Generation Wars: Baby Boomers versus Generation Y

Sunday 31 October, 12.30pm until 1.30pm, Student Union Lunchtime Debates

As the generation who ‘never had it so good’ the Baby Boomers came to define youthful idealism, from the sexual revolution and teen rebellion to the civil rights movement and the spirit of ’68. Yet as the boomers swap sex, drugs and rock’n’roll for tea, slippers and private pensions, they face their own battle with today’s revolting youth. With Britain bracing itself for austerity and savage government cuts, nostalgia is turning to envy for the gilded lifestyle of the boomers – and how they wasted it. Having benefitted from universal free education and healthcare, they are charged with ‘bankrupting Britain’s youth’ through a combination of greedy overconsumption and stingy public expenditure, whilst increasing life expectancy and demographic size allows them to exert a stranglehold on politics.

It is time, says Conservative minister David Willetts in The Pinch, for his own generation to face up to their failures, and accept they have to bear the greatest burden of the recession. Yet while some young writers and thinkers agree that ‘it’s all their fault’ and proclaim themselves the ‘jilted generation’, others contend that ‘Generation Me’ should grow up. Instead of seeing themselves as victims of greedy grandparents, they should do what every young generation has done: stand on its own two feet, stop whinging and start thinking how to change the world. After all, ‘kids today’ take for granted a world of home ownership, university education and rising living standards; something few of the Boomers could have expected at a similar age.

Do Generation Y have a point in claiming they’ve been denied the same opportunities as previous generations, and have inherited a world of dwindling resources and debt-driven austerity? Or are we all being overly pessimistic in assuming that the dynamism of the post-war economic boom is something we’ll never have so good again? Are they acting like stroppy teenagers by playing the blame game rather than thinking boldly about how to solve future problems, or do the Boomers have to honestly face up to their failures before we can move on? Is generational consciousness the class conflict of the twenty first century?

Listen to session audio:


David Bowden
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer

Ed Howker
associate editor, Spectator; co-author, Jilted Generation: how Britain has bankrupted its youth

Rob Killick
CEO, Clerkswell; author, The UK After The Recession

Shiv Malik
freelance investigative journalist; co-author, Jilted Generation: how Britain has bankrupted its youth; contributor, Prospect

Dr Shirley Dent
communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor,; author, Radical Blake

Produced by
David Bowden associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer
Recommended readings
Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth

Instead of creating a new world, their actions really fostered a nation riddled with inequality, elitism and political corruption. "Jilted Generation" sets out how the next generation might succeed where this one failed.

Ed Howker & Shiv Malik, Icon Books Ltd, 2 September 2010

Young adults may have to wait until middle age to buy their first home

A survey for the National Housing Federation highlights the bleak scale of Britain's financial crisis

Jamie Doward, Guardian, 29 August 2010

Generational warriors have a point. But go easy on the old

Political short-termism has failed the young. Yet attacking the elderly and sick instead of inequality will only help Osborne

Madeleine Bunting, Guardian, 22 August 2010

We can’t blame mum and dad for everything

A recent graduate slams his peers for their constant whining about how the baby boomers ruined their lives.

Craig Purshouse, spiked, 18 August 2010

How the baby boomers blew it

The greatest crime of the boomers who benefitted from the 60s was their role in destroying the freedoms of those who did not

Francis Beckett, Guardian, 9 August 2010

Young vs old: this could turn nasty

The Boomers have taken the role of lackadaisical old sot, while us Generation Y-ers scurry round, trying to prop up the creaking timbers of their regime for fear that it will fall on our own heads.

Harriet Walker, Independent, 30 July 2010

Beware Italy's intergenerational conflic

With a gerontocracy that locks the young out of its economy and politics, Italy may be a canary in the mine for other nations

Edoardo Campanella, Guardian, 14 July 2010

Why does my generation seem so spineless?

The Baby Boomers could risk rebellion. Not so, Generation Y.

Laurie Penny, New Statesman Blogs, 13 July 2010

What did the baby boomers ever do for us?

In What did the Baby Boomers ever do for us? Francis Beckett argues that the children of the 60s betrayed the gernations that came before and after, and that the true legacy of the swinging decade is ashes.

Francis Beckett, Biteback, 9 July 2010

The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future - And How They Can Give it Back

This provocative and thought-provoking book argues that the baby boomer generation have thrived at the expense of their children.

David Willets, Atlantic Books, 1 February 2010

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