Dec 202012


Everyone in the generation that started 150 years ago is dead.
Most people in the generation that started 50 years ago are still alive.

Is this “intergenerationally unfair”? Is it even “unfair”? This is a pretty devastating difference between these generations. Yet no serious person would claim that it is “intergenerationally unfair”. We need to be able to discuss generational differences without automatically treating disadvantages to one of them as examples of intergenerational unfairness.

This article was prompted by “Commentary on “Intergenerational Fairness Index” by the Intergenerational Foundation“. That article was prompted by (and analysed)  “Intergenerational Fairness Index – Measuring Changes in Intergenerational Fairness in the United Kingdom“, which made some sloppy claims for intergenerational unfairness.


In the absence of explicit definitions, people are entitled to assume that words and terms are used according to dictionaries, etc. These don’t actually define words: they attempt to capture their typical uses so they are a valid starting point.


inter” (preposition) in Wiktionary;
between, among

intergenerational” in Wiktionary:
between or across generations

So it is valid to use “intergenerational” for any comparison between generations. But it is often both redundant and silly to do so. If “intergenerational” becomes commonplace for any comparison, then “The Intergenerational Foundation” risks becoming a sort of “Compare the Generations dot COM”. That is not its aspiration; it seeks to re-balance policies, not simply to state the bleeding obvious. And it is important to avoid the “correlation implies causation” fallacy.

Rather than devalue the word, it should be confined to cases where it adds value:

“intergenerational” derived from Wikipedia (from “Intergenerational equity“):
relationships between children, youth, adults and seniors, particularly in terms of treatment and interactions


unfair” in Wiktionary:
not fair, unjust

Words like “unfair” and “unjust” are defined in contrast to “fair” and “just”. These have recognisable plausible meanings:

fair, just in Wiktionary:
honest, equitable

There are 2 sorts of fairness/unfairness here. If you obey the rules, you have been honest and fair. But the result may still not be equitable if the rules themselves were wrong. So it is important to examine both whether the rules are right and whether people are obeying them.


1. Is there more than one generation?

This should be a blindingly obvious check. But “Intergenerational Fairness Index – Measuring Changes in Intergenerational Fairness in the United Kingdom” examined certain changes that only related to one generation, for example the year-by-year changes in GCSE Pass Rates.

There is no plausible use of the word “intergenerational” that doesn’t clearly involve more than one generation!

2. Is it intergenerational?

Is it concerned with “relationships between children, youth, adults and seniors, particularly in terms of treatment and interactions“? Is there an element of cause and effect?

If it isn’t concerned with “treatment and interactions” then it is not a valuable use of the word. It is probably just an observation about the differences between generations without implications of fairness/unfairness. Don’t devalue the word.

3. What is fair?

If “what is fair” isn’t identified, how can unfairness be judged? Things that you don’t like are not automatically unfair!

For example, “Intergenerational Fairness Index – Measuring Changes in Intergenerational Fairness in the United Kingdom” claimed unfairness in the trend of  “usage of selected medical services amongst younger people”, but without any evidence that the trend was towards unfairness rather than fairness. It was just an example of  “things that you don’t like“.

Identifying “what is fair” forces you to examine all points of view, strengthening any consequential claim of unfairness. Identify whether the problem is with the rules or about whether people are obeying them. You need to know what to change to achieve fairness: change the rules, or enforce them? (You can’t blame someone for obeying the rules just because you don’t like the results).

4. Have the people concerned been consulted?

Have representative people of the generations concerned been consulted about how the judgments are being made?

This is especially directed to the views of young people. It is important that older people don’t make the judgments about whether things are fair/unfair for younger people without at least asking them! What older people think is unfair for young people, and what young people themselves think is unfair, are likely to be different.

“Adopt those policies which you would consider fair and just if you knew you would have a second life but you didn’t know what your age or wealth would be”.

Other sorts of unfairness

When a child dies, we rage about the unfairness. But it mostly isn’t intergenerational unfairness.

We are probably raging against the rules governing the way the universe is operating. The universe operates according to unintelligent forces and processes such as the laws of physics and the consequences of billions of years of evolution. Every conception is an unintelligent genetic experiment, and evolution didn’t ensure that they could all work well.

We can’t change the laws of physics, but we can change a lot of the consequences of all those unintelligent forces and processes. That is what science and technology and engineering can attempt to do. There are many other examples where we think “the rules” are unfair although not intergenerationally unfair. Many people in every generation are trying to make those changes so that future generations have fewer cases where people rage against the rules.

Every generation benefits from the efforts of previous generations to make the rules more fair.

Further reading

Dec 202012

The people in every generation start by being totally dependent on older generations.
Then they spend much of their lives co-supporting both younger and older generations.
Then they typically become dependent on younger generations.
Then they die.


Having children is a life-style choice.
It is not a biological imperative.
It is not a duty to the state.

Having children is a choice, at least in the developed world. (That includes the choice about whether to take sensible precautions and/or have an abortion). It could be described as an extended hobby, but since the consequences tend to be life-long, including typically being financially poorer for life, it is appropriate to call it a “life-style choice”.

It is not essential. Some people really want children. Some people really really really want children. Some inadequate people can’t find meaning in their lives without children. But other people have different hobbies, and those are not biological imperatives either!

If it were a duty to the state, the state would intervene if you didn’t have children. It doesn’t, honest! Any parent’s contribution to the nation’s pool of children is typically about 2, and that is “noise” in the national statistics; it won’t make a detectable difference to the nation’s finances. And of course whether a person has children doesn’t affect whether all other adults have children, so it is stupid to ask the pointless question “what if everyone thought like that?” It is the parents’ own decision and it isn’t reasonable to blame external pressures.

A more important reason why it shouldn’t be seen as a duty to the state is that morally/ethically human beings should be treated as ends in their own right, not as means to ends. It is contemptible to think of children primarily as future taxpayers or future carers of their parents.


Human Rights Act Article 12, Right to marry:  “Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right.”

Human Rights Act, Article 2, Right to education: “No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.”

Intergenerational resource transfers

Who pays?

Every generation starts off incapable even of surviving without resource transfers from the next-older generation (their parents and others) and often the next-next-older generation (their grandparents and others). We can discuss whether it takes a village to raise a child, or simply takes a family, but it certainly takes an older generation to raise a child. And countries with well-established welfare systems (including the UK) don’t leave it just to the family. They draw on financial resources from the wider public to assist the parents.

Some of the resource transfers to children

A feature of this is that having children is optional. Some of the people whose resources are being transferred to younger generations did not have children of their own, and so didn’t previously incur an intergenerational obligation.

The following diagram superimposes the lifetimes of everyone, so the arrows show that when one generation is at the “have children” stage and receiving resources, the same and other generations at the “working” stage are contributing those resources.

