The baby boomers didn’t betray their children – they let down their parents

Baby boomers didn't rebuild the country after WW2

In recent news articles, the argument has been made for the baby boomer generation to do more to help the young, the millennial generation.

The replying argument from baby boomers is nicely summed up by Dennis Leech, the Emeritus professor of economics, in the Guardian. He stated that:

“The baby boomer generation inherited one of the highest levels of public debt in British history: 240 per cent of GDP, following the war. They got that down to under 32 per cent by the 1990s…they paid higher taxes than today during most of their working lives probably had something to do with it, as well as economic growth and the full-employment policy of successive governments before 1979.”

In other words, we should be thanking the baby boomer generation for curing the post-war ills, rather than condemning their current perceived lack of empathy for the young.

There is a fundamental problem with this argument, and it is centred on  when the changes to the economy, housing, social reform and education occurred:

The baby boomer generation is defined as those born from 1946 to 1964, although some extend it to 1974 in the UK. A  result of the baby boom that occurred after the end of the second world war when soldiers came back and started families.

Now, relate that to the public debt argument given above Dennis Leech, the Emeritus professor of economics.  The debt of the 240 per cent was the rate straight after the second world war (see chart), before a single baby from generation baby boomer had reached their first birthday; even the most optimistic economist could not call this generation at the time ‘economic active’.

By the time the first baby boomer was economically active at eighteen years old the debt to GDP ratio had reduced from 240 per cent to 85 per cent — cut by the third.  By the time the last baby boomer had reached eighteen, it was down to 43 per cent: It was the parents of baby boomers who had done the hard work in reducing public debt by growing the economy, not the baby boomer generation.

This applies to the economy generally; by the time the last baby boomer had reached the ages of being economically active, the post-war economic miracle had come and gone. Rather than being the creators of that economic revolution, they were, by being in their formative years while it occurred, the principal beneficiaries of the economic growth.

The same rule applies for social and economic policies. From 1946 to the early 1970s, the period baby boomers were still dependents, the structures of the post-war society had been put firmly into place: The core structures of the NHS were put into place immediately post-war.

The mass building of the new universities were in place for the lucky baby boomers to attend. And in an unprecedented cross-party movement, hundreds of thousands of houses were created by both the Labour and Conservative Governments (see chart), meaning that the baby boomers would be raised in the modern homes of today, rather than the widespread slums of pre-war Britain.


The same, again, applies regarding the employment and pension law, be it the Wages Councils Act 1945 or the Wages Councils Act 1948, the Wages Councils Act 1959 or the Terms and Conditions of Employment Act 1959, or the post-war pension reform, the baby boomers were the benefactors of the society so powerfully instigated by Sir William Beveridge in his report:

“The scheme proposed here is in some ways a revolution, but in more important ways it is a natural development from the past. It is a British revolution.”

To be clear, it was the house building, healthcare services, education services, working hours legislation and  pension law, that was put into place by the parents of the baby boomers  that allowed the baby boomers to get educated, buy their homes, have generous pensions and live longer than any generation before.

It is a debt to their altruistic parent’s generation, baby boomers should be grateful.

For the baby-boomers, it is not until the 1980s that the last baby-boomer reaches eighteen.  It is the decades of the eighties to the noughties that the baby-boomers should be expounding as the ones where their influence grew strong.

And it is in this very period that saw the slow dismantling of all the post-war reforms that their parents had put in place.  In a paradigmatical shift, the housing wasn’t built, working and pension legislation weakened, the list goes on.  After gaining the access to a better world from the action of their parents, baby boomers drew up the drawbridge.

It is essential that we understand that we create the framework in our society for the success of future generations, the idea that the baby boomers worked harder than their parent’s post-war generation, and therefore deserved greater pensions and earnings than their parents is blatantly crass and evidentially wrong.

No, the baby boomers enjoyed a better work/life balance, housing, pension schemes and health care provision because it had been instilled into the structure of society by their parent’s generation.

In slowly dismantling that hard earned structure it is their parents’ dream of creating a fairer, more equal world that the baby boomers have ultimately let down.

