Gen X vs Millennials — a Baby Boomer perspective

I’ve spent years being infuriated by lazy stereotyping about baby boomers. This is my chance to return the favour. Survivor 33 is going to pit a Millennials team against a Generation X team. My money is on the Millennials. Why?

Here’s a story. My son, born 1982, is an early Millennial. For his tenth birthday we had a party. I set up a treasure hunt, with clues hidden all over our large yard. I expected that to provide twenty minutes or so of entertainment. It didn’t work out that way.

I gave each child a clues sheet. Did they rush off in search of clues like a bunch of frenzied lemmings? No, they did not. A dominant child (not my son) called them all together, and as a group they solved the puzzle, sending delegates off to each location to collect clues. Total time to resolve treasure hunt: five minutes. Pretty impressive effort for a dozen ten year olds.

Gen X though — I’m thinking of some of my ex-work colleagues here. Many were hard working people. Others were incomprehensible. I understood the desire to build collaborative solutions, although the essential requirement for coffee passed me by.

What I couldn’t ever understand was that after interminable discussions aimed at inclusion and making everyone feel good, we still couldn’t get any agreement on the problem, the solution, or any commitment from any individual to actually do anything at all. It was the avoidance of responsibility that drove me crazy.

Time for some new lazy stereotypes then.

Baby boomers: solution orientated, not very interested in whether there is consensus or whether people’s feelings are hurt in the process. Give the impression of being driven and dictatorial as a result.

Gen X: the only goal is that everyone feels good about the process. Solutions may never be reached but who cares? Give the impression of being very low achievers.

Millennials: the best of both worlds, both collaborative and practical.  I’ll back them over Gen X or Baby Boomers any day. I only hope society can live up to their expectations and provide them with the future they deserve.

As for Survivor 33, we’ll have to wait and see.

Kindness—an old-fashioned virtue?

In 1987 my little boy began his education at the local school. It was small, caring and perfect for his needs. The school itself had opened in 1968, in a society distinguished by social conflict, and influenced by flower power, the peace movement and the summer of love. The school had a wonderful motto with the words Kindness, Effort, Humanity.

This inspiring statement was the work, not of baby boomers, but of our parents’ generation, the people who survived recession and war and came out the other side to build a new, better society. These were goals they treasured. Inclusive, achievable goals that would promote the common good. I liked them.


Move on a few years, past the end of the raucous, glitzy eighties, past the crash of 1989 and into the nasty selfish nineties.

The school was in new hands. Brash younger baby boomers had taken over and wanted nothing to do with these old-fashioned ideas.

Without consultation, they changed the motto. The new one exemplified their greedy, elitist way of looking at things. Dare to excel neatly divided the children into two groups—courageous high-achievers and pathetic gutless losers. No sympathy for weakness there, and no concept of kindness either.

These were the type of people who went on to support Australia’s shameful refugee policy, a dramatic shift in our culture towards selfish, heartless individualism and a total disregard for others.

That battle is still being fought, but the advocates of humanity are losing. Our country and our planet need a lot more kindness, effort and humanity. On the other hand, there’s far too much daring to excel.

There is some hope. The school has since changed its motto once again, this time to Reach out, aim high.

Perhaps we can look forward to a resurgence of kindness and social cohesion after all.

See another advocate of kindness here

Buying a house in 1979 Australia

We were young (25), our total joint income was $A12,000 a year. Inflation was rife (9 percent in that year alone, 10 percent in the following year). Prices leapfrogged over and over, leaving wages behind. We were desperate to get into the housing market before it was too late.

Obstacles were huge. We had no deposit or savings record. It seemed pointless, since mortgage repayments were less than rent back then, and we had paid rent for years, thereby making saving impossible. I still don’t understand why paying rent doesn’t show financial reliability.

Mortgage rates were set at 3 percent in those days before the $A had a floating exchange rate, but banks were not lending. Banks were not our friend. Our only option was to borrow from a non-bank lender, at 11 percent. And that wasn’t easy either. We applied to four different building societies before we could find one that would lend against my income — the others wouldn’t take the wife’s income into account, and without it we wouldn’t have had enough.

My grandmother gave us some money, $3000, a generous gift. To make up the rest of our deposit, we took out a personal loan from a credit union. In those days, banks didn’t know everything about everyone’s money like they do now, or perhaps they just pretended not to know.