Simple view of intergenerational resource transfers

How resources are transferred

Although a lot of attention is paid to the state’s formal transfer methods, including tax and benefits, there are also informal transfer methods that long preceded the state’s formal system:

Intergenerational resource transfer systems

Both systems do much more than intergenerational transfers, but that is an element of both of them. Neither is adequate on its own; if either ceased, there would be massive strains on the other. Both have to be taken into account in debates; any discussion about one of them is likely to be extended or countered by advocates of the other. Both systems will be part of any solutions.

Arguably, neither is adequately designed for the 21st Century, and they don’t work together in perfect harmony! In fact, there is probably inadequate knowledge of how they fit together, partly because there appears to be little detailed documentation of the intergenerational transfers of the informal system. How big are the informal transfers both from young to old and from old to young within families (etc)? The cost of child-care is a known problem; how much of a role can/do older people in a family play?

The long term

The future of today’s children

Through no fault of their own, today’s children will eventually become old and make their own demands on the generations following them. (But even before that they will add to existing problems such as the shortage of housing, and require changes that will have an adverse impact on others).

Bringing too many children into the world will eventually create a large burden on the generations following them. We need a strategy that is more sustainable in the long-term.

The planet

See: “Do we fit on the planet?” (Global Footprint Network):

“Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year.

“Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. And of course, we only have one.

“Turning resources into waste faster than waste can be turned back into resources puts us in global ecological overshoot, depleting the very resources on which human life and biodiversity depend.”

Population growth also helps cause more climate change and species depletion. It may lead to bitter conflicts over resources such as water and land. Future generations will evaluate the consequences of the choice to have children as “intergenerationally unfair”.


(Every minute, 18 children die)

“Having children” needs to be a major topic in debates about intergenerational resource transfers and fairness. But whereas there is an explicit assumption that younger people contribute to the care of the elderly and so build up their own entitlement to care when they themselves become  old, there is no assumption that those contributing to the care of children have ever had, or will ever have, children to be paid for by others. (This can lead to resentment).

The problem of population growth is just as important as the problem of the increase in the elderly. At least the current elderly will die within a few decades, especially if they gain the right to assisted suicide. But we should be trying to prevent childhood deaths, not killing children, and then they will consume resources and eventually become elderly and live that way for longer than the current elderly.

We need a strategy for catering for the elderly that doesn’t require ever-increasing numbers of children. And we need fewer children being brought into the world.

Further reading

Dec 202012

See this report published on December 18, 2012:

The Global Religious Landscape
A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Major Religious Groups as of 2010
Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life


Every religion is a minority religion. Whatever a person’s religious beliefs, most religious people in the world have beliefs that contradict that person’s beliefs.

Christianity in its entirety is a minority religion, with about 32% of the world’s whole population, and about 38% of the world’s religious population. (And, of course, there are many incompatible beliefs within Christian denominations, with Roman Catholics about 50% of Christians).

Islam is the second largest religious grouping, with about 23% of the world’s whole population, and about 28% of the world’s religious population. (And it is split especially between Shias and Sunnis, the “sides” of the longest running feud in human history).

The “unaffiliated”, which includes atheists and various other groups, are about 16% of the world’s whole population, ahead of Hindus at 15%.

Other religion-related groups are much smaller. Across the world, 1000s of gods are worshiped and 1000s of religions are practiced.

A trend

In Europe and North America Christians are on average older than the unaffiliated. (In Europe the median age of Christians is 42 and of the unaffiliated is 37. In North America the median age of Christians is 39 and of the unaffiliated is 31.)

So in these regions the people dying of old age are more likely than average to be Christians, while the people being born are more likely than average to become unaffiliated. There is an inexorable increase in the proportion of the unaffiliated and decrease in the proportion of  Christians generation by generation. There is nothing to stop this trend.

Dec 032012

Her (co-authored) book “Bartley Green & District Through Time” has just been published.

Bartley Green & District Through Time

Her third local history book was “Selly Oak and Bournbrook Through Time“, published earlier this year.

Selly Oak and Bournbrook Through Time

Her second local history book was “Cotteridge Through Time“, published last year.

Cotteridge Through Time

Her first local history book was “King’s Norton Past and Present“.

King’s Norton – Past and Present

Nov 252012

I am writing an article to post here to be called “Generation by generation – are things getting better or worse?” Obviously this needs to take into account what is happening about “intergenerational fairness”. But what does that term mean?

I started with “Intergenerational Fairness Index – Measuring Changes in Intergenerational Fairness in the United Kingdom” from the Intergenerational Foundation, since its title matched what I wanted. But it actually demonstrates what not to do!

I’ve written a commentary (below) on that document in order to discuss what “intergenerational fairness” means and how to measure it.

Summary of commentary on “Intergenerational Fairness Index”

The Intergenerational Foundation

The document (26 June 2012) is available as both a PDF and a Word document at 2012 Intergenerational Fairness Index. I’ll call it “the IF Index” for brevity, although that is really the name of the Index that it documents.

1. The IF Index doesn’t define “generation” or “young”, and certainly isn’t consistent in their use. It says “It has not been possible to define the young in the same way across the sets of data which are available but we do not believe that the differences would materially affect our results”. Yet it variously uses data for “students achieving … grades at GCSE”; “students in Higher Education”; “those aged 20 to 29 (22 to 29 from …)”; “those aged under 25″; “those aged 25 to 34″; “the UK workforce”; “those aged under 60″. All of those people are important, but they comprise different generations which are sometimes in conflict with one-another. All they really have in common is that they are not retired pensioners. And if the IF Index is intended to be “anti-pensioner” or “anti-baby-boomer”, that may be the point!

2. The IF Index doesn’t attempt to define “intergenerational fairness”. Since there isn’t a consensus about what that means, it is hard to validate whether it really is measuring it and whether it being consistent. Presumably the term is related to Intergenerational equity, but the IF Index doesn’t explicitly use that as its scope:  some of its topics are not about “relationships between children, youth, adults and seniors, particularly in terms of treatment and interactions”. It isn’t automatically “intergenerationally unfair” for one generation to have different characteristics from another. (The shorter life expectancy of earlier generations isn’t “intergenerationally unfair”). It becomes “unfair” when undesirable differences arise because of “treatment and interactions”, especially undue transfers of resources. There needs to be an element of cause and effect. (So the the shorter life expectancy of earlier generations would be “intergenerationally unfair” if it were caused by undue power of later generations, which it isn’t).

3. The IF Index doesn’t attempt for any measure to define what is the “fair” value. It takes the value at 2000 as a base, then anything that it judges to be a worsening from that position for its favoured groups registers as unfairness. There are at least 2 problems with that method: the level in 2000 may have been unfair the other way and the changes may actually be increasing “intergenerational fairness”;  and demographic and other changes may be changing the “fair” value over time.

4. Some of the topics that the IF Index discusses appear simply to be observations about society, and nothing to do with generations or fairness. They may or may not be interesting, but they appear (given the lack of definition) to have no place in a document about “intergenerational fairness”. No justification has been provided for including them in the overall measure, or even in the IF Index document itself. There is no evidence that the young people concerned were consulted about their own views of what measures are important and/or of what they consider to be fair.