Ranjit Sidhu is is the founder of SiD, Statistics into Decisions. Follow him on Twitter

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7 Responses to “The baby boomers didn’t betray their children – they let down their parents”

  1. Karen Jackson

    Mr Sidhu,
    Bravo, you are so right! I remember visiting my father’s childhood home; in Biloxi,Ms, when I was young, back on the 60’s and 70’s ( I fall into the late baby boomers; 1960). I was appalled at the simple living conditions/poverty he came from! His father was a shrimper who could not read or write but somehow managed to raise 4 children, who ALL graduated from high school and were part of the generation you discussed who raised “us” baby boomers. My aunts and uncles were all very hard working, honest, decent, and respectable Americans. I am proud of what they accomplished for this country and I can honestly say when I look back at what I saw “back then”, they accomplish a “HELL OF ALOT”!!! I’m not sure we will ever see it again.

  2. Will

    Even if the above article is true, once 1979 arrived, the example from the top of the political tree was for everyone who was able to greedily grab as much as they could from the trough and hide it away in a tax haven whilst bleating on about the working man not pulling his weight and wanting something for nothing. The class divide is still getting wider now!

  3. stewart

    Excellent article. Another point is that boomers were the generation to benefit from massive increase in life expectancy and it now looks as if it might be the only generation that benefit from antibiotics for their whole lifespan. I would also add that it was the only generation that was able to ravage the planet without paying the cost.

    I think that many of the problems that we are seeing today have their origins in this increase in life expectancy and it is almost an inevitable consequence of technical progress.

  4. Simon Jones

    This analysis is simplistic and unfair. A Left leaning progressive site should be ashamed to carry such a broad brush discriminatory piece.

    The impetus away from a social democratic, highly unionised, high tax, high public services economy came with Thatcher. Not a boomer. Nor were the vast majority of her ministers. In 1979 they were swept to power despite the votes of boomers (who were young and mostly left wing). Their power was consolidated by the split in the Labour party which gave the Tories 18 years of uninterrupted government. Worse still that split led to Blair and New Labour – the party had to discard its principles in chase of electability. The split was caused by people like the Gang of Four, Tony Benn and Michael Foot – none of them boomers.

    Even Thatcher was caused by the failure of the preceding system. In the 70s unions were too zealous in chasing pay rises – it led to failures of services and businesses, it was unsustainable and necessitated a push back. None of this was boomer-led.

    I also object to the idea that as a citizen, presented with the opportunity to make a X once every five years I am assumed to have been in control, along with the rest of my generation, of the country. That’s why this rhetoric is so decisive. Are the young generation to blame for the actions of Osborne and Farage? If no, why blame me for what happened 30 years ago?

    The aim of a progressive should be to lift everyone. The logic of this kind of divisive politics will be, if it is successful, to punish the old to give back to the young.

    Frankie Boyle does a sketch where he is frustrated with how people ignore the elephant in the room. Things are bad – maybe it was that Polish chap over there. IT WAS THE BANKS! Maybe it’s people claiming dole. IT WAS THE BANKS.

    The bank bailout was a bailout of rich people. Go after the money instead of playing identity politics. The reason things have been shit for 10 years is because weve given all the money to rich people, not because of boomers. David Clapson, the veteran who died after his JSA was stopped was a boomer. He was not the reason for economic injustice, he was a fellow sufferer from it.

  5. Larkworthy

    Those born in the late 50s and early 60 s who started looking for work in the Thatcher years ( along with 3 million others ) can hardly be said to have had the same life experience and opportunities as those born earlier who started off in the boom years of the 50s. 60s.
    Many now approaching retirement never had secure employment, pensions or became property owners.
    The demographic division of those born 1946 to 1964 is too crude as the cohorts within those two decades had very different experiences, extending it to 1974 ( people starting work in the Major and early Blair years) make the whole concept ridiculous.

  6. Brian

    I give more credence to the findings of an Emeritus Professor of Economics, published in peer-reviewed academic journals across the world, than someone with a twitter account.

  7. Tony Holmes

    Not much to do with the content of the article, but the “baby boomers” thing is a bit of a misnomer, borrowed from the USA where it really is applicable. After rising sharply immediately after the war, birth rates in th UK fell to the extent that in the mid-50s they were lower than today, before picking up in the late 50s and early sixties.

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