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Summary of “History of Now: The Story of the Noughties”

I really enjoyed watching this yesterday on the BBC and the Demos blog has a very good summary of the programme.

According to Julia Margo, Director of Research at Demos, “Age is to the C21st what social class was to the C20th. It’s one of the major fault lines in our society”. She appeared on the BBC’s History of Now: The Story of the Noughties on Tuesday night, delivering a bleak picture of the gap between where young people in their teens and early twenties thought they would be, and where they found themselves at thirty.

With the recession hitting young graduates hardest, this disparity will probably amplify. It’s a bitter pill for the children of the good-time ‘baby boomers’ who enjoyed an expansion in university education – bolstered by grants – adding to the growing of the middle class. Their degrees counted for something and they entered jobs and finished them with final salary pensions. They rode the wave of the property boom and are now enjoying living their retirement to the full, spending their cash on foreign travels and grown-up gadgets with a grown-up price tag.

The programme was critical of the baby boomers and their quest to be the Peter Pan generation, refusing to let go of youth culture by adopting gadgets like the micro scooter and clinging on their teenage rock heros with paying through the nose to see them at the O2 arena. On the other hand, Generation Y are struggling to get jobs and loaded down with student debt. They will be in their thirties before they are even able to get on the property ladder, let alone think about having children.

The Guardian’s Economics Editor Larry Elliott commented “If you think about what’s happened to young people … it is somewhat surprising I think that young people aren’t angrier than they are about this.”

And here the contradiction lies: society is critical of older generations for being ‘middle youths’ but critical of the recession-hit younger generations for not wanting, or not being able, to follow in their footsteps. It’s a mark of maturity that younger generations aren’t having a tantrum over their lost ‘entitlements’. So perhaps as well as the age divide, a History of Now has shown an attitude divide – between generations that never want to grow up, and generations that are forced to do so.

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