Generation Less, by Jennifer Rayner

Generation-Less_0 I really expected and WANTED to like this book. I agreed with its general message: that younger generations were being disadvantaged in today’s world. With jobs hard to get and housing, both rental and purchased, priced well beyond their means, they faced far greater difficulties than I did at their age.

Jennifer Rayner attributes this to an older more privileged generation (mine) not willing to give up advantages and effectively denying opportunities to a younger generation (hers). And in taking that narrow focus I believe she sets off on the wrong path.

It’s not far into the book that she started to lose my empathy, when I read:

In earlier years, our parents’ generation moved steadily through pay rises and promotions as people filed out of work at 55 and freed up the ranks above them. But having got old themselves, they’re not giving up on those great careers. That leaves me and my peers butting up against a grey ceiling that compresses our potential and frustrates our ambitions. (p35)

And later in the book:

“…wealth is a form of power. If we don’t change tack now, if we allow it to become ever-more concentrated in the hands of the aged, this is going to dramatically redraw Auastralia’s social contract.” (p138)

I, and I’m sure many of my generation would be more than happy to “file out of work at 55” to make way for the next generation. In fact something like that is exactly what my generation were led to believe WOULD happen by the time we reached our mid-50s: that retirement ages would lower and we could look forward to a middle/old age of recreation and ease, not having to work until we dropped dead or became too sick to continue.
But instead the retirement age in Australia has been raised from 65 to 67, because we apparently have an aging population that needs to continue working to support itself for longer.

I’ve just turned 58 and I would have LOVED to be three years into my retirement, but I had no choice, and according to current legislation I’ll be working for another nine years, dependent on the continuing availability of work for people of my age, which is questionable considering the difficulties faced by “seniors” when they need to find a new job.

As for the idea of wealth/power becoming “ever-more concentrated in the hands of the aged”, I have to say I know few “aged” people who have any degree of wealth that could give them “power”. But maybe I move in totally different circles to Rayner.

Most of those I know merely have sufficient to keep themselves living non-lavish lifestyles, with food and housing but little room for luxuries. And I can only wonder about my own future. There’s no accumulated wealth for me to fall back on in 9 years when I’m able to retire.
The things I DO have (eg. a basic but comfortable house, furniture and a car) were accumulated and obtained over many years, and in my younger days required restraint and discipline: no phone, no TV, no credit card for the first couple of years, making do with hand-me-down furniture, then moving away from the city where houses were unaffordable to a country town where property was (and is) a fraction of the cost.

I could go on…

The blurb of Rayner’s book states that hers is “the first generation since the Great Depression to be worse off than their parents”.
If that IS true – how significant is it?

Let’s look at how many generations there have been during that period.

In my own family there would be:
1) my grandparents’ who grew up during the Depression.
2) My parents’, who grew up during WW2
3) my own, the one apparently disadvantaging the next, and
4) my daughters’, the generation Rayner is writing about who are being disadvantaged.

So in all, by my assessment, there have only been two generations that have been better off than their predecessors according to the claims of Rayner’s book.

One of those could hardly have been worse off than their Depression era parents, and the next (mine) could hardly have been worse off than my parents’ generation, emerging from six years of a devastating World War. Clearly there isn’t a long standing tradition of constant economic improvement from one generation to the next.

So pushing aside the weak argument of an historical precedent of ongoing betterment from generation to generation; what would it be that gives rise to the idea that we SHOULD always be better off than our parents?
I suspect it’s related to the belief that economies SHOULD continually grow.
Clearly (though many deny it), within a finite world there’s a limit to possible growth and continual increase can’t be sustained; but how soon can we expect that the limit to viable growth be reached?

Maybe it can’t go on beyond a generation or two and is already approaching its limit?
Possibly the present day difficulties have nothing to do with generational inequity but a lot to do with misplaced expectations and Ponzi scheme economics.

There is so much more in this book to address (I’ve only touched the surface), so maybe I’ll add another post or two later to deal with some of the other issues.

