Monday, October 11, 2010

Kids today really don't know they're born - and nor will the next lot

It's nice to feel like a member of an oppressed minority now and then. Bit of indignant hurt peps you up no end. In the course of an interesting debate about university top-up fees on The Guardian site somebody pops up with what is becoming a familiar refrain - since they clearly grew up in an era of plenty and didn't have to pay to go to university, why don't the baby boomers pay for all this?

I have my Baby Boomer membership card and therefore I feel the need to respond.

I came from a direct grant grammar school which every year sent a handful of boys to Oxbridge. Although this was a selective school not everyone went on to higher education, not by any means. These were the days of 13% going on to take a degree. Some left at 15 (you could do that in those days) to work as office boys or to take an apprenticeship. And this wasn't a simple economic calculation. It depended on their inclination, prospects and temperament. I knew miner's sons who stayed on and went to university. I knew kids from well-off families who got out the second they could. I went away and came to London. I did a four year B.Ed course which finished in 1972.

While I was studying my tution and board was paid. I had £40 a term for everything else (bolstered by what I managed to save from unpleasant manual labour done during the vacations). I went to the pub where I drank mild because it was cheaper. I hardly ever went into London because I couldn't afford it. The pictures maybe once a month. Clubbing obviously wasn't invented, nor were premium lagers, clothes with logos on them and designer drugs. I didn't know what a cab was. At the end of term I would go to the end of the M1 and hitchhike home.

I'm not complaining. I had a great time. I didn't work particularly hard. I loved it all and learned a lot. When I left I walked straight into a job on the recommendation of a lecturer (one of many examples of my not realising how lucky I was) where my pay was £1,500. A year. That's with a degree and London weighting.

It goes without saying that £1,500 went a lot further then than it does now. But it couldn't buy, for instance, a holiday. I did without holidays until my late twenties. When the NME wanted to send me to Hamburg for one night (you can't imagine how thrilled I was) I didn't have a passport. We got married when I was twenty-nine. On my stag night six of us went to a pub in Islington and had five pints. Our wedding was paid for by parents. It was lavish for the era. There were fifty guests. Our honeymoon was three nights in France.

Today's twentysomethings have grown used to mobile phones, Sky subscriptions, cabs, clubbing, an occasional trip to a fancy restaurant, stag weekends, Hollywood weddings and multiple holidays. In 1979 this would have been an unimaginably luxurious life. I don't think we even knew the word lifestyle. I don't begrudge them any of it. I understand only too well about debts and employment and house buying. I don't resent what I didn't have. What I do resent, what every older generation always resents, is being told we had it easy by somebody who wasn't there.


  1. You've missed out the bit where you had to lick road clean wi' tongue.

  2. Fair point, but it's not as though every young graduate today lives high on the hog. If one works in a low-status job, one's lifestyle in one's 20s isn't be radically more glamorous than the one you describe. Your argument amounts to punishing my generation just because Easyjet was invented and we could go to Ibiza.

    Current retirees:
    - had their mortgages wiped out by inflation
    - benefited from free education for themselves and their children
    - are in line to use the NHS heavily for their remaining years
    - will be the last to benefit from generous pension schemes

    One day I'd like to believe I could buy a house and retire before 70 instead of living in a gerontocracy.

  3. Can you point out the bit where I'm "punishing" anyone?

  4. A couple of points.

    If this generation buy a house and stay in it (or one very like it) for 20-30 years their mortgage will also probably be wiped out by inflation. Oh yes you will have to save for a deposit, so did we.

    My kids are at university (two of them). I must have missed the bit where I paid for their school, other of course than through taxes. I am paying to supplement their living expenses - I suppose thats punishing them.

    Unless the coalition have been hiding things I suspect the NHS will be around for others when they get old.

    Lastly it's only those in final salary schemes who are getting the big pensions and thats not most of us.

    I remember earning £1750 pa in the early seventies, I've never felt as well off as then (whoops, spoiled my argument)

  5. I see both sides, and indeed feel a bit trapped between the two positions. I'm in my forties, and it seems to me that my students (now in their late teens/early twenties) are used to a level of consumerism and comfort that my generation did not experience or expect, so I'm disinclined to pity them for not being able to afford a house/having to pay tuition fees. That said, because I lived overseas during the 1990s, I never got on the "property ladder" and as such, even in at my age and with many years of hard work and expensive education under my belt, I'm still not able to afford even a small flat and I have no pension. When I read the other day that a chicken would cost 47 quid if food prices had increased in line with house prices, I did feel a bit miffed that I had missed out on this bonanza of unearned wealth. But to be honest, I have no complaints really. I have a nice life and comparing oneself to others usually only leads to misery.

  6. A great deal is made of the level of debt that students leave university with. In my experience (daughters and their friends) a large amount of the debt has little to do with education. I have heard "everyone's got their loan cheque through today so we're all partying" more than once, to be followed about a month later by "everyone's broke now".

  7. I'm 47 and I do feel that I had it easy. Not just financially (student grants and free university, not to mention no-questions-asked access to the dole when needed) but also in terms of competition. I managed to get into a redbrick university with two poor A levels. I never felt I was missing out because I didn't have a car/phone/Walkman or trips to Latvia. I was quite happy with my Inter-Rail trip and the vicarious thrill of taping copies of my mates Bowie LPs.
    I feel guilty about this because I see my teenage kids already trying to keep up with the Jones' .. and how they will ever get through college or buy a place of their own, I can't imagine.

  8. Your points are good. I often hear parents talking about the cost of a school trip and how it excludes kids who can't afford it to pay. The same kids have mobile phones and are always talking about the latest X Box games they have.

    I suppose it's all about priorities. The expectation of a reasonable standard of living is not difficult to agree with - it's just the definition of reasonable standard of living seems to have increased to include sky, holidays, cars, mobile phones etc. These are not necessities are they?

  9. I stayed at grammar school, did A-levels and went to University in 1965. Guys who left school at 15 or 16 (which you did to take articles as an accountant e.g.) bought their first houses as I graduated. I hitched everywhere and got given a van (worth £50) by my old man for my 21st but it conked out within a couple of months.
    Only 10% of blokes and 7% of women became undergraduates then. So job-specs these days demanding a degree are hidden signs of ageism.

  10. As someone who was at college with David and can vouch for his veracity, I concur with his thoughts on the young of today. Additionally, I am amazed at the readiness of today's parents to drive them to college and subsidise their trips to Vietnam ['to recover from college'] while M and D stay in a Caravan in Cornwall. It is what David and I wrote about in our final exams; child-centred education. At the time it seemed a wonderful idea.