Could it be the age group set up for the most disappointment in today’s economy are the baby boomers rather than GenYs?
The Wait But Why? blog has a provocative post on why Generation Y Yuppies are unhappy. It hasn’t gone down well with some prominent Gen Y writers.
Part of the reason the article offended Gen Ys like Adam Weinstein is its focus on the younger generation having an entitlement mentality and feeling ‘special’.
Were I a GenY I’d be pretty irritated at those views, particularly – as Weinstein points out – when younger folk are saddled with much greater debts and far less work security than baby boomers. Interestingly, Weinstein’s rebuttal makes almost the same points the Wait But Why blog from the opposite perspective.
A mismatch of expectations
Despite some of the provocative statements, the Wait But Why post makes a very good point about the expectations of different generations and the mismatch between what different age groups expect and the reality they encounter.
The economic boomers – the group born from 1935 to 1955 – had the good fortune to spend most of their working lives during the post World War II period that saw the Western world experience the greatest economic boom mankind has seen.
During their working lives, all but the lowest paid economic boomers became healthier, better fed and had more access to creature comforts than even royalty had a generation earlier. The average Westerner today is rich beyond the belief of our great grandparents a hundred years ago.
As the Wait But Why blog contends, the result is the boomers are the happiest, most fulfilled generation we’ve ever seen.
In contrast, GenYs are facing a far less fulfilling future in a lower growth economy that is far tougher and a society more focused on ‘user pays’, ‘cost recovery’ and outsourcing labour to the lowest cost provider than the greater good of the community.
Can boomers continue to be lucky?
While this is true of both Boomers and GenY, it’s worth questioning whether the Boomers’ happiness of exceeded expectations will continue.
Today governments are cash strapped, almost pension scheme is underfunded and the demographic time bomb of an aging population has started to be felt across the developed world.
Worse for the baby boomers is their retirement plans require their assets – primarily their homes, investment properties and small businesses – need to be sold at prices beyond what GenX and GenY buyers can afford.
A reversion to the mean in asset prices for economic boomers means a lot of them will be going back to work.
Recently I spoke to one economic boomer who had lost heavily after the global financial crisis. “No worries,” he said. “If need be I’ll get one of my old jobs back, I can still use a set square and drawing board.”
Sadly, he didn’t understand that being good at using a set square and drawing board in a modern engineering office are as useful as making horseshoes or operating an electric telegraph. Those skills, while noble, are no longer necessary.
While GenY will get on with adapting to the realities of their economic situation – they have little choice but to do so – the big challenge will be for their parents to deal with the modern economy.
A new ‘Greatest Generation’?
Perversely it’s likely the GenYs will turn out more like their grandparents who had to deal with a great depression and a massive World War.
While hopefully the GenYs won’t have to deal with either of those, they are faced with a much different economy than the one which nurtured their parents.
So the real ‘happiness deficit’ could turn out among the baby boomers in retirement at the very time in their lives they are least able to deal with it.
Hopefully the GenY workers will be compassionate on their asset rich but cash poor parents and grandparents.