Over-50s: beneficiaries of the boom, architects of the recession


A SURVEY WAS published this week claiming most over-50s are happy with their lifestyles and don’t feel too affected by the recession.

The results should not have been surprising – not because they reflected previous research or anecdotal evidence, or anything like that, but because the survey was released to coincide with a conference aimed at encouraging businesses to target the over-50s. Had the research, which was wholly objective, discovered that over-50s are a miserable bunch keen to hold fast to their cash, then the organisers might have been less inclined to publicise it.

In fact, it claimed that while 71 per cent saw their income decrease significantly over the past year, 67 per cent said the recession had not had a big impact on their lives. Sixty-five per cent said they’d made no big change to their spending. (It’s amazing how many of these surveys release headline results that correspond precisely with the marketing needs of the people who commissioned them. I’d say, oh, about 100 per cent do. With a margin of error of – and this is a guesstimate – 0 per cent.)

About the most negative finding was that they won’t go with own-brand tea bags. Other than that, it was cash-splashing all the way. The survey also said the over-50s don’t like to be stereotyped as being vulnerable, while half of them believe the media portrays them as being unable to cope.

A sponsor of the Business of Ageing conference was the maker of an emergency-response device. Take a sip of your branded tea while you reflect on the irony.

Curiously, the discovery of contented over-50s (borne out in previous research) contrasts with a far bigger survey in the UK (10,000 respondents, against 500 here) who said they felt they were facing a bleak future, with rising unemployment and few prospects for their age group, as well as falling incomes and worsening health. However, Irish over-50s may have started out with lower expectations than those of their post-war British counterparts.

As happens with such exercises, of course, the entire demographic gets flattened into one handy statistic and headline, when of perhaps any age group it is particularly ludicrous to lump all over-50s together. How much commonality does a 55-year-old feel with a 75-year-old? They are different generations. They are separated by a world war and a schismatic youth culture; by work and retirement; by spending power and mobility. One is in his or her 50s, the other might have children who are in their 50s.

Yet they’re all considered to be “silver spenders” with “grey power”, visually represented by stock images of older couples cycling bikes and enjoying life in a hammy way only ever seen in ads for denture glue.

So, if you’re in that 1.2 million-strong demographic, and especially if you’ve lost a job or a business or had your pension gutted, you might not feel too much collegiality. Yet, the over-50s, in general terms, may yet be subject to one charge: that they were arguably the greatest beneficiaries of the boom and architects of the recession.

The over-50s make up that bloc of parents whose investment in their children’s properties and second homes helped fuel the property bubble. Many also profited most from the exorbitant sale prices, which is why, if they managed to cash in their pensions in time, so many of them have not had to check their spending. They continue to spend on travel, according to the recent survey, even as the younger generations are once again economic migrants.

There have been complaints, too, of a generation of public-sector retirees whose generous pensions compare well to the pay rates of those 30 years younger than them, but their younger counterparts are saddled with mortgages, childcare costs and other debts, and are bankrolling the cushy retirements of their elders.

And those who actually ran this country aground were in that demographic, or are now. They continue to run the country – all bar two of the new Cabinet are over 50 – even after experience appeared to deliver only arrogance rather than wisdom or foresight.

So here are questions that could have been asked of the over-50s: do they feel responsibility for the recession? And if they are now content and affluent thanks to the boom, do they feel embarrassed that it is largely at the expense of the under-50s? And should they have pressed the emergency-response button years ago?

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