Merry Christmas Boomers: Unwrapping the generational divide

Dec 24, 2023
Source: Getty Images.

Though we are supposed to be enjoying the season of goodwill to all men, various newspaper articles and opinion pieces are dampening my feelings of bonhomie. If we are to believe what we read, it’s bah humbug to everyone from baby boomers like me, who are (apparently) greedily hoarding the lion’s share of the nation’s wealth and hogging all the housing. Not only is our collective selfishness depriving younger generations of a Merry Christmas, but also denying them a fair go in life.

Recently, for example, Rachel Clun, writing the Sydney Morning Herald, exhorted baby boomers to “do the country a favour” by reigning in our exorbitant spending. She lectured us on the frivolity of dining out or spoiling our grandchildren because those excesses are putting upward pressure on mortgage rates. Funny that, people of all ages are dining out and shopping for gifts for all and sundry, but no matter. We baby boomers, who have been managing money for decades (possibly before Rachel Clun was born), are desperate for a lesson on simple economics – on our fiscal responsibilities and the ‘big picture’ of the Australian economy. Really?

Then there is Leith Van Onselen writing for about baby boomers laughing all the way to the bank while young people struggle to make ends meet. Clun and Van Onselen are two examples, but I am guessing that like me, you have all seen and heard comparable articles and news reports. They suggest that we are in the middle of an inter-generational war between Baby Boomers, those of us who were born between 1946 and 1964, and everyone born since. It’s not so much a Merry Christmas to us from younger generations, but a resentful ‘ok boomer”!

There is no doubt that is much harder for younger Australians to buy their own homes – or even to save for a deposit for one – but are baby boomers really the villains in the piece? Of course, there are wealthy baby boomers. After all, my generation has had decades to secure themselves financially. However, why isn’t there the same steely eyed focus on wealthy individuals who were born post-1964, following the baby boom or businesses (like banks) and companies (like Fortescue Metals) making record profits while other Australians languish in the financial doldrums?

The Australian Financial Review’s 2023 list of wealthy young Australians has 80 individuals with personal fortunes beginning at $13.01 billion and ranging down to $80 million. Meanwhile, Woolworths posted a 25% increase, and Coles an 11% increase in profits. The Commonwealth Banks reported $5.1 billion and QANTAS a $1.43 billion profit in the six months to December.

While there are wealthy baby boomers, and those who are able to enjoy a comfortable (although not extravagant retirement), there are many boomers (increasingly women) who are not so lucky. Indeed, elderly women are the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia. Magicians rely on misdirection, a form of deception where the performer draws audience’s attention to one thing to distract it from another.

Drumming up resentment for baby boomers shifts the focus away from the concentration of wealth and power that is (increasingly) in the hands of a privileged minority (of all ages). Baby boomers are a convenient scapegoat, but what’s really needed is fundamental social change, a rebalancing of the economy to better spread opportunity and resources across the community, young and old. Our situation is not a case of inter-generational warfare, but an extension and intensification of the age old class war between the haves and have-nots. Merry Christmas, Boomers, and a Happy New Year.

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