Mind the Gap

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A fixation with equality leads us to examine possible ‘gaps’ in outcomes.  Is there, for example, a gender pay gap, in which women are paid less than men for doing the same or equivalent work?  If there is, then it is something we might fix.  If, however, it is only an earnings gap in which women, although paid the same, prefer to work fewer hours, then it might be merely a lifestyle choice that does not need to be fixed.

One possible gap that has attracted attention is a possible “generation gap.”  Is it true that older voters have used their power to secure triple-locked pensions, free transport passes, and all kinds of discounted goodies such as free TV licences?  And has this been done at the expense of Millennials, now paying higher taxes and priced out of first-time houses?

It is useful to distinguish between a possible economic and political gap and what might be a cultural gap representing divergent tastes and lifestyle choices.  If we wanted to, we could lower taxes on young people and on the things they spend money on.  We could build more houses; we could exempt them from National Insurance; we could reduce their travel costs.

But while media attention has focused on what they see as a widening economic age gap, little has been given to what seems to be a narrowing cultural gap.  Many retailers report that as young people age, they choose to live a youthful lifestyle for longer than they used to.  Instead of moving into cardigans, grey flannels and twin sets with pearl necklaces, as their parents tended to, they continue to dress and act as they did when teenagers. Their music tastes, dress and recreational activities all point to a narrowing age gap in cultural terms.

If this is true, it might indicate that young people and their parents will identify more closely with each other than has previously been the case.  And this, in turn, could make it easier for any economic and political gap to narrow.  Instead of viewing generations as being in competition with each other, we might see them instead as identifying with each other.  If there is a generation gap, it might be one that is already being solved through the choices that people themselves are making.