SPECIAL REPORT: NZ's generation battle - who's getting the roughest deal?


SPECIAL REPORT: NZ's generation battle - who's getting the roughest deal?

There's a generational war going on in New Zealand and it's just got political.

On one side: the so-called 'milk and honey' post-World War II generation commonly referred to as the Baby Boomers.

On the other: the so-called 'tech-savvy' generation born between 1980 and 1995 known as the Millennials, Generation Y, or Gen next.

The main beef between Millennials and the Baby Boomers appears to be over wealth and income.

Millennials argue that the Baby Boomers have far too much of it - leaving very little for them.

An underlying view is that Millennials, who are in many cases struggling to pay off enormous student loans, are incredibly envious and angry with the Boomers, whose property and real estate investments have doubled, tripled and in some cases quadrupled or more during the housing boom.

In short - there's very little left for the Millennials to own - as they've been priced out of the market.

Before we dive head-first into the divisive vagaries of this generational battle, let's first summarise where each current generation fits into New Zealand history.

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I don't want to disparage the so-called Greatest or Silent Generations (remember New Zealand had the highest Allied casualty rate per-capita in World War II except for the Soviet Union), but the four main generations shaping the immediate future of our country are most certainly the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z.

These four generations will do most of the voting and buying - but only one two of them will do most of the babymaking from now on.

So what traits, experiences and economic factors shape and inform each of these generations?

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)

The Boomers grew up in the years after World War II into a prosperous New Zealand that enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world (3rd highest in 1953). Property, education and petrol were all very cheap by today's standards.

However, the Boomers endured more than the later generations might have imagined. The world oil crisis of 1973 brought a major economic downtown in New Zealand, and was exacerbated by Britain, our major trading partner, joining the European Economic Community. House prices spiked considerably at this time but soon levelled out.

Boomers had their children young - while they were in their early 20s - and didn't travel as much as the generations that came after them.

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There were also mass redundancies in the late 1980s and early 1990s as New Zealand industries moved from farming and manufacturing to other sectors - and tens of thousands of Boomers with limited skill-sets were frozen out of the work force.

The Boomers also grew up in a largely dull and conservative country in an era of limited technology.

Famous Kiwi Boomers : Musicians Neil and Tim Finn, filmmakers Jane Campion and Sir Peter Jackson, actors Sam Neill and Russell Crowe, comedian Billy T. James, athletes Sir John Walker, Sir Mark Todd, Sir Russell Coutts, Martin Crowe, Wayne 'Buck' Shelford and Sir John Kirwan, poet Sam Hunt and former Prime Minister John Key.

Gen X (born 1965-1979)

Gen Xs have often been compared to the hippie generation of America in the late 1960s - they 'let loose' in the 1990s enjoying considerable freedoms and hedonism such as dance party and music festival culture, while they found world travel significantly cheaper than the Baby Boomers and did so in record numbers.

Gen Xs were often accused of being lazy and self-obsessed by the older generations. In fact, Gen X was the first generation to be saddled with high education costs and user-pays. Loans to attend universities and polytechnics skyrocketed in the early 1990s.

Gen Xs also waited much longer then the Boomers to have children - generally having them in their mid to late 30s.

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Today the Gen Xs have settled down and worked hard, while some have acquired enough wealth to be big players in the New Zealand property scene and have a major voice in the future of our country.

Famous Kiwi Gen Xs : Filmmaker Taika Waititi, actors Jemaine Clement, Lucy Lawless and Cliff Curtis, musician Bic Runga, comedian Rhys Darby, model Rachel Hunter, athletes Jonah Lomu, Michael Jones and Dean Barker.

Millennials (born 1980-1995)

Millennials have a reputation for being harder workers than their Gen X predecessors, while they're also thought to party less. They're also high consumers, but older generations believe they are vain and too image-focused. Are we seeing a pattern here?

The high-tech world of the Millennials has arguably made their lives easier - but most don't have as much disposable income as their forebears - while the high cost of education, rent and house prices has put further dents in the pockets of this social media friendly bunch.

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For most Millennials, the dream of owning their own home has long since evaporated.

Some will perhaps acquire wealth much later in life when their property owning parents pass on.

Famous Kiwi Millennials : Athletes Lydia Ko, Richie McCaw, Lisa Carrington, Scott Dixon, Sonny Bill Williams, Winston Reid, Dan Carter, Valerie and Steven Adams, musicians Anika Moa and Savage, politician Jacinda Ardern, actress Anna Paquin and aspiring DJ Max Key.

Generation Z (born 1996-2010)

Welcome the new brigade, exceedingly comfortable in the digital world and teeming with talent and creativity. Gen Z Kiwis are setting the bar high and blazing their own trails - but most of them will also have to pay for what other generations are enjoying for free now.

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Gen Z will also have to confront a world adversely affected by climate change - and arguably face a far more uncertain future than their predecessors.

Famous Kiwi Gen Zs : Musician Lorde, Olympic pole vaulter Eliza McCartney and actors James Rolleston and Julian Dennison.

The big issue: New Zealand's growing elderly generation

A century ago there were hardly any New Zealanders over the age of 65, in 2017 the figure is almost 15 percent, by 2040 it is expected to rise to 25 percent.

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The majority of these older Kiwis will be the remaining Baby Boomers and Gen Xs, while the Millennials and Gen Zs will be running the country, passing their own laws, setting their own agendas, and worrying about the future of our nation.

There will be at least a million Kiwi Boomers and Gen Xs packed into yet-to-be built retirement homes.

Who pays for these mega-retirement homes? Who pays for the upkeep of its residents? Will the retirees be footing the bill themselves before they pass on?

Just have a look at the current and projected annual and daily bill for superannuation as sourced by the Retirement Commissioner:

2017: $11 billion a year / $30 million a day

2027: $20b a year / $55m a week

2037: $36b a year / $99m a week

That's a lot of money that the Millennials and Gen Z will have to fork out to keep the Boomers and Gen Xs happy in their retirement.

Where will this money come from? Are wages and taxes suddenly going to go up enough to cover this massive expense?

Let's look at arguably the most divisive element of the generational battle: home ownership.

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It's hard to argue that the latest generations have been shafted on house prices - and then some - but just not the Millennials and Gen Z.

Gen X has also had to pay far more for their homes, and in not as desirable suburbs, as the Boomers did.

If you take Auckland as an example, the once working class suburbs classed as rough in the 1990s such as Point Chevalier have become million dollar plus havens for lucky Boomers and luckier Gen Xs.

West Auckland suburbs such as Te Atatu Peninsula are fast following this trend.

Millennials are indeed facing a massive bill to pay for not only their future, but the future of the older generations.

Will this entice more Millennials to come out and vote for change in the upcoming national election?

It might - but they'll have to stand in line behind their parents and grandparents first.