5. There is no demonstration that the numeric values of the individual measures have equal significance. For example, a 1% change on one measure may have as much practical impact on young people as a 10% change in another. Therefore the validity of simply adding up the Component Measures hasn’t been demonstrated, and is almost certainly wrong.

Commentary on “Intergenerational Fairness Index”

1. Unemployment

Purpose: To assess levels of unemployment amongst younger people compared to the UK average.

(a) What would be fair? (All unemployment is undesirable. But if it exists, different ages are more prone to it than others. For example, older people also struggle to get satisfactory jobs. How should we judge different levels across different generations?)

2. Housing

Measure A – Affordability

Purpose: To assess levels of affordability of UK housing amongst younger people.

No particular comment. (We need more houses, and that would drive the prices down by the law of supply and demand).

Measure B – Housing Costs

Purpose: To assess the proportion of disposable income which is spent on housing costs.

(a) The measure say: “The ratio expresses housing costs as a proportion of disposable income”. What has this got to do with “intergenerational fairness”? Or indeed to do with age? It would be an interesting number if it brought age into the formula, but it doesn’t. It appears to be simply an observation about society.

Measure C – Housebuilding

Purpose: To provide a measure of levels of housebuilding in relation to the need for new homes.

(a) That sounds like an important topic. But what has it got to do with “intergenerational fairness”? If we simply want one group of people to have opportunities that are available to another group, that is good. The current state is unsatisfactory, unacceptable, wrong, etc. But not “intergenerationally unfair”.  It isn’t the result of one generation not playing by the rules, or impeding another. It isn’t about “relationships between children, youth, adults and seniors, particularly in terms of treatment and interactions“. (Just as the shorter life expectancy of earlier generations isn’t “intergenerationally unfair” because it isn’t the result of one generation not playing by the rules). Some things are “happenstance” and may be regretted by all generations. (This illustrates the importance of defining “intergenerational fairness”! Without that definition, it is impossible to determine whether this paragraph trumps the assumptions of the IF Index).

(b) The measure says: “The ratio expresses the numbers of houses built as a proportion of the number of households. A decrease indicates a reduction in intergenerational fairness”. What on earth have the number of households got to do with anything? Surely what matters is the number of houses built as a proportion of the family units that want houses but haven’t got them? If all family units that wanted houses had them, we could stop building – but that would register in the IF Index as “a decrease” and hence be “a reduction in intergenerational fairness”! It is a formula that doesn’t match the problem to be solved.

(c) The consensus is that we need lots more houses. I agree.

3. Pensions

This is a hot topic so it is worth reminding ourselves of the “intergenerational contract” that determines the relationships between those who pay and those who receive (diagram from “Intergenerational resource transfers – summary“):

The intergenerational contract for pensions over 3 generations

Measure A – State Pension Costs

Purpose: To assess the changing cost of the state pension in relation to the size of the UK workforce. The measure of the UK workforce is used as it will be those who are currently in that force who will be paying for its costs.

(a) The measure says: “The ratio divides the total cost of the state pension by the numbers in the UK workforce”. This is an interesting number, but what is a “fair” ratio? How should a “fair ratio” be calculated? Without knowing that, it is impossible to determine the fairness of any trends – obviously there are some ratios that are perfectly fair, even generous, given the pensioners’ prior contributions to the “intergenerational contract”. (And to be pedantic: many people who are not in the workforce also pay taxes; some pay more tax than they receive as state pension).

(b) The broad (but not full) agreement is that the state pension age is currently too low to compensate for: increased average age at end of full-time education; increased life expectancy of each generation; reduced birth rate over the generations. I agree. The increases being introduced are “too little, too late”. (But what do young people themselves think of this?)

Measure B – Unfunded Public Sector Pension Costs

Purpose: To assess the changing cost of unfunded public sector pensions in relation to the size of the UK workforce.

No particular comment.

4. Government Debt

Purpose: To assess level of public debt per employed person.

(a) To put this topic into perspective (I was born in 1947!):

(b) Why “per employed person”? Potentially everyone can benefit from government borrowing, and everyone can be adversely impacted by national debt. It isn’t obvious how great the impact will be – it is nonsense to say that “children are born broke“! (Most people would find it hard to identify what impact the national debt has on their lives). Important questions include “how much interest is paid on the debt”, which in effect is a leakage of tax-payers’ money, and “how much does the size of the national debt constrain the policies of government”, (by internal or external forces), which could be policies relevant to any or all generations.

(c) The deficit is probably a more important measure than the debt. It is a measure of whether the government is in or out of control and making things worse for future generations. This may be what the IF Index is trying to measure by showing the trend of percentage changes of national debt, in which case perhaps it should not duplicate the work of deficit-watchers but just quote the deficit. I agree with the principle of deficit reduction as a precursor to debt reduction.

5. Participation in Democracy

Measure A – Age of Councillors

Purpose: To assess the age of Councillors (excluding Town and Parish Councillors) as a guide as to the ages of those who make significant decisions about the places in which we live.

(a) What is a fair age? As the population ages, what should we expect the average ages of councillors to do?

(b) Perhaps a better measure would be the distribution of ages of councillors (and MPs, etc). It would probably be wrong to have just young ones. Perhaps we need a measure of how representative they are.

Measure B – Voting

Purpose: To compare levels of participation in voting at General Elections amongst younger people with the population average.

(a) Why is it relevant here? If they don’t vote, it is a self-inflicted injury! Or perhaps they are satisfied with the way things are going and don’t feel the need to participate in the democratic processes freely available to them? Has anyone asked them?

6. Health

Purpose: “To compare usage of selected medical services amongst younger people (for purposes of this measurement, those aged under 60)”.

(a) Why is “usage of selected medical services” relevant? If you ask young people what improvements they want for their health, will they say “we want more usage of selected medical services”? Wouldn’t we all like “better health without much usage of medical services”? For example, single inoculations against cancer, obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, to reduce lots of “usage” later?

(b) What are the real measures of the health of young people, and how are these changing? Have they been asked? Surely “life expectancy” is important, and this is rising generation by generation. And whatever kills me may have a cure by the time later generations get it. Why aren’t those being measured?

(c) What is the “fair” ratio between usage by people under 60 and those aged 60 and over? The IF Index plots the drop of the ratio from about 60% in 2000 to about 53% in 2010. But what if the “fair” ratio is 50%?  Then this drop is increasing the “intergenerational fairness”! Why should anyone think the “fair” ratio is unchanging, when the population is aging? The IF Index provides no justification whatsoever to claim that the reduction is “unfair”! It may be “fair”.

7. Income

Purpose: To compare median income levels amongst the young to the population average (amongst those in employment).

