Lifestyle

Thursday 31 July 2014

The boom and bust generations

Celine Naughton grew up to become sandwiched between dependent offspring and ageing parents

Bye bye baby: Celine's daughter Mieka left the country in order to find work

'Baby Boomers' is a term generally used to describe those born in the post-World War ll years between 1945 and 1965, but make no mistake – not all BBs are the same. In fact, we are a divided generation.

At one end of the spectrum are the 66ers, the ones who've made it by the skin of their teeth to retirement age relatively unscathed, travel plans and pension (almost) intact and entitled to all the perks of old age such as free travel, fuel allowance, free TV licence and all kinds of concessions.

Mieke graduating, pictured with mum Celine Naughton

They appear to have it all, "yet we are a reviled generation," wrote journalist Valerie Grove recently. "We are bitterly resented by the under-45s, who snipe away at our property-hogging and pension privileges."

Quite right. I too envy the 66ers their money and perks, particularly since my fellow 50somethings and I at the other end of the BB scale will likely be slogging away till our 70s before we can afford to even begin our so-called "golden years" which already appear somewhat lacking in lustre.

We approach retirement in view of some rapidly moving goalposts. The closer we get, the further away our pension age becomes, while medical cards and free travel disappear into the annals of history.

Actress Maureen Lipman, 66, defends the freedom pass bestowed on her peers with the indignant cry, "Why be guilty? We worked bloody hard for it, and paid taxes. We deserve it! And we've given lots back."

It suggests, by inference, that we've had it cushy. Yet we are the ones who will be hit most by the pension timebomb. We invested our money in pension schemes as encouraged by the Government during the boom years and what happened? They crashed.

Mieka and Celine in 1985

The coffers are emptying fast and already the Government has announced plans to push retirement age beyond 68, while free travel and other benefits will be means-tested, meaning that many of us, no matter how many taxes we paid, for how long, or how close the cut-off point may be, will no longer qualify for the privileges traditionally afforded to retired people.

In fact, we will be working harder and longer than we ever expected, with fewer returns at the end of our long years of service.

I was born in 1960, the year that marked the beginning of a social and sexual revolution, an era of emancipation for women and hope for glittering times ahead. And what has become of me and my peers? We are the sandwich generation, the filling between dependent offspring who languish in education longer than we ever envisaged and ageing parents who, thanks to modern medicine, live longer than we ever thought possible.

While I've been earning a living since the age of 17, my children graduated from college in their mid-20s and, although they worked part-time throughout, we were happy to help them out until they became financially independent.

Only this year did we finally become empty nesters and we're loving it, yet already our peers warn us of the phenomenon of 'boomerang children' who move back in with their parents when they can't afford to buy property of their own.

On the other side of the sandwich, a medical MOT on my 89-year-old mother-in-law shows her to be in rude good health and she happily looks set to be with us for some time to come.

We ferry her to hospital and doctors' appointments, run trips to the pharmacy to collect her medications and jump to it when her panic button goes off because she thought she'd "test it to make sure it's working"

Then there are the weekly visits to my father-in-law in residential care who forgets who's been in as soon as they walk out the door and will tell anyone who'll listen, "I haven't seen them in months".

This is what the sandwich generation does, but who will look after us in our dotage? Our kids won't be here – they've had to emigrate in droves to find work and those lucky enough to build a life abroad are unlikely to return.

My daughter sent me a birthday card from her home in London. It read, "Be nice to your children – some day they'll be choosing your nursing home."

Like the best humour, it contains more than a kernel of truth. But with nursing homes charging weekly rates of €1,200 to €1,500, who will pay for this care? Will our homes be sold to cover the cost of looking after us, effectively disinheriting our children in the process? Reports suggesting today's young will be the first generation in recent history to be worse off than their parents prompted Jeremy Paxman to comment it's a "wonder the streets aren't full of demonstrators demanding compulsory euthanasia".

A tad over-the-top, perhaps, yet for our offspring, to whom we have left a legacy of economic ruin, it may seem a tempting idea.

When my first child, Mieke van Embden, was born in 1984, I had great hopes for her future. There was no hint that the recession we were experiencing then would be left in the shade by the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, and that by the time she graduated, even a Masters Degree with distinction would be no ticket to a job in this country.

Having left these shores five years ago, it is hardly surprising that Mieke has scant sympathy for us Baby Boomers considering the mess we bequeathed to what is now commonly known as the Baby Bust generation.

While we and our parents before us got on the property ladder, she argues, we pulled it up after us, leaving her and her peers with a far bleaker future than we can ever imagine.

Irish Independent

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