We are all foreigners somewhere. Here you are part of us, but over there you would be one of them. Somewhere, some day you may be a foreigner. Then you could be a victim of xenophobia.
Ageism is unlike any other ism or phobia. You could avoid xenophobia by never leaving your homeland (although poverty and war force many migrants to flee). Those of a dominant race, gender or sexual preference may not experience racism, sexism or homophobia. But no one can escape aging, so anyone can experience ageism.
Prejudice against foreigners has led to terrible violence around the world, most recently in South Africa. Racism and sexism have had similarly brutal effects on so many people and communities. While there are incidents of elder abuse, often by relatives, there has been no mass hostility against people simply because of their age. Not yet.
Intergenerational conflict is not unthinkable given the unprecedented demographic havoc wreaked by the Baby Boom of 1946-64. With birthrates down and life expectancy up, the whole world is getting older. By 2050 the global 65+ population will have tripled. More than half the people in Japan, South Korea and Germany will be over 50 years old.
“Population ageing is unprecedented, without parallel in human history—and the twenty-first century will witness even more rapid ageing than did the century just past.
Population ageing is pervasive, a global phenomenon affecting every man, woman and child—but countries are at very different stages of the process, and the pace of change differs greatly. Countries that started the process later will have less time to adjust.
Population ageing is enduring: we will not return to the young populations that our ancestors knew.
Population ageing has profound implications for many facets of human life.”
– United Nations report, World Population Ageing: 1950-2050 (UK release, spelled ageing and not the US spelling, aging)
My New Old Self has been wondering how young people are coping with the ever increasing numbers of aging Baby Boomers. So I did a bit of eavesdropping. Not the kind where you listen in on conversations. While journalists and writers have gone undercover to investigate other phobias and isms, disguising themselves as migrants, even changing skin colour, I am not aware of any ways for older people to successfully masquerade as young. Hence I chose a digital modus operandi for my investigation into young people’s views of their elders.
I lurked on websites and blogs where Boomers are critiqued. It wasn’t always a pleasant experience. Lucky for you I moderated the rude comments made about us, and curated some anti-Baby Boomer internet memes developed by the the children of baby boomers, known as Generation Y or Millennials.
“One of our defining features is a love of white text placed over images to make a point about something — or, as they’re more commonly referred to: ‘memes’. There’s a meme for basically every situation. And if there isn’t, you’re free to make one up. That’s what the person behind ‘Scumbag Baby Boomer’ did, and the result is a bunch of passive aggressive statements pointing out hypocrisy… It might not stand up to much criticism, but it might make you look at things a little bit differently.”
I learned a lot from my research, which I will share with you. My conclusion is that the generation gap could indeed become a conflict zone, for the following reasons:
- Like xenophobes, youth may blame older people for stealing jobs.
Boomers are resented for clogging up the job market by staying in their positions well beyond traditional retirement age. One hears people in their 70s and even 80s bragging that they’ll work until they drop, claiming they can’t afford to retire. I wonder if it has occurred to them that young people can’t afford to be unemployed and in debt.
“To make things worse, Boomers are now figuring out ways to live longer so they don’t have to give up that corner office to someone from our generation.”
– magazine and website Vice
- Young people are sick of being offered unpaid internships instead of paying jobs.
Our generation didn’t have to work repeatedly for no pay in order to launch our careers. I can imagine that when the people not paying you are Boomers who have always had jobs and still do, it could make you prone to ageism.
- Tensions around pensions could emerge.
Young workers may resent contributing their taxes to older workers’ retirement. Especially if these same benefits are not guaranteed to be on offer when they retire.
“Economic growth is a giant Ponzi scheme that relies on the younger paying for the older – low birth rates aren’t good for this.”
Like I told you, there is some nasty dissing of old peeps out there. (Often wittily phrased, e.g. “The Boomers are yanking up the ladder behind them.”)
- Our longevity may be the next generation’s burden.
To be young today is not necessarily to be carefree. Many people are part of the so-called Sandwich Generation from their 20s to 40s. They’re the filling in between the demands of both their own children and those of their aging parents. What’s more, this stress is against a backdrop of still-bad financial times. This is all in sharp contrast to ourselves at their age. When we were starting careers and families the economy was booming, compared to now. Youth unemployment was nowhere near today’s record levels.
On top of all this, the duties of youth often include helping their aging parents with problems on their computers, phones and internet. This may serve to further inflame intergenerational tensions. Boomers are criticized for not mastering digital tech, while youth defend themselves against accusations of spending too much time on their digital devices.
“Stop assuming Video games, Laptops, and Smartphones are making us lazy or unmotivated. The fact is that when we go to college and get a degree, we most likely don’t have a job after, just crippling student loan debt. Things have obviously changed and what worked for you back in the day is NOT working for us today. We are not being lazy or expecting you to owe us something, we are just trying to figure out how to make a decent living our own way in our own time.”
– plea to parents from adult child of a Baby Boomer, Elite Daily website
It must be a tough time to be young. So it’s a good time to build intergenerational support, to do all we can to prevent strife between Boomers and their grown-up babies. We know that it helps combat racism and xenophobia for people to get to know each other. Perhaps the best response to ageism is to try and understand aging from each other’s points of view.
However, not all young people may have the patience to seek this kind of understanding. Many are still mired in resentment of Baby Boomers, not only for what they did in the past, but for what they may do as they age into the future.
“They have just begun their journey to annoy, obstruct, forget, and generally piss off every one else. Their voting bloc is poised to be the single most influential voting group for another decade – likely 2 decades. People are living longer than they ever have and that means this bunch is about to go well into their 70’s if not further. The one thing that retirees do better than any group in history has done is VOTE. They vote the issues that affect THEM. They vote EVERY election. They are as organized as ever. And this generation is more educated and ENTITLED than any previous. In short, we are in for a f***load more baby boomer generation influence on our society via politics, economics, media pandering etc. Buckle up.”