(a) What is a fair ratio? The measure says: “Comparing the median income levels of the young (20 to 29 (22 to 29 from 2008 onwards)) to the population average”. What has the ratio typically been generations ago? (Wouldn’t it be a demotivating world if there were no rewards for gaining knowledge and experience over your career? We must have a difference!)

8. Environmental Impact

This is such a limited description of this major topic that it would be better to refer to external sources.

Measure A – UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Purpose: To describe the environmental impact of UK energy consumption.

(a) That is too naive as a measure of the environmental impact of UK energy consumption. Why not just leave the purpose as “to describe the UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions”?

Measure B – CO2 in the Atmosphere

Purpose: To describe the impact of climate change.

(a) That measure says nothing whatsoever about the impact of climate change! Why not merge it with Measure A?

9. Education

Measure A – Level of Spend on Education

Purpose: To describe spend on education over time.

No particular comment.

Measure B – Tuition Fees (Higher Education)

Purpose: To describe the costs of tuition fees for students in Higher Education (excluding Scotland).

(a) There is a measure missing here: the proportion of people who become students in Higher Education. (It has grown from about 5% when I left school to about 35% now).

Measure C – GCSE Pass Rate

Purpose: To assess educational performance over time.

(a) The measure says: “Proportion of students achieving 5 or more A* to C equivalent pass grades at GCSE in England. An increase indicates an improvement in intergenerational fairness”. What has this to do with “fairness”, “generations”, “intergenerational”, or “intergenerational fairness”? This is scraping the bottom of the barrel! (What is the view of the young people themselves?)


(Since writing this article I have written “A checklist for Intergenerational Unfairness” to help authors and analysts ensure that they really are talking about “intergenerational unfairness” and not something else.)

I don’t disagree with the principle of  “intergenerational fairness”, and I don’t disagree with everything in the IF Index. But parts of it are not to do with generations, parts are not to do with unfairness, and parts of it don’t measure what their “purpose” identifies.

A credible explicit definition of “intergenerational fairness” is needed in order to determine what subjects are in scope and which are not. It would also ensure that measures were actually related to “intergenerational fairness”!

It isn’t valid simply to assume that any apparently adverse change from the 2000 value of a measure denotes “unfairness”. First it is necessary to determine a fair value for the measure concerned, or at least a direction where the fair value lies. Changes towards the fair value are improvements in fairness, changes away from it are increases in unfairness.

It isn’t automatically “intergenerationally unfair” for one generation to have different characteristics from another. It becomes “unfair” when undesirable differences arise because of “treatment and interactions” among children, youth, adults and seniors, especially undue transfers of resources.

The measures in the IF Index look like a set of “pet subjects” of all the people involved, matched against known available data whether or not it is the required data. There is no evidence that young people themselves were consulted about what is being published on their behalf!

Below is a diagram from “Intergenerational resource transfers – summary“. It shows 2 stages not discussed in the IF Index: “Have children” and “Die”. Certainly “Have children”, which is a major trigger for intergenerational resource transfers, should be included.

Simple view of intergenerational resource transfers

Further reading

Nov 242012

1. The bizarre voting system of the Church of England has confirmed:

26 seats in the House of Lords are to remain reserved for men!

This is in a (supposedly) modern democracy. You couldn’t make it up!

2. The Pope has published a book confirming that Catholics must believe in the Trinity and the virgin birth and the resurrection.

This is something Christianity did make up!

I love these ongoing demonstrations of the stupidity of Christianity and the need for secularism.

Nov 212012

Reminder 1: there was no “1945-65 baby boom”! This article is primarily about the big baby boom from about 1955 to about 1974, and a smaller one from about 1978 to 1992.

Reminder 2: blame must not be attached to an “accident of birth”, and belonging to a baby boom is such an accident. And there is no implication that the people of any baby boom did anything wrong that helped cause the housing crisis.


Although the birth rate of the post-war generation hasn’t unduly influenced governments to favour this generation, it surely had an impact on the housing crisis faced by young people today.

There was a 20-year baby boom from about 1955 to about 1974. Those people (now aged about 38 to 57) own about 43% of the gross housing wealth of the UK.  In comparison, everyone born before 1955 (older than 57) owns about 45% and everyone born after 1974 (younger than 38) owns about 11%.

The percentage of people born before 1955 who own houses has peaked, and may be declining. And they are gradually dying and releasing their houses for younger people. So their percentage of the gross housing wealth is relentlessly reducing from 45%.

The percentage of people in the 1955-1974 baby boom who own houses is still increasing, and probably their proportion of the gross housing wealth is increasing from 43%.

The population according to birth date

(This article is illustrated by various graphs. Rather than break the discussion flow with details, the sources and explanations for these graphs are provided at “More about these graphs – sources, etc” towards the end of this article. They come from plausible sources).

All graphs in this article have a variant of the following graph as their background (sometimes using 2009 rather than 2011 data). This is not exactly the same as the birth rate because many of the original older people have since died.


2011 population breakdown according to birth dates

When discussing the circumstances of people of different age groups, it is important to know how many people of that age group there are. If people of a particular age group own a lot of houses, is it simply because there are a lot of people in that age group? If people of a particular age group are struggling to find houses, which age groups own the houses that they aspire to? What are the house ownership trends for each age group, in relation to the number of people in each age group?

One very obvious fact from this graph is that there wasn’t a 1945-1965 baby boom, nor is the immediate-post-war 10-year cohort the one with the potential to put most pressure on the housing market. This graph should also raise questions such as “are the problems of younger people partly because there was a mini baby boom from about 1978 to about 1992?” Can future trends in the housing market be partly predicted from this graph? Will the apparent current mini baby boom cause housing problems in 20 or 30 years time?

Housing wealth of various cohorts

This graph shows in blue the gross housing wealth owned in 2009 by various 10-year cohorts.:

Gross housing wealth of various 10-year cohorts

Everything to the left of “1945″ concerns people born before the end of the Second World War. Then to the right of “1945″ are three 10-year cohorts covering the period from 1945 to 1974. The right hand side of the graph concerns people born after 1974.

The housing wealth should be interpreted in the context of the population graph. In the first decade after the war there was a “baby pop” from about 1946 to 1948, then the birth rate dropped to what has become a more normal post-war base level. So the housing wealth of the 1945-1954 cohort isn’t as high as the later cohorts. From about 1955 to about 1974 there was a “baby boom” which has resulted in the next two 10-year cohorts each being higher than the housing wealth of any 10-year cohort before or since. (The exaggerated height of the “1944 & earlier” column on the graph is simply the result of combining a number of decades of people. It doesn’t represent just one 10-year cohort).

In percentages of the UK’s total housing wealth, covering people from 0 to 100 or more, the gross housing wealth of the 20 years of the main “baby boom” population, roughly people born from 1955-1974 hence aged 38 to 57 in 2012, is about 43%. The total wealth of everyone older than this, comprising the 1945-1954 cohort and all earlier cohorts, is about 45%, and of everyone younger than this is about 11%.

