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Bye-bye Boomers

In the UK, Adam Boulton, Sky New’s editor at large, has left his job.

He didn’t seem too happy about it. Saying that he was still “young and healthy”, he told a Times journalist (63); “I’ve just got to accept to a certain point that you and I, we’re tail-end baby-boomers, and there’s a kind of move against the baby-boomers and the fact that we’ve had less time at the peak is just the way it goes.”

This ‘tail-end boomer’ category extends to people aged 57, who probably think they have many years left in the employment tank.

Boulton’s passive acceptance of his fate (alongside a generous retirement package) probably disappointed his contemporaries who do not have his freelance options. There seems to be a prevailing ageism which has only increased since Brexit and covid.

Boulton’s interview reminds us that the enforced extension of working lives has been accompanied by increased ageism, as well as a related and more respectable generationalism. One academic paper defines this as; “The belief that all members of a given generation possess characteristics specific to that generation, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another generation.”

It’s the system that places Boomer Boulton in the same age category as Diane Abbott (68), Sir Patrick Vallance (61), Ian Botham (65), Charlie Mullins (69), the Archbishop of York (63), Nigel Farage (57), Boy George (60) and the late Errol Graham, who starved to death during lockdown, aged 57, after his benefits were cut off. Mr Graham is not the only boomer who didn’t enrich himself at the expense of future generations: 18% of pensioners in the UK are living in poverty.

The objection that these simple divisions take no account of class, race, sex, ability, location and life experience has not yet threatened their popularity. Boomer makes a very acceptable substitute to calling someone an ‘old fart’.

Calling someone a “millennial” does the same job for people who would really probably like to say, “brat”. But the ubiquity of generationalist thinking, everywhere from business and academic to political life, is dangerous and problematic. It divides people and creates self-fulfilling stereotypes, while lending itself to official exploitation. Where there are mobs to denounce, or welfare to cut, intergenerational hostility is a government’s best friend.

That people call themselves boomers, gen X-ers or millennials, makes you wonder what was so bad about horoscopes. If Boulton had said something like “I’m a typical Taurean” to his interviewer, “always trying to please”, it would at least be a victimless idiocy. But his reinforcing of the boomer stereotype won’t affect only surviving Sky presenters. Routine denigration of older groups reinforces negative thinking about age in younger people, with implications for when they, too, enter a supposedly obsolescent demographic.

The current pandemic, according to the Lancet, has stereotyped older people as fragile and vulnerable, saying; “As a result of Covid ageism, not only older people but also younger people are at risk of internalising the representation that being older means being vulnerable, and thus experience worse trajectories of physical and particularly mental health with time.”

Boris Johnson is 57, Vladimir Putin is 69 and Joe Biden has to be at least 100. 


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