In a typically great post, Rick challenges the notion that people born between the mid-40s and mid-60s represent some kind of homogenous generation. I agree, and want to amplify his post in two ways.
First, one reason why there’s a massive difference between those born in the mid-40s and those in the mid-60s is that our formative years were very different. The mid-40s generation left school in the early 60s, a time of full employment when even the unqualified could walk into albeit unsatisfying work. My generation left school at a time of high and rising unemployment. This is the difference between Arthur Seaton and Damon Grant*.
In the early 80s, a typical domestic scene in declining industrial areas between my friends and contemporaries and their dads went as follows:
Dad: Get a job.
Son: What as – a unicorn farmer?
Dad: There are jobs if you’re willing to look.
Son: No there aren’t.
Exchange of Effing and Jeffing. Son storms out, to see his grandad who, having grown up in the 1930s, gives him a sympathetic hearing.
Shared formative experiences matter more than temporal closeness; there was/is therefore a big difference between the mid-40s and mid/late 60s generations.
Academic research backs this up. A recent paper by Nathanael Vellekoop finds:
The more aggregate unemployment an individual has experienced during his or her lifetime, the lower the score on agreeableness, emotional stability, extraversion and openness.
Investors with adverse macroeconomic experiences (e.g., growing up during the Great Depression or entering the labor market during an economic recession) or who grow up in a lower socioeconomic status rearing environment have a stronger value orientation several decades later.
There’s a common theme here. Recessions make us distrustful; we prefer the pound on the table to the promise of two down the road. Rick is bang right to highlight the massive gulf between hippies and my generation who have plain contempt for “all you need is love” drivel*. This gap is based upon diametrically opposite economic experiences.
But there’s something else. When Rick says that we 60s-born generation face a harder and shorter retirement than those born in the 40s, he’s describing a difference between averages. But of course averages conceal big variations. Some of us are considering retirement whilst many others are 15-20 years from it.
And herein, of course, lies the problem with any discussion of generational difference: it avoids the fact that there is a massive class divide. Both the right and some of the narcissistic left avoid this fact. But some things are true whether you believe them or not.
* Damon was slightly younger than me, but the point holds.