Issue date
24 Aug 2015
Touchstone pamphlet cover: Young against old

Download "Young against old?" (PDF)

While there is no doubt that young people have seen significant falls in living standards, this pamphlet challenges the myth that these are the result of older people hoarding all the wealth. Drawing on new analysis, the pamphlet argues that young people’s deteriorating prospects are a consequence of growing wealth inequalities across UK society. It also shows that tackling these effectively will require a far more ambitious and progressive strategy than advocates of cutting pensioner benefits admit. 

There has been growing concern in UK political debate about the economic outlook and lifetime prospects of younger generations. Particular attention has focused on: • unprecedented levels of graduate debt following the increase in the cap on undergraduate tuition fees in England to £9,000 per year

  • house price inflation and ensuing difficulties for younger households in becoming owner-occupiers
  • high levels of youth unemployment and fewer good quality job opportunities, along with the long-term effect of these trends on young people’s earnings.

An increasing number of stakeholders have argued that today’s younger cohorts are likely to be the first generation that will be poorer than their parents over their lifetime.

Amid such concerns, there has been growing focus in public policy debate on the contrasting positions of the ‘young’ versus the ‘old’. Commentators have argued:

  • Given their wealth, public spending on pensioners should be cut to fund more spending on young people.
  • Transferring public spending from the old to the young would be an effective way of both lifting young people’s long-term economic outlook to the level of their parents, and of improving intergenerational fairness.

This discussion paper uses analysis of household wealth – in particular, new research undertaken by the University of Bristol using the UK Wealth and Assets Survey (WAS) – to explore these arguments. ​