Why is the younger population (aged 37 or less) struggling in comparison? There must have been houses available for the three 10-year cohorts from 1945 to 1974. In fact the gross housing wealth of the 1965-1974 cohort is slightly higher than the 1955-1964 cohort, despite being younger. Presumably there wasn’t a severe shortage of houses available when they wanted one.

What changed after that? Did they simply use up nearly all the available houses, and too few have been built since then? Another factor is that there was a lower-level baby-boom from about 1978 to about 1992 which will obviously put pressure on the housing market.

The next graph shows total mortgage values, to the same scale.

Total mortgage value of various 10-year cohorts

The older you are, the more chance you have had to pay off part or all of your mortgage, and obviously this is a priority for people near retirement. I don’t see a puzzle here.

Trends in percentage house ownership of various cohorts

This graph helps answer questions such as “what proportion of each age-group owns their own house?” and “what are the trends on house-ownership in each cohort?” The different coloured columns represent surveys taken about a decade apart, blue about 3 decades ago, then red, then yellow, and green recently.

Percentages of house ownership of cohorts at different times

There are 2 sorts of changes happening over time: older people are dying, and the percentages of each cohort who own houses is changing.

There is no indication that people born before 1956 are increasing their house ownership. Indeed, it is possible that after peaking at up to 80% the percentages are declining, see the first 3 cohorts in the graph. Are some of these people selling their houses, and if so why? Are they moving into managed housing or long term care?

It is clear that people born after 1955 are increasing their house ownership, although the 1956-1965 cohort appears to be peaking at perhaps the 80% level of older cohorts. It might increase from the current 21.5% of the gross housing wealth to about 22% or so.

The 1966-1975 cohort here is about the same as the 1965-1974 cohort (see earlier graph in blue) that owns more gross housing wealth than any other 10-year cohort. And isn’t hasn’t peaked yet! It currently owns nearly 22%, and this might increase to 23% or so.

It is too soon to predict the future percentages of people born after 1975. There is a consensus elsewhere that they are tending to start later, but there is no indication of whether they too will eventually reach about 80%, or more or less than this. (My guess would be less).

Warning about simple age comparisons

The housing problems of younger people are often expressed in terms of their typical ages. But they should be expressed inter alia in terms of the average time since the end of full time education. In 1965, the average end of full time education was a little over 15, while nowadays it is about 19. This would be expected to increase the average “first-house age” by nearly 4 years over that time. It isn’t valid to be concerned about the higher “first-house ages” of younger people without accounting for such factors.

More about these graphs – sources, etc

All of these graphs and the various numbers quoted here are based on  the following:

The population according to birth date

It is easy to get the graph for any date in the range at Office of National Statistics: “Age structure of United Kingdom 1971-2085“.

I used just the “Female” half of the graph, and rotated it, added dates and legends, etc. This makes little difference to the graph; it slightly exaggerates the number of older people because women tend to live longer than men. It makes no difference to the conclusions.

Housing wealth of various cohorts

I described in The myth of a baby-boom-led housing crisis how I derived the original graphs from David Willets’ book. “Gross housing wealth” is the value of the “bricks and mortar”. It is different from the number of houses owned.

Here I’ve done little more than tweak the presentation of the original graphs and reverse them left to right.

Trends in percentage house ownership of various cohorts

I started with the “English Household Survey” graph, (taken from “Hoarding of Housing: The intergenerational crisis in the housing market“), which showed trends for different cohorts at the same age range. (For example, people aged 25-34 were compared at 4 different decades). To make it clear what is going on, I first simply labeled the 24 columns in the original graph with letters A to X:

Original English Housing Survey graph plus column lettering

Then I re-ordered the columns to cluster the different surveys of each cohort together, so that trends within each cohort over time could be seen. Unfortunately the “MNOP” columns cover 2 decades, not 1. So I duplicated them, to use separately for each decade in turn. This means that any of the “MNOP” columns may be slightly too high in one use and slightly too low in the other use. I don’t have the data to know whether this has happened, so I couldn’t correct for it.  The only column where I think this might matter is “P”, and so it might influence whether the older cohorts are tending towards lower house ownership.

When I mapped the columns onto cohorts I forced them to consistently fit decades by sometimes varying the start and/or end year by one. This would not influence any conclusion.

Further reading

Nov 202012

This is weeks-old news, but I have written about it elsewhere so I’m posting most of what I wrote here too. Lord Bichard said:

“We are now prepared to say to people who are not looking for work, if you don’t look for work you don’t get benefits, so if you are old and you are not contributing in some way or another maybe there is some penalty attached to that.”

Obviously there were responses from groups representing older people. For example, Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said:

“This amounts to little more than national service for the over 60s and is absolutely outrageous.  Those who have paid their national insurance contributions for 30 or more years are entitled to receive their state pension and there should be no attempt to put further barriers in their way.”

Michelle Mitchell, director general of the charity Age UK, said:

“Older people are a hugely positive part of society – over a third of people aged between 65 and 74 volunteer, a percentage that only drops slightly for the over 75s.  In addition, nearly a million older people provide unpaid care to family or friends saving the state millions of pounds….  almost a third of working age parents rely on grandparents to provide childcare …”

Here are some of the articles:

This particular debate is largely about bureaucratic versus voluntary transfers of resources. Do we make money or other assistance flow via state-administered means or via charity and private means?

Resource transfer systems

Although a lot of attention is paid to the state’s formal transfer methods, including tax and benefits, there are also informal transfer methods that long preceded the state’s formal system. Charity is patchy. Local charities can be brilliant where the right people are involved, or non-existent otherwise. Ditto for family involvement. Bureaucrats might seek to spread the excellence everywhere. But human nature means that bureaucratic systems tend to spread mediocrity, not excellence; the latter can’t be captured by rules and processes.

Intergenerational resource transfer systems

Both systems do much more than intergenerational transfers, but that is an element of both of them. Neither is adequate on its own; if either ceased, there would be massive strains on the other. Both have to be taken into account in debates; any discussion about one of them is likely to be extended or countered by advocates of the other. Both systems will be part of any solutions.

Arguably, neither is adequately designed for the 21st Century, and they don’t work together in perfect harmony! In fact, there is probably inadequate knowledge of how they fit together, partly because there appears to be little detailed documentation of the intergenerational transfers of the informal system. How big are the informal transfers both from young to old and from old to young within families (etc)?

About Lord Bichard’s suggestion

Michael Bichard, Baron Bichard, was once Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency. This was the largest government department in the United Kingdom. (I have inadvertently become one of the people who is protecting his Wikipedia page from vandalism!)

Lord Bichard was the ultimate bureaucrat! The Benefits Agency was the largest alternative to and contradiction to charity in the UK. Initiative, innovation, compassion, and empathy, were replaced by rules and processes and targets. He is exactly the wrong person to consider how to exploit charitable and family involvement. It would be interesting to get proposals from charity leaders on how to balance giving and receiving across ages and wealths. It might need legislation, but to enable and encourage it, not to enforce it. Regulation can kill charity.

