standard of living slips for young families, Oct. 19, Think like a beaver: Generation X-It, Oct. 3

Several articles in The Sun over the last month have addressed the economic plight of young families and child poverty. Paul Kershaw, University of B.C. Human Early Learning Partnership scholar, has authored or contributed significantly to these.

His apocalyptic demographic view contains a number of flaws. While I am in agreement with Kershaw’s policy recommendations to help young families (funding improved parental leave, child care and flex work time), it is unfounded to assume that baby boomers and seniors are to blame for the absence of these policies because generations compete for a limited slice of the policy pie.

Several Scandinavian countries with higher rates of aging boomers have incorporated the exact policies recommended by Kershaw.

Furthermore, research in gerontology has established that rising health care costs are primarily the result of a more expensive system, not population aging per se.

And while I believe health reform is needed to improve efficiencies in the face of population aging, our health care system benefits everyone, not just “greedy geezers” and “greying boomers” manipulating the policy arena.

With respect to B.C., high costs of living facing young families are mainly due to escalating housing prices, not generational greed or competition.

Young adults today are protesting because of inequalities created by mass corporatization in a global economy, and the one per cent of society controlling the lion’s share of wealth; they’re not painting generations with broad brush strokes.

A generational conflict approach merely pits one generation against another, and oversimplifies multifaceted aging processes.

It promotes ageist attitudes, and overlooks the plethora of contributions that older adults and boomers have made. It also downplays the fact that families link generations – the family in the article was receiving financial support from the parents and grandparents, which is not uncommon.

Young families face more difficult economic times than prior generations, but to assume that those at the top of the age escalator are the reason for the problem focuses our attention on the wrong culprits.

We do not have to take away from one generation to improve the lives of another.