Maybe it’s time we baby boomers stepped aside

Our generation has built so much, and changed so much, and controlled so much. But do we know when to stop? Here’s an interesting perspective from a fellow baby boomer, who happens to be the Bishop of London.

The Bishop of London’s call for his generation to make way for the next finds an unlikely ally, reports Bonnie Greer at the London Telegraph. I know that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, but it’s time for my fellow baby boomers to step to one side and allow the next generation to take over.

Bishop Richard Chartres of London who thinks the over-65s have more than their fair share of taxpayers' money.

Bishop Richard Chartres of London who thinks the over-65s have more than their fair share of taxpayers’ money.

The Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, certainly thinks so. At 65, a baby boomer himself, the bishop this week raised the question of “intergenerational equity”, saying that our “fortunate generation” who have enjoyed dramatic improvements in living standards are today “absorbing” more than our fair share of taxpayers’ money.

I couldn’t agree more. The other day I was introduced as having been born in the “luckiest year” – 1948. I have always known that. My fellow ’48ers know it, too. We were the apple of our parents’ eye, the new beginning after the worst catastrophe the world had ever known. Life has always been pretty much as we wanted it.

Ever since the boomers – that arc of people born since 1945, peaking at 1956, and finally slowing down in about 1960/61 – exploded into a grateful world, we have pretty much run the show. All things referred back to us in the end.

The welfare state was created for us. We’ve outlived it. This was predicted, but no one listened. Our stunned elders were too busy standing in awe of the “Youth Quake” that was us.

No generation in the history of humankind has ever been so powerful, so rich, so healthy, so long-lived. Ours contains the greatest cluster of 65-year-olds that have ever existed in human history. The term “late-life crisis” is being invented just for us. We are fit. We use our bus passes to go to the gym. The law was changed so that we can keep working.

Hands holding moneyTrue, the silver pound adds billions to the economy and we have property and savings. Of course, there are those among us who are poor and ill. But as a demographic, we ain’t doing too badly. In short, we boomers are not about to go gentle into that good night. But unless we find and make ourselves a new space, the next generations will be out in the cold, unable to get started.

The ongoing row about the absence of older women on TV, which has enveloped everybody from Selina Scott and Joan Bakewell to Anne Robinson and David Dimbleby, is yet another baby boomer cri de coeur (or, passionate outcry).

We boomers don’t want to take on the fact that humans are hard-wired to prefer a young female face. It’s cruel and unfair and unequal, but this preference is a hangover from harder times; times when it was all about survival of the species; times when women did not get old because we died first – in childbirth, from starvation, as a result of war and general brutality. Our species is still evolving a brain template that takes in the older female face. Of course, it’s right to kick ageism and sexism out of the 21st century. But boomers are left with one dilemma: there isn’t enough room at the inn.

When I asked a prominent political journalist recently why pollsters aren’t interested in the views of under-40s on immigration, the economy, the NHS, crime, Europe, issues that will affect them, his reply was simple: “They don’t vote.”

English_village_boomerSo, instead of encouraging the future to get involved, we boomers are out there doing what we’ve always done since we were old enough to talk: busily and noisily shaping the agenda. An agenda for a future – let’s be frank here – in which we will have little or no part to play.

It’s the young who know which way the world is headed, because they are shaping it. I see David Cameron, under 50, trying to hammer home the reality that if the Conservative Party doesn’t speak to the next generations, then it’ll be out of power for another 20 years. Barack Obama understood this in 2008, and again in 2012. That’s one of the reasons he won.

I see far too many young people, bright, eager, aware of how the world is moving forward, knowing how it will be, simply unable to earn a good living. Boomers are, in many instances, still in place, unwilling to make way for the succession. And yet, here we are, right in the midst of a digital revolution as profound as the invention of the printing press. Like that revolution, the new technology is dividing the world into the “natives” and “colonists”, the ones who know the terrain and those who don’t. Social networking, in particular, is creating new realities, new ways of thinking.

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  1. Tough words. I don’t think I agree, it’s far more complicated than that. Not a simple matter of “stepping aside” and let the young take center stage.

    I wish it were that way. It is not. And none of us who are boomers and parents (I count myself among them) have ever stopped trying to pass on our values to the next generation. Or ever stopped trying to help them in their studies, to look for a job, to stay in a job if they have found one. We don’t stop being parents because we are baby boomers…What kind of nonsense is that?

    I personally dislike intensely this way of looking at society, one generation pitched against the next one or the previous one. Heavens, we’re all in this together!

  2. There’s a myth that every generation lives by. The myth says that when we come to a certain age we will stop, hold our chins high, set our jaws and, with shaky legs and misty eyes, step aside to allow those following us to grab the baton and leap ahead. “You’ve run the race, fought the good fight, stood tall and been counted… Congrats, you’re off the assembly line.”

    While I agree that we boomers could mentor more, be better examples for those following us, help more where help is needed, listen better, and strive for consensus, I cannot agree with most conclusions you and Rt Rev Chartres reach. Sorry, I think the debate of “have and have not” isn’t as simple as us boomers “stepping down.”

  3. Just like every boomer didn’t tune in, turn on, and drop out, not every younger kid is living in their parents’ basement waiting for their chance.

    We may not meet them, but we need to acknowledge the grinders within the younger demographic, those who get up and hit it like it’s supposed to be hit, who show up on time and ready to get things done.

    During a tour of a local school I saw vandalism and graffiti and thought, “Maybe kids need a class taught by a janitor, the people who clean up after them.” Grinders know how to pick up after themselves and others without balancing the effort with what’s done for them. Not all them will hire house cleaners.

    Grinders don’t wait for someone to tell them what to do, they find something to do. Not all twenty-somethings have one hand on their video game controller, the other in a bag of chips, while they balance a Big Gulp on their knees, but you wouldn’t know it by the generalizations.

    If you look back and dig deep enough you’ll find older generations looking at baby boomers with more than a little foreboding. They just knew these long haired peace freaks would ruin their world.

    Do they say that now?

  4. My dear Bishop,

    I’m like the Rolling Stones’ song. Once you start me up I never stop… but then again I’m only 60. By the time I’m old (65), I may be ready to be put on an ice floe and sent out to die… or we could try it with you and you could skype us all about it.

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