There are three problems with Lord Bichard’s proposal that I haven’t seen identified before:

1. As soon as benefits are conditional on work, an entire “industry” is needed to to identify who can work and how. In effect, the equivalent of the “Work Capability Assessment” (run by Atos Healthcare for claimants of “Employment and Support Allowance“) would be needed for pensioners, who obviously have a complete range from ability to disability.

2. The proposal at the start of the BBC article “Retired people could be encouraged to do community work such as caring for the very old” would require Criminal Records Bureau checks, (used for those interacting with children and vulnerable adults), probably at “Enhanced disclosure” level. So would many other sorts of community work intended to relieve the burden on taxpayers: the greatest costs to taxpayers tend to be those involving personal involvement with people.

3. Who would make the judgment that people had contributed enough to receive their pension, and how? Judgments about work done are normally made by managers, with disputes sorted out by tribunals, etc.

Since the media debate, Lord Bichard has said:

“I want to make clear that I have never suggested that pensioners should be expected to work for their pensions. I asked questions of witnesses at a select committee and these have been misrepresented on the BBC website as representing my views. They do not. I do think we should better recognise the talents of older people and encourage them to continue to contribute to their communities if that is what they want to do but never under duress.”

Further reading

Nov 192012

Yesterday I refuted the idea that the post-war generation has excessive political influence. As an introduction to that article, I quoted the description of David Willetts’ book “The Pinch: how the baby boomers took their children’s future – and why they should give it back“:

“The baby boom of 1945-65 produced the biggest, richest generation that Britain has ever known. Today, at the peak of their power and wealth, baby boomers now run our country; by virtue of their sheer demographic power, they have fashioned the world around them in a way that meets all of their housing, healthcare and financial needs. In this original and provocative book, David Willetts shows how the baby boomer generation has attained this position at the expense of their children. Social, cultural and economic provision has been made for the reigning section of society, whilst the needs of the next generation have taken a back seat.”

I read this book on Kindle last year, and I reviewed it on it at Amazon just before I created this blog. My first 2 substantial posts refuted his major claims.

I believe part of that Amazon review still stands as valid criticism of lots of statements attacking “the baby boomers”. So here it is, omitting parts that have been superseded in other posts. (I wrote the following before I realised that there wasn’t a “baby boom of 1945-65″).

(I used the Kindle & Paperback name of this book above. The Hardcover name is:
“The Pinch: How the baby boomers stole their children’s future and how they can give it back”).

My review of David Willetts’ book “The Pinch” at Amazon: “Shoddy analysis leading to an incorrect predetermined conclusion“, 23 July 2011. (Rated 1 star, the lowest rating)

If this book had been advertised as a description of the importance of inter-generational cooperation, accompanied by useful social statistics, I would have given it more stars. But its real theme is instead identified by its sub-title: “How the baby-boomers took their children’s future – and why they should give it back”. It is an unjustified attack on the baby-boom cohort as a whole, leading to wrong conclusions about how we arrived at the current state and what the lessons are. Generalized criticisms made about baby-boomers are not supported by the (interesting) facts given, but needed a contorted interpretation of those facts.

< Here I’ve removed text covered by The myth of a baby-boom-led housing crisis >

Another problem with this book is that is treats the baby-boom cohort as a sort of “collective intelligence”, to which criticism can be applied, injunctions be made, and motives assigned. Apart from the book’s sub-title itself, there is “the boomers increasingly came to think of their house as … their own personal goldmine”; “however, we [the author is a baby-boomer] thought we were richer and … we all became alchemists, converting paper increases in the value of our homes into extra money to spend”. (Etc). Perhaps he and some others did that, but many of us didn’t.

The baby-boomers are about 10 million individuals. We span the complete spectrum of politics; of financial state (from rich to broke); of parental and social standing; of education; of health, of aspirations; of number of children. (But we probably don’t include rich footballers or WAGS!) We do not share a single agenda, strategy, motive, or degree of activism; in fact, we may sometimes not even be on speaking terms with one-another! Few of us ever managed to influence the resultant (current) society to a measurable extent. Since I gained the vote at the age of 21 my vote has never had the slightest effect on who got elected in local or general elections! And we are only about one-quarter of the electorate – does anyone seriously think that we really significantly influenced where we are now?

It is my last paragraph above that identifies a fault with this and other books on this topic. Any failure to understand that we are actually 10 million individuals, connected only by age, just living our lives while the world changes around us in ways we can’t control and sometimes don’t even understand, may cause people to focus on imaginary agendas, and make false assumptions that we can act as one to change things for the “better” (whatever that means). Hence my single star, which reflects the failure of this book to understand what happened and draw lessons for the future.

< Here I’ve removed text covered by The myth of the UK baby-boom >

A generation is a group of people who have an “accident of birth” in common. A generation isn’t conscious, doesn’t have emotions, and can’t plausibly be collectively blamed. We must learn from the Second World War never to blame people simply for their accident of birth.

It is only valid to blame someone if they did something they shouldn’t have done, or didn’t do something they should have done. And “should/shouldn’t” implies knowledge of the consequences and the ability to change those consequencies. It obviously doesn’t imply simply “living in a country where, in retrospect, unwanted things happened” nor “living in a country without power to change things for the better”.

This book fails to describe why things happened, therefore is of little use in solving problems.

Further reading

Frank Field to David Willetts:
“But there is no evidence to support your assertion that the baby boomers are careless about that. Everything from the polls suggests that they actually want tough action quickly, which means that they would be paying the debt, or at least some of it, rather than passing all of it over to succeeding generations…. I’m defending them by saying there’s no evidence that they took any action to land themselves in this privileged position…. But I’ve never seen a demonstration of baby boomers with banners, saying, “Push up the price of our houses.” It was we who did it. It’s the political class that ought to be in the dock, not the baby boomers…. But what I’m trying to argue with you is that you can’t put chance in the dock. I’m saying the baby boomers are innocent.”

Western Independent:
“Given the subtitle, How the baby boomers took their children’s future – and why they should give it back, I was expecting to find it uncomfortable reading (yes, I am one by Willetts’ reckoning, see below). But to my surprise, given the credentials of its author, I also found it to be flawed and I will try to explain why…. The UK experience was not the same as that of the United States which did have a sustained “baby boom”….

“Willetts is also convinced that “our culture is weighted towards the baby boomers” and takes pop music as an example…. “the Beatles in particular are in the top four of most popular musical performers for every age group, with the Rolling Stones not far behind”. Of course, the Beatles, born 1940 to 1943, and the Stones members in their 1965 heyday, born 1936 to 1943, all arrived well before the end of the Second World War…. In bolstering his argument, Willetts leaves no stone unturned, for example on page 129: “The two most violent riots in post-War London were the Grosvenor Square riots of 1968 and the Brixton and Broadwater Farm riots of 1985. They occurred around twenty years after each of the post-War baby boom peaks”. This ignores the four days of vicious rioting in London’s Notting Hill in 1958, and as the charts above show, the UK birth rate in the late 1930s was low….

