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Discourses of Ageing, Generations, Grandparents, Housing, Intergenerational, Intergenerational Conflict, Lifecourse, Retirement

How the media love discourses of intergenerational conflict

I have found myself Dr Angry over the last two days.  I mean Dr Really Angry.  It started with the amount of airtime given to a new outfit, The Intergenerational Foundation, which describes itself as having been established to research ‘fairness’ between current and future generations in the UK.  They published a report that suggests that everyone over 65 (where old age begins, apparently) should really leave their homes so that young people can move in, because by hogging, hoarding and house-blocking they are being really unfair to younger generations (errrr, those under 65).  Shame on the BBC and numerous (all?) other media outlets for perpetuating this depiction, the language, the discourse  of how intergenerational relations works.  These powerful players in society repeating these phrases over and over again – well, it gets into public consciousness, and serves a particular kind of politics that marginalises the welfare of older people.  It was eight angry tweets (@GerontologyUK) before breakfast, but then I couldn’t move for hearing the story repeated everywhere, in the same language, and it was repeated again today.

In our research on the ‘Behind Closed Doors‘ project, we found many older people are happy to downsize, sometimes repeatedly, but its a highly complex human and social issue. It’s not an intergenerational war. It’s a highly complex mix of geography, family, health, emotions and housing markets.  And it’s not about age. If you want to redistribute from rich to poor there are better ways to do it. Inheritance tax, for example.   Funnily enough, rich and poor weren’t mentioned.  Nor any concept of appropriate lifetime housing, nor any notion that many people don’t want to leave homes and communities, and even if they would like to move into a more modern, easy to keep house, finding one that doesn’t disrupt all their social networks is nigh on impossible.  Our current research on Grandparenting in Europe is  highlighting the absolutely critical role that grandparents have to play in caring for grandchildren (errrr, often in their *houses*), often enabling the intermediate generation to participate in the labour market.  Research over decades has now shown that financial transfers are mostly *down* the generations not up, and of course this is even more accentuated with inheritance.  To adopt the pithy summary of my colleague @lynnelqr, ‘framing current housing and socio-economic problems in simplistic terms of old-versus-young is naive, dangerous and politically convenient’, and she also points out the highly selective use of aggregate statistics in the report.

About gerontologyuk

Gerontologist with an interest in ageing and the lifecourse, well-being in later life, and social policy for an ageing society.

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