4 thoughts on “Generation Less, by Jennifer Rayner

  1. She sounds like someone who grew up within the culture of her family’s firm(s), where her elders chose to play tennis at fifty-five and let the “kids” take over. I’ve never heard of anyone retiring at fifty-five in cultural terms (other than rich, spoiled sub-cultures, as I indicated). In my family, I wouldn’t even say one generation was better off than the other. [But I don’t live in Australia.] My dad’s dad worked a pretty average job and was able to buy a nice three-story house (the third story was a simple attic made into bedroom space for the boys). My parents bought a house before I was born, but my dad’s parents had helped. And then they were able to move to a better house than that first one (but not better than my dad’s parents’ house except that it was by a golf course, so the view was very nice), but only because both of my parents worked. I was not better off than my parents as I raised my children.

    My dad’s dad worked another job (guard of the St. Louis Art Museum) after he retired. So he provided nicely for my dad’s mom after he would be gone. My husband never bothered to think of how things would be for me if he died; he’s always been too obsessed with himself in the sense that he’s afraid of responsibility(1) and death. And my boys have indicated they think we were poor, when we were nothing like poor. Actually I could say my generation was better off in monetary terms but not in terms of how we lived, because my children’s dad somehow had his head stuck in a time warp and treated me more like my mom’s dad treated her mom; worse in some ways. At least my grandpa knew his home should be comfortable. But both acted like the women in their lives should have little to no agency. This is what you get for being conservative outside of the fitting time frame.*

    [* I find that excruciating, because I am in favor of mothers caring for their own children and having more than one or two (and never having an abortion not for health/life reasons — when I was of childbearing age, I would have said never for any reason at all). I’ve decided not to even call these values “conservative” any more (politically). They’re better than that. Conservative is a delusional hearkening back to better days legally.

    By the way, we were better off monetarily because my husband happened to be in a most cutting-edge industry (computers) at the very beginning of its spread; that’s not something that covers everyone in America. And we didn’t live better because, although his undergrad, first, degree (double degree) was in economics and business administration, he didn’t understand real-life economics as well as I did (I, with little power).]

    (1) I will give him a little bit of a break. It used to be easier — with pensions. Now most businessmen (because of the drive to squeeze out the most profit) and conservatives (because of ideology) hate the notion of pensions and I guess think it should be a dog eat dog world for the elderly (which is more women than men). So since he has thought of himself as conservative, why didn’t he apply himself to the matter? And why didn’t he follow through on the parts that were easy? Like giving me contact information for the life insurance provided by the company (rather than leaving me passively potentially hoping they’d call me and deal honestly with me while I struggled to care for our children)? Now that the children are grown, how could he possibly care more than back then?

    Something else that led to a boom (which was a bubble) was deregulation of banking and shadow banking industries. That was corrupt and hurt a lot of people. Here.

  2. I would say my mom and dad (having moved again) do now have more than their parents did. This involves my mom having retirement pay (after working since she was twenty-five), my dad having retirement pay, and my dad having worked more than one “job” or profession at the same time before he retired. His retirement pay is only from teaching. But he was a real estate agent (as well as owner and landlord and trader) for a couple decades. That’s how he found his house on seventeen acres with a large stocked pond in a city area.

    By the way, hearkening back, women used to get out of the way for jobs, Jennifer.

    1. Hi Marleen,
      The issue of most women continuing to work after marriage is a relatively new factor in the employment market and has probably had more effect on job availability that older people “refusing” to retire early. I also see that it plays a part in escalation of house prices. With both partners of a marriage continuing to work full time, over time the additional available income helps to put pressure on real estate markets. At first couples were able to pay more, but over time that changed to a situation where they NEEDED to pay more, and more or less pricing the average single income family out of the housing market.
      In NOT saying that I’m opposed to married women in the workforce, its something that has became normal towards the beginning of my working life. I’m just observing that double income families have had an effect on jobs and home ownership; probably a greater effect than any generational cause.

      One thing Rayner overlooks or ignores, is the effect of current record low interest rates. Those rates help to push up property prices as people are able to borrow more. The low rates also have a significant impact on retirees, with their retirement savings earning very little in interest. If the interest rates had remained where they were when I had my first mortgage (about 17%), I possibly WOULD be able to retire much earlier. As it is, even with a combination of savings and superannuation, I’d fall far short of having enough for a comfortable retirement even at the official retirement age of 67.

  3. What’s also weird is that during this time of low interest rates, here, national government (dominated by tea party types) wouldn’t go in for fixing aging bridges (not just old but past their intended span of usability) and things like that (which would employ people).

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