“He is also well aware that many parents, happily still in this world, are helping their children, if they are in a position to do so, and, indeed, he refers to ‘the bank of mum and dad’”

Nov 182012

There is a story that after World War 2 there was a significantly higher birth rate for perhaps 20 years (called “the baby boom”) that resulted in a generation or cohort of people who by sheer voting power and demographic political influence ensured that governments made policies and legislation that favoured this generation at the expense of others. A typical summary of this is seen at the description of David Willetts’ book “The Pinch: how the baby boomers took their children’s future – and why they should give it back“:

“The baby boom of 1945-65 produced the biggest, richest generation that Britain has ever known. Today, at the peak of their power and wealth, baby boomers now run our country; by virtue of their sheer demographic power, they have fashioned the world around them in a way that meets all of their housing, healthcare and financial needs. In this original and provocative book, David Willetts shows how the baby boomer generation has attained this position at the expense of their children. Social, cultural and economic provision has been made for the reigning section of society, whilst the needs of the next generation have taken a back seat.”

This story forms the backdrop to much of what is published on the Intergenerational Foundation‘s website. It is a theme of “The rise of gerontocracy? Addressing the intergenerational democratic deficit” by Dr Craig Berry on behalf of the Intergenerational Foundation. It appears in articles and comments on the blog. For example:

“Your generation has forced (via democracy) this and previous governments to divert as much money to your generation at the expense of other generations”.

But this story is a myth! Like a fart in a lift, it is wrong on many levels.

I am not denying that a few (certainly not all) recent government decisions favour the post-war generation. But similar government decisions over decades have favoured previous and later generations! There isn’t anything special about the post-war generation, unless viewed through selective prejudiced eyes. There is actually evidence (see “Counter examples” below) that the size of this cohort makes it harder for government to provide help for them (me).

I have since published an article that complements and reinforces this: “Baby booms in the electorates of the last 6 Prime Ministers“. It shows that the immediate post-war generation were only a minority of the electorate for all elections.

The size of the post-war generation

First, let’s try to understand such statements as “The baby boom of 1945-65 produced the biggest … generation that Britain has ever known”. What was the birth rate of the “immediate post-war” generation? Perhaps people think it looked like the following:

Is this what the post-war generation birth rate was like?

That appears to fit the description: it is certainly a “baby boom” and runs from “1945-65″.

But the truth is vastly different. Here are the figures from the Office of National Statistics for births from 1945 to 2004, but only including those surviving until 2004. (Only about 81% of people born in 1946 are alive today).

Reality of the post-war generation

See “The myth of the UK baby-boom” on this blog for more details and citations for the original of the above diagram. There simply wasn’t a “baby boom of 1945-65″! There was no “sheer demographic power”. “Baby booms in the electorates of the last 6 Prime Ministers” shows that this was true for all relevant Prime Ministers.

There was a “baby pop” from about 1946 to 1948, peaking in 1946, then something like a “baby boom” from about 1955 to 1974, peaking in 1965. (The original birth figures were higher, but those of them who have since died can’t exercise much political influence today!)  The peak in 1965 was perhaps 30% higher than the more normal post-war rate, although the latter is hard to identify. The “baby pop” cohort are now aged about 64 to 68, while the “baby boom” cohort are now aged about 38 to 57.  (And it has recently been reported that there is another “baby boom” in progress!)

It is necessary to re-examine political decisions in the light of these facts rather than according to the myth of a 1945-65 baby-boom. Inevitably there will be different conclusions.

Electoral manifestos since 1945

A useful way of examining recent government promises and decisions is to compare them with the promises about previous generations. It is illuminating to examine party electoral manifestos from 1945 onwards. Manifestos are trying to do the following:

  • Reflect the worries and struggles of the electorate, saying “we understand your problems and desires”. If they don’t do this they are likely to be ignored.
  • If that party is already in power, boast about one’s own past achievements, while if the party is not already in power, criticise the other’s past failures.
  • Promise to help solve those problems if placed in power. So they identify the options available to voters.

I have used an internationally-acclaimed political resource for this examination: Richard Kimber’s “Political Science Resources“, in particular “British Party Election Manifestos since 1945“.

Governments don’t always fulfill their promises! But that doesn’t warrant blaming the electorate. Some of the problems that younger generations complain about are problems that political parties, voted for by older generations, promised to resolve but didn’t. And some of the things that the electorate voted for were not options at all, because they were promises of all important political parties. (And, of course, the post-war generation didn’t vote as a block. We often vehemently disagreed with one-another).

I recommend having a look at some of these election manifestos, especially to anyone tempted to re-write history. They show an aspect of history written and frozen at the time. They offer a glimpse of the world within which older generations were making their decisions that are sometimes criticised with hindsight by later generations. Would the people of those later generations have made different decisions had they been in that world? I doubt it!

State pensions

First a reminder of how state pensions work:

The intergenerational contract for pensions over 3 generations

There is a story that suggests that governments have skewed the state pension system over the years, so that while the post-war generation were working, pensions were minimised, then when the post-war generation was ready to claim their state pensions, pensions were improved. A telling of this story is:

“Your generation has forced (via democracy) this and previous governments to divert as much money to your generation at the expense of other generations. The most glaring example is that the state pension-index link was broken in 1980, it was re-established in 2010 along with a host of other pensioner benefits that your generation has awarded itself. Timing is the key to generational fraud. Cut pensions one decade, increases them in three decades time”.

But the electoral manifestos contradict this story. They show that major political parties have been promising to improve pensions since the post-war generation were first able to vote, and even earlier. But in those days, the people whose pensions were being improved were born long before the First World War! Such promises, which the post-war generation voted for because there were no alternatives, have been pretty constant in most or all elections since the Second World War, and are not a special feature favouring just the post-war generation.

Here are extracts from just a few of these manifestos, here talking about pensions:


This was long before any of the post-war generation could vote. (Votes were from age 21 until this reduced to 18 in 1969). Many of the promises are barely understandable nowadays! Apart from special cases, these pensioners were born long before the First World War.

Conservative (previously in power): “preferential treatment to the older pensioners”; “retirement pensions should be more closely related to individual earnings”.

Labour: “The right to full transferability of pension entitlements”; “Existing National Insurance benefits will be raised and thereafter linked to average earnings so that as earnings rise so too will benefits … The “ten shilling widow” will have her pension restored to its original purchasing value”.


This was the first general election in which a substantial number of the post-war generation (in fact, the “baby pop”) could vote. These pensioners were born before the First World War.

