The Boomers versus Generation X

Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins the presidential election race in the USA, the next President will be pushing 70 - and a member of the post-war generation known as the “boomers”. It’s a generation that at least here in the US is still very much to the fore. People don’t seem to say here, as I have heard in the UK, that it’s about time they started to make way for the babies of the 60s and 70s, known as Generation X, famous for cynicism, Britpop and apathy.

Perhaps looking at the godawful mess that British politics is has been left in by its Generation X leaders is not much of an advert. For some, that slacker style, like a bad tattoo has stuck with age. Both David Cameron and Boris Johnson frequently gave the impression of having done their homework in the back of the ministerial limo and spent more time on the sardonic quip or a Smiths’ reference than on policy detail.

There was an archetypal moment on the night of the Brexit vote this June, as the pundits started to say that the vote was going against the Government when it transpired that after all, Cameron did have a plan B. it was to put the champagne back in the fridge. And then send out for 40 Silk Cut as in the stress of the situation, Samantha had started smoking again. That was very GenX.

When he left Parliament for good days later, Cameron was heard humming a tune. I like to think it was the Friends theme tune: “It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear. When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year,”

There was of course no compelling candidate at the top of US politics from this generation. Bernie Sanders was 74. And Marco Rubio, 44,  basically threw away his campaign by making a dick joke in a serious political debate. Hmm.

Personally, I like the fact that the boomers are still going strong. It makes me feel younger. Recently, at one of Boston North End’s many summer festivals, we saw a loud rock band giving it laldy in the street, in front of them, a man in a high vis jacket and holding a bike was jigging about to the music. Rather unexpectedly he looked to be in his mid 70s.

Another Sunday morning, we heard shouts telling pedestrians to get out the way. A stream of hundreds of Harley Davidsons started to roll through the centre of Boston.The riders, clad in leather and studs, were almost all over 50 and many considerably older, like a phalanx of rogue grandads, And another day, driving along a country road, we saw a spry old chap riding along on the side of a farm vehicle, and then stepping nimbly up to speak to someone through the window of the cab.

In the US this year, I have been sold anti-ageing cream, been guided on a cycle trip and watched an exhibition of Cuban dance, all by people in their 60s and 70s. Not to mention seeing older people at places like the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, confidently using the latest digital technology.

They are an impressive generation. New research from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College shows that the fastest-rising rate of participation in the workforce in the US is from workers aged 62 to 64. For jobs requiring reliability and outside work, such as real estate sales, night watchman, concierge, funeral director, clergy, they are more likely to be hired than younger workers.  And at the same time as their participation is rising there are millions missing from the generation below.

It may be that the health of the luckiest portion of this huge generation, the biggest in US history, is particularly good. They were free-range kids who played outside, and many of them grew up eating home cooked food. For many also, work has not been as physically demanding or literally backbreaking as it was before the war. And although there is a huge social inequality in the US when it comes to health care, for those that have it, it is good. A recent feature in the Boston Globe highlighted the high costs of health care and the lack of retirement funds that is forcing many older people to stay at work. But for others, longer and healthier lives are creating choices.

Having been born to a generation of parents exhausted by the Second World War, the boomers have been leaders all their lives, embracing and reinventing each phase. I loved a moment in the movie “Independence Day: Resurgence”, when an elderly, grey-ponytailed scientist who has just woken from a coma is conversing with an alien robot. “Many years ago our species gave up our biological existence”. “Far out!” the old boomer replies, excited.

In the US at least, the boomers show no sign yet of fading away. If the next President gets the usual two terms of eight years, the oldest millennials will be entering their 40s. It could be that power will pass directly to them. They are the most innovative generation of totally-wired individuals that the world has ever seen and they have already changed it: there was no such thing as geek chic when I was at school. Undoubtedly, the millennials will do a great job. And Generation X? Meet you at the cemetery gates, we can settle that score about Oscar Wilde, and Keats and Yeats.