Last Friday, the Murphy Institute hosted Building Bridges Across the Generation Gap, an event designed to bring millennials and baby boomers together to talk about the challenges faced by the two groups. Jillian Berman covered the event for MarketWatch:
“This notion of generational warfare is a red herring,” Eric Kingson, a professor of social work at Syracuse University’s Aging Studies Institute, told the crowd of about 100 gathered at the Murphy Institute’s offices on the 18th floor of a midtown New York City building. Kingson, the co-author of “Social Security Works!,” a book extolling the value of Social Security, argued that political leaders, particularly conservative ones, often use generational differences to drive people apart and keep them from demanding what they’re entitled to from their government.
Kingson had a foolproof test. He asked participants to raise their hands if they had grandparents or grandchildren and then asked if they hated their grandparents or grandkids to prove that the two groups really do have each other’s concerns at heart. “I don’t accept this notion of young versus old as a real issue. I view it as something that was created and is used as a wedge to try and drive people apart,” Kingson told MarketWatch. “The reality is it hasn’t worked very well, even though there’s a lot of talk about it.”
It can be difficult, Berman observes, to accept the idea that the struggles the two groups face are fundamentally connected:
[…] Millennials’ familiarity with technology and eagerness to rise through the workforce can often make their boomer counterparts uncomfortable. At the same time, millennials may resent the ease with which their boomer parents and grandparents navigated their young adult lives — with typically less student debt and more economic opportunities.
“There are some big lifestyle differences” between the two groups, said Ruth Milkman, a sociology professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center and one of the event’s organizers and panelists. Those include the aforementioned different approaches to technology, as well as varying comfort levels with social and cultural diversity. What’s more, because millennials often have boomer parents and boomers often have millennial kids, there’s a familiarity that can often breed a bit of resentment. “You get the usual parent-child frustrations on both sides,” she said.
Despite these genuinely different experiences, panelists highlighted the two groups’ shared concerns, including the rising cost of health care and child care, the future of Social Security, the precarious nature of today’s workforce and even rising student debt. Though young people hold the bulk of student loans, borrowers over 50 years of age held about 17% of outstanding student loans in 2015, according the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Both groups also struggle to secure the kind of steady employment that suits their financial needs; about 12% of young college graduates are underemployed, the Economic Policy Institute found, and boomers are now working longer and in increasingly uncertain fields—they make up about 30% of the gig economy workforce, according to recent data.