Conservative: “Between 1951 and 1964, Conservative Governments increased pensions five times, and the real value of the basic State pension rose by 50 per cent. We will review retirement pensions every two years to ensure that they at least maintain their purchasing power and that pensioners’ living standards are properly protected”; “Our proposals will be fair to those who are now old, and also fair to those now working. Under Labour’s scheme their pension prospects would depend upon the willingness of future generations to pay an ever-increasing pensions bill through mounting taxation. Under our proposal, a growing part of the future cost of pensions will be met through genuine savings”.

Labour  (previously in power): “Three increases – the last in November 1969 – have substantially raised the real level of retirement pensions … Labour’s new Pension Plan will, therefore, incorporate radical concepts in social security … Labour’s scheme is designed to abolish poverty in old age by enabling every worker to qualify for a pension at a level where supplementary benefit is no longer required”.


Conservative: “We will honour the increases in retirement pensions which were promised just before the election. We will exempt war widows’ pensions from tax and provide a pension for pre-1950 widows of ‘other ranks’ who do not receive one at present”.

Labour (previously in power): “Pensions are up by 20 per cent in real terms … As a next step towards a married couple pension of half gross average earnings and a single person’s pension of one-third gross average earnings, increase pensions in November to around £35 for a married couple and £22 for a single person”.

Housing (and inflation)

There is a story, (which is rather implausible, but some appear to believe it), that the post-war generation “fixed” the housing market and the rate of inflation in their favour. By inhibiting house-building, and causing higher rates of inflation, the prices of the houses they had bought were driven upwards and it became easier to pay off their mortgages.

There is no doubt that the rate of house-building had long been too low, and that inflation was too high during important periods. But the electoral manifestos show that typically the major political parties repeatedly promised to build more houses and to keep inflation low. So this is what the post-war generation had to vote for because there were no alternatives.

If this implausible story is to be repeated, the question that must be answered is “how did the post-war generation do this, given that governments were elected on promises to build more houses and keep inflation under control?” What specific things did this generation do that caused these things to happen?

Here are extracts from just the same few of these manifestos, here talking about housing and inflation:


Conservative (previously in power): “Since 1951 homes have been built at an average rate of 300,000 a year. We shall build about 370,000 this year. Next year we shall reach our new target of 400,000. This will be sustained, and will enable us to overtake remaining shortages, while keeping pace with the needs of a more prosperous, younger marrying, longer living and fast increasing population”.

Labour: “Introduce a policy of lower interest rates for housing … Further help the owner-occupiers by providing 100 per cent. mortgages through local councils … Labour will also increase the building of new houses, both for rent and for sale…. we regard 400,000 houses as a reasonable target”.


Conservative: “We seek a big increase in the programme of modernisation of our older houses”; “We will make both the 100 per cent mortgage scheme and the mortgage option scheme more flexible”; “Our vigorous new housing drive for the 1970s will have three main objectives: To house the homeless, to concentrate on slum clearance and to provide better housing for those many families living without modern amenities … To bring about a great increase in home ownership so that the majority of our nation fulfil their wish to live in a home of their own … To see that the tenant, whether of a private property or of a council house, receives a fair deal”.

Labour  (previously in power): “There should be decent housing for everyone; slums and overcrowding must be dealt with”; “Housing has been and will continue to be a main priority of Labour’s social policy. …. A new and more generous system of housing subsidies has made possible a major increase in council building and many families have been helped with house purchasing”; “Housing Priority Areas: All these areas of special need are within housing priority areas which will continue to receive special help in house building. The development of existing English new towns is continuing”.


Conservative: “Unlike Labour, we want more people to have the security and satisfaction of owning property … As far as possible, we will extend these rights to housing association tenants … As well as giving new impetus to the movement towards home ownership, we must make better use of our existing stock of houses”.

Labour (previously in power): “We must keep a curb on inflation and prices. Inflation is our enemy because rising prices hit most hardly at the pensioner, the low paid and the housewife, and inflation causes loss of jobs … The rate of inflation has been brought under control…. Now, with the renewed cooperation of the trade union movement, Labour will continue the battle against rising prices. With the wholehearted backing of the TUC, we have set ourselves a new target, to get inflation down to 5 per cent by 1982″; “Labour will also promote an expansion in housing”.

See also

Counter examples

There appear to be cases where being in a large cohort is a disadvantage. Some improvements can’t be afforded because too many people would have to be helped.

  • The expected rise in the tax threshold for pensioners was not provided in the last budget. (This decision was called the “Granny tax”!)
  • A new higher flat rate state pension is proposed, but it won’t apply to existing pensioners, only younger people becoming pensioners in future.
  • The Dilnot proposal for a cap on pensioner’s long-term care is floundering, and if implemented at all will probably be inadequate. It appears that the state can’t afford it.
  • (The raising of the state pension age for women to match that of men was done on “equality” grounds rather than specifically because the current level was unaffordable. But no doubt there is relief that the women in the 1955 to 1974 “baby boom” will have to wait 5 years longer).

Also, what these cases show is that government is not afraid of disappointing (even enraging) pensioners!


Anyone who had tried to influence government policy (as I did for nearly a decade) knows just how hard it is to do so as a “normal citizen”. You really need to be in government yourself, or at least be highly active and influential with government. Even then success is patchy.

The post-war generation didn’t unduly influence governments to do anything! We simply lived in a country where things happened that we barely understood and had virtually no control over.  Perhaps 99% of us never had our hands near the levers of power. (I have never lived in a ward or constituency where my vote could make the slightest difference to who got elected).  Even politicians in those days probably had far less information than is readily available now. No world wide web; no Freedom of Information Act; little or no demographic modeling by think tanks, etc. We weren’t coordinating our (mythical!) activism via Twitter … or email … or fax! (Some were doing so via the unions, but I don’t think they were opposing better pensions or house-building! They were tending to drive inflation up, so they had to be emasculated, and some of us in the post-war generation voted for that).

Hardly any of us could plausibly have predicted the strategic consequences of our actions. Who could have predicted the large increase in single people wanting their own house? Or the amount of immigration? Or the increase in longevity? We simply did what appeared sensible at the time, which was probably what today’s younger people would have done had they been in that situation.

Part of the mythical story is that merely by existing, without having to do anything, the post-war generation caused governments to act in unfortunate ways! A lesson from the Second World War is not to blame anyone for their “accident of birth”, which is what being part of this generation was. If governments did behave that way, that is the fault of the governments, not the post-war generation. (And if a government takes into account the existence of a large proportion of the population, would that really be so wrong?)

What I’ve shown here is that the demographics of the post-war generation are not what most commentators assume. There was no “baby boom of 1945-65″. I’ve shown that the normal method of influencing governments, by voting at general elections, didn’t offer the option of achieving what people criticise the generation for. So the post-war generation typically voted right from the start for better pensions for everyone, not just themselves; for more houses to be built and for house-buying to be easier; and for inflation to be kept low. There weren’t alternatives to vote for!

Further reading

My blog