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Social justice
5 April 2012

Are the old robbing the young?

Older people are richer than younger people. This is not big news – the former have had longer than the latter to pay-off their mortgages and build-up their savings.

But, in America at least, there is powerful evidence that the gap is growing. Stephen Marche’s eye-opening article for Esquire lays out the facts:

In 1984, Americans aged 65 and over had an average net worth of $120,457; by 2009 Americans in the same age group could boast an average net worth of $170,494 – a solid if not spectacular improvement. Compare this to the under-35s for whom the 1984 figure of $11,521 fell to just $3,662 by 2009.

Marche advances an explanation for this divergence of fortunes:

  • “This bleeding up of the national wealth is no accounting glitch, no anomalous negative bounce from the recent unemployment and mortgage crises, but rather the predictable outcome of thirty years of economic and social policy that has been rigged to serve the comfort and largesse of the old at the expense of the young.”

For instance, a Brookings Institution study found that...

  • "…the United States spends 2.4 times as much on the elderly as on children, measured on a per capita basis, with the ratio rising to 7 to 1 if looking just at the federal budget."

It’s also worth pointing out that, across the western world, government programmes – and, for that matter, tax cuts – have been funded with debt. Therefore, benefits that have disproportionately accrued to the older generation will be disproportionately paid for by the younger.

Of course, one can always blame the young for not bothering to vote. Indeed, there seems to be an awful lot they can’t be bothered with.

But, then again, who raised them that way?

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