Boomers vs Millenials: Looking past the generation stereotypes

While intergenerational conflict is nothing new, the generation gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials has been a recurrent theme in popular culture and media in recent years.

Issues like housing affordability, work ethic and consumption habits have all been hot topics of debate. 

Despite the dominant image in the media, not all Boomers are living it up in retirement or spending their kids’ inheritance on travel and gym memberships. In reality, many Boomers cannot afford to retire. Post the global financial crisis, one survey found 40 per cent of women and 30 per cent of men had to postpone retirement plans or come out of retirement for their “encore” career. Recent research shows increased rates of first-time homelessness among those 50 and over. Boomer women are particularly at risk of experiencing financial insecurity in older age, due to histories of discontinuous employment, higher rates of part-time work and caregiving responsibilities. Boomers have been described as the “sandwich generation” as they often balance intergenerational care duties of elderly parents, grandchildren and sometimes spouses.

Perceptions of Millennials are just as skewed. From gripes about wasting money on smashed avocado to complaints about not moving out of their parents’ home, they’ve been labelled as “kiddults”. This generation is often portrayed as choosing not to get on with buying property, finding secure work or starting a family. What is often overlooked is that Millennials face significant systemic challenges.

Many more jobs require a degree and sometimes postgraduate qualifications. In 1976, only 5 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds had a bachelor degree or higher; now it’s around 40 per cent. Most students studying at uni also work and find it difficult to live independently or save for a house deposit.

At the same time, work has become more precarious and careers more fragmented.

Many casual workers are underemployed and have little job security. In 1982, the casual employment rate was 13 per cent; this has increased to 25 per cent. These figures do not capture those employed on fixed-term contracts.

Despite all of their perceived differences, many Boomers and Millennials are facing similar problems of financial insecurity, balancing work and care responsibilities.

To help address these issues, we need to move past the stereotypes of greedy Boomers and lazy Millennials.

Dr Sara James is a cultural sociologist and a lecturer in the Department of Social Inquiry at La Trobe University.