Blaming Baby Boomers for your money woes is unfair, lazy and wrong

Clive Hamilton & Myra Hamilton

[Published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, 27 November 2023]

Judging by the relentless tide of baby boomer bashing, it’s become a crime to be born in the 15 years after World War Two. On Saturday, the lead story in the Herald berated boomers for ‘hanging on to bigger family homes … while others struggle with overcrowding’. If they were half-decent human beings, they would get out of the homes they’d lived in for decades and free them up for families—rich ones, presumably, since all boomers own multimillion dollar homes.

We now have a cohort of younger commentators furiously mining the data and cherry-picking the numbers to find new reasons to excoriate baby boomers.

We’ve even seen the Herald blame boomers for depriving the city of energy, creativity and dynamism because young people can’t afford to rent apartments from the nasty ‘older property-owning classes’ who lack all these things. Yesterday, big-spending boomers copped the blame for inflation, interest rate rises, and the cost of living crisis.

(For the record, the Reserve Bank attributes inflation mainly to international factors. And the only group increasing its real spending are the over 70s, by about 2 per cent. The story turned figures from a report into a generational conflict rather than the real story about how inflation is harming poorer Australians more.)

In the naughties boomers were castigated for fuelling a fiscal crisis, because it was predicted that, as they aged, they would be a drain on the public purse (pensions, hospitals etc) and become a ‘burden’ on younger workers. They were blamed for not saving enough for their retirement, even though superannuation came in when they were halfway through their working lives.

More recently they were responsible for the housing crisis, and now they are reproached for causing for the interest rate crisis. Once they were too poor, now they are too rich.

And they’re so selfish, sitting on their piles of wealth while wielding their political power to ‘lock out’ younger people from housing, secure employment, cheap education and even, with their lock-out laws, entertainment.

We need a reality check.

To begin, fewer than 10 per cent of boomers benefited from the fabled free university education. For the most part, only the children of the privileged middle-class attended university in the late 1970s and 1980s. That was the reason for HECS, so that low-income people would no longer subsidise middle-class kids to get the high-paying jobs.

Then there is the toxic myth of SKIing, spending the kid’s inheritance. In truth, many boomers, anxious about their children’s future, are responsible for a very large transfer of wealth through the bank of mum and dad. Indeed, over the next couple of decades boomers will bequeath a massive $3.5 trillion in assets to their children, the same ones they have been oppressing so thoughtlessly.

Let’s not forget the huge subsidy provided by grandparents’ childcare. More children receive care from a grandparent in a typical week than from any other form of childcare. Many grandparents resign early, work fewer hours or change their jobs to allow their daughters and sons to avoid childcare costs, work longer hours and save more.

Yes, the housing market is shockingly unjust, but blaming a generation for it instead of bad policies is unfair, lazy and often spiteful. And it’s simply incorrect. Those landlords putting up rents for young people? Most of them are Gen Xers and millennials. And the fastest growing category of homelessness is not among 20-somethings but among women over 55, baby boomers.

Casual ageism is the last remaining form of vilification seen as socially acceptable, with older Australians fair game on the generational frontier – liberally denigrated in the media as rich, selfish, greedy, smug, and culturally bereft. This characterisation must be mystifying if not deeply hurtful to the 60-year-old woman living in her car, unemployed due to entrenched ageism in the workplace, and with no savings because much of her 30s and 40s were spent caring for children.

There are rich boomers and there are poor boomers and many in between. For the generational warmongers, the rich-poor divide has been displaced onto a manufactured generational divide. This fake conflict is responsible for enormous bitterness out there. One Herald contributor admitted that she can’t wait for her mother to die so she can inherit the house.

As if we didn’t have enough social division in Australia already. This generational scapegoating places blame on a malevolent generation rather than the political and economic system that creates and perpetuates inequalities between rich and poor.

Most top decision makers today—in politics, business, the media—are Gen Xers and millennials. Perhaps millennials and Gen Xers might turn to their brothers and sisters who now run the country and ask them to create a fairer society. Who knows, they might find plenty of baby boomers backing them.


Clive Hamilton is Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra

Myra Hamilton is Associate Professor at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research, University of Sydney


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© 2023 Copyright Clive Hamilton