My beautiful picture
Our townhouse in about 1980

So here’s how it ended up: we paid $40,000 for our three bedroom townhouse (a row house) in a medium density development, all to be repaid over 20 years at 12 percent per annum interest rates plus capital, based on our income of $12,000 per annum. Our repayments were about 40 percent of our gross income. Difficult enough. But the 11 percent interest rates became 12 before we even moved in, and rose to 14 over the next couple of years. It never got easier.

Why didn’t we choose a fixed interest rate? Because they weren’t available. It was variable rates, at the lender’s discretion, or nothing. Also, this was all out of our after tax income. In Australia housing is only subsidised through the tax system for investors, not owner-occupiers.

In 1989 we sold that house and bought another larger one for our family. Interest rates rose to 17 percent on our new larger loan. Perfect timing. Just before we lost our jobs in the early nineties recession (unemployment then was over 10 percent).

Not until 1996 did interest rates fall back to 10 percent. By the time we paid our mortgage off in 1998 (19 years after we started) it had at last dropped to 9 percent.

So all you Gen X and Y people just don’t care? You think I’m playing the world’s smallest violin? You still think we boomers had it easy?

You should care. Part of the high prices you face for houses now comes from the massive costs we had to pay in interest, and then from the inflation of the 1980s that we coped with every single time we shopped for groceries. Sure, the house looked cheap, but the total once interest was added in wasn’t cheap at all.

I never want to see another discussion of relative housing disadvantage that doesn’t look at ALL THREE ELEMENTS: house price, income, and interest rates. Discussing any one or two of these is just cherrypicking.

Does that mean I think young people now have it easy? Absolutely not. The employment situation for young people is dire. But it won’t get any easier by fooling yourselves that your situation is uniquely terrible, or that back in the day baby boomers just walked into home ownership without sacrifice.

[Feature image licenced from iStockphoto, townhouse image P Kelley]

Science vs magic

I grew up in the space age, when we thought science had the answer to everything. In spite of my parents’ efforts (they thought I should be interested in literature and foreign languages), what I really wanted to learn about was physics and chemistry, geography, geology, plants, horticulture and landscape design. Useful things.

We live in a physical world and it really, really helps to have a bit of a clue how it works. The time comes when a cistern needs to be fixed, or you need to explain to someone why an evaporative air conditioner only works if there is air flow.

My parents, born in the nineteen thirties, instead lived in a world of mysterious magic.

They had a hand-held vacuum cleaner that was battery charged. When I visited it was sitting on the floor on the laundry, turned on but not actually vacuuming anything. Very noisy, for hours and hours. Why? They had been told to run the battery down before recharging it. I explained that you didn’t have to do this every time you used it. The worst that would happen if you recharged it often without running it down very far was that the battery would lose its ability to recharge fully. They were quite surprised.

This is an example of magical thinking. They didn’t understand why they were doing this action. Instead they followed a ritual, applying a rote response to a situation because of a complete lack of understanding of the underlying science (how different kinds of batteries work).

Here’s another. My mother was forced to study domestic science at high school in the 1940s. This representation of the nutritional content of an egg was in her text book.


She told me that for at least 20 years she had believed this was a literal diagram of where those things were located inside an egg.

Her interpretation makes no sense at all. After all, she had cooked and eaten thousands of eggs, seen the yolk in the middle and the white and shell surrounding it, and it is obvious to anyone that the inside of an egg just doesn’t look like this diagram. But this chasm between the symbolic and perceived reality didn’t result in her asking questions to resolve the problem. She just didn’t have any scientific curiosity. And she hated domestic science on principle.

What about the next generation? I saw a suggestion recently that calcium from milk was inorganic and couldn’t be absorbed by the human body, while, in contrast, calcium from plants was organic and therefore could be. So many misconceptions here I don’t know where to begin.

I don’t want to be too critical; I have been known to approach computer problems by rote methods. But without science, how can we understand, let alone solve, complex environmental problems? Problems of water management, salinity, erosion, soil depletion, loss of habitat and diversity, the impact of climate change, the behaviour of wild fires; solutions to all these depend on scientific knowledge and method.

Often these are seen primarily as political or economic problems. Perhaps this isn’t sheer bloody-mindedness, but just ignorance? Maybe most Australians are living in a world of magic, just looking for the right spells and rituals to make things right. The world is full of intricate, wicked problems, and it seems we are too stupid to fix any of them, or even to realise that we must understand the science first. Just a baby boomer view.