Intergenerational equity

By Robert Hickson 16/04/2013

Last week I went to demographer Paul Spoonley’s informative lecture at the Treasury about migration. He started off by noting a conversation he had with his son, where the latter proclaimed that

“the baby boomer generation is constructing a future that will leave problems for subsequent generations”.

Paul didn’t directly respond to this question in his lecture, but I got the sense that his view is that policy makers are too passive with respect to migration and they should be more actively constructing  sensible and forward looking migration and population policies so that there are fewer problems for our descendants to clean up.

If you replace “the baby boomer” with “your” I also think Paul’s son’s complaint is one uttered every generation by offspring to parents.

This timeless conflict between younger and older generations is also illustrated by this rather unhelpful video posted on the McGuinness Institute website made by some of the LongTermNZ participants. There are valid reasons to be worried about what is now being called intergenerational equity, and it has got some international business leaders attention [PDF].  But setting up a contrived Them versus Us conflict is not constructive, although it is one way of getting people interested in a topic.

New Zealand’s National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis, based at the University of Waikato, has produced a good report examining New Zealand’s demographic forces and what population ageing [really] means [PDF] (they also have a range of other excellent reports and data sets available for thought provoking perusal).

As Paul Spoonley suggests, more time needs to be devoted – by all of us, not just policy makers & demographers – to thinking about New Zealand’s future population trends and characteristics and actively creating fair and equitable policy and actions for all.

0 Responses to “Intergenerational equity”

  • Hi Robert,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I was interested by your comment that this ‘complaint is one uttered by every generation’ and that it is a ‘timeless conflict’. I’m not sure I agree, as the whole concept of this inequity is predicated on specific changes in rates of change of population at a specific point in history.

    By way of trying to find some evidence for this I used Google’s Ngram viewer to plot the frequency of the use of the phrase: ‘intergenerational equity’ in the English corpus:

    It could be that ‘intergenerational equity’ was referred to in a different way previously, but I do think this is evidence that this concept is unprecedented.

    I agree with you that it shouldn’t be an ‘Us’ vs ‘Them’ but it is because of this specific demographic change and it’s associated equity issues that special attention needs to be given within New Zealand policy decisions.

    Thanks again, Paul

    • Thanks for your comment Paul.

      Intergenerational equity may be a new term, but I think that most generations worry about the negative impact that their parent’s generation will have on the future. I grew up when global nuclear war was a real worry, my parents grew up during WWII.

      My point was that the “baby boomer” generation, while likely to cause a very large financial burden for the next one, isn’t the only one in history to be looked upon balefully by their offspring.

  • Boomers (and pre-boomers) do, however, have the distinctly new advantage of hanging around a hell of a lot longer than any previous generation of oldies.

    So while previous generations may have been looked upon balefully, it was only for a relatively short period. Following their demise they received the veneration the dead so frequently, if undeservedly, get.

    Clue to the boomers – if you want to be respected, have the good grace to shuffle off a little earlier.