While we might not feel we are at war with our generational colleagues we have successfully segregated the ages into stereotypical categories and some argue that these differences and the demographic changes we face might give rise to scuffles … 

We describe our differences and strategise on how to adapt and interact across the categories. In defining and highlighting these differences we have set up ‘camps’ into which we can rest comfortable, and from wich we can arguable enter into combat.

Defining our differences

If you’re not sure what the difference and categories of ‘age’ McCrindle has identified a set of defining characteristics of the current age groupings.

Burden or benefit of the different ages?

Others have gone beyond a simple categorisation of our differences and moved toward pitting the ages against each other.

Arguments are being mounted around the burden that one generation places on another. This debate only ever seems to happen at the policy or political level, never have I seen it in the community or at a family level. This is not to say there is no ageism in our communities, but that is a slightly different matter to a ‘theoretical’ combative relationship.

Why then do we need this debate at a policy level – what purpose does it serve? In Australia it seems to signal and be used to argue for the need to change embedded structures like our tax system, funding of our aged care support and welfare benefits.

Peace in our time – is it possible?

In a recent post Rebecca Wilson called on us to think about how we can reframe our thinking about the value and contribution of each age group – by not limiting ‘value’ to simply workforce engagement.

Rebecca drew on the work of Simon Biggs who argued “the best way to manage global ageing is principally through cultural adaptation” he went on to say “We need to stop pitting generations against each other in our country, and all over the world and start to build complementary inter-generational relations that bridge the workplace, the family, government policy and civil society.”

Rebecca and I must be living in parallel universes as I read his paper this week and, like her, I welcomed his thoughts on this debate. While his paper is heavily ‘academic’ he raises some key points worthy of consideration and I would recommend it to you.

Some of the myths Simon’s paper explores are

  • older people area burden on the tax system – where a countries % of a countries taxation comes from indirect consumption tax an older demographic continues to make an ongoing contribution to the countries taxation base.
  • younger generations don’t want to support old generations – younger generations are not antagonist to providing for older people in the community as long as they can continue to expect this support when they age.
  • employment of older people represents a barrier for the employment of young people – no evidence exists to support this and in fact the evidence contradicts it.
As a result he argues that we must look to the complementary skills each age group brings to communities and workplaces.
As Simon concludes “Policy should be less about work continuation versus reinvented retirement, and more about allowing mature adults to develop multiple aspects of their identity, and in so doing permitting …  contributions to the wider social good.”

Just one more point in this ongoing debate that I thought was worth sharing with you, any thoughts

Further Reading

Simon Biggs paper can be downloaded as a PDF here