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Youngest baby boomers risk becoming a ‘forgotten generation’

Youngest baby boomers risk becoming a ‘forgotten generation’ with inequality skyrocketing and financial pressures worsening

People in their 50s and 60s today – the tail end of the post war baby boom - are at risk of becoming a ‘forgotten generation,’ facing greater challenges than those who were the same age in 2002, according to a new report by the Centre for Ageing Better based on ELSA data.

The report finds that one in five people in this age group – some 2.6 million people – will most likely experience an old age marred by multiple, long-term problems such as poor health, poor finances and loneliness and isolation. Poverty is already on the rise amongst this group, with those in their 50s and 60s seeing a greater rise in poverty than younger age groups since 2010.

The new research, which analysed data from almost 14,000 50–70-year-olds and interviews with more than 90 people from this age group, found that financial inequality in this cohort has increased dramatically since the turn of the millennium. The richest people in their 50s and 60s today are twice as wealthy as the richest in this age group were 16 years before, while the poorest are almost a third poorer. One in five say they will be unable to meet their future financial needs in old age – with a decline in home ownership meaning that many will be unable to rely on housing assets in later life. Gender inequality is also significant: By any measure of wealth, women are approximately ten percent worse off than men.

The report also highlights shocking levels of inequality faced by people from ethnic minority backgrounds in this age group. People from non-white groups are much less likely to be in the richest wealth group, and much more likely to be in the poorest. Meanwhile, 16% of people from minority ethnic groups in their 50s and 60s are unable to meet their current financial needs, compared to 5% of people from white backgrounds. The research also found that a staggering 40% of people from non-white ethnic backgrounds report low levels of satisfaction with their lives, compared to 26% of those from white backgrounds.

The research raises concerns about the quality of work and degree of financial security those in their 50s and 60s are experiencing. Today, more than half of people in this group say their work is excessively demanding – almost doubling since 2002. One in three say they feel a lack of control over their work, compared to just 9% in 2002. At the same time, there is a risk that poor health could push many out of work early, with a third of this group saying their health impacts their ability to work; meanwhile, 42% of workers in this age group also have caring responsibilities.

Experts at the Centre for Ageing Better warn that in spite of the risks facing this generation, little policy focus has been dedicated to alleviating these challenges. But, they say, without action, many will suffer poverty, ill-health and loneliness in old age – with a real risk that the experience of later life will worsen further for future generations.

Carole Easton, Chief Executive at the Centre for Ageing Better, said:

“We are sleepwalking into a crisis of later life: 2.6 million people in their 50s and 60s are on course for an old age marred by financial insecurity, ill-health and loneliness. Without action, not only will this group suffer, but future generations are likely to experience yet greater hardships in later life.

“Our new research lays out, for the first time, who makes up this forgotten generation. They are more diverse than ever before – but also more unequal. Their experiences of work are worse than that of the previous generation, and they are less connected to the people around them.

“This report must be a spur to action for policy-makers. For too long, this group have been overlooked in favour of stereotypes about wealthy baby boomers. But our research makes it clear that doing nothing is not an option. We need to see government showing real leadership and adopting a clear strategy on ageing, to ensure no-one misses out on a good later life.”

Paola Zaninotto, Associate Professor at UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health, said:

“Our research shows that unless we take immediate action to improve the prospects of men and women who are in their 50s and 60s now, a large proportion of these people are on track to do worse and experience even greater inequalities in their health, financial circumstances and well being, when transiting into later life.

“Cumulative disadvantage is already apparent with people from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups being at greater risk. The number of older minority ethnic groups will inevitably increase over time, there is therefore the need to change their trajectory through appropriate support, services and interventions, to make sure that everyone is able to make the most of our longer lives.”

Image from the Centre for Ageing Better


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