David Blackburn

The age delusion

The age delusion
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I missed Gordon Brown’s Peter Andre act last night (which reminds me, I hope there is a follow up series: The Browns Stateside or What Gordo Did Next for instance) Alas, last night I had a prior engagement: I was putting out the rubbish. Whilst performing this solemn duty I chanced upon a Sunday Times article by Bryan Appleyard. He has contributed to the cultural topic of the moment: Gerontophobia. Martin Amis’s publicity tour for The Pregnant Widow, David Willetts’s The Pinch, even The Last Station (the film of Tolstoy’s last weeks) – age has become Britain’s obsession.

Appleyard is the eminence grise of reasoned disgust and he denounced society’s ‘cult of youth’, an insidious belief system that regards age as worthless. Appleyard argues that the old are a resource that can be exploited. Employers, advertisers, artists, museums, leisure companies and the taxman, all could make more of Britain’s ageing and increasingly long-lived and healthy population. He is right and in fact they are doing so already. As Appleyard observes, it is the old who enjoy disposable incomes, not the young. What he fails to acknowlege is that there is a good reason for this.

In the vital fields of employment, opportunity and money there is, unanswerably, a cult of experience. The recent trend of those aged 50-plus returning to work has continued, weathering a contracting labour market and rising unemployment. Conversely, never have so many people aged 25 and under been out of work (as opposed to unemployed) - the Spectator ran a cover piece on this issue last October. And this analysis ignores the effects of still rising house prices, decreasing mortgage availability, the number of first time buyers who are being gazumped, the coming inflation bomb and tax hikes present and future, weighing as they will on the lives of the young. Anxiety about a cult of youth is a delusion of the middle aged. Of course, none of this is the fault of the great Bryan Appleyard; it is the fault of the nation's latest celebrity.

UPDATE: Apologies, I should have included these employment figures from page 22/49 of the ONS labour market statistics. It's on this planet!

                                                    16-24           50+     (1,000s)

September – Nov 2007:         4,225          7,813 (1,257 60+)

September – Nov 2008:         4,119          7,946 (1,342 60+)

December – Feb 2009:          4, 020         7,926 (1,139 60+)

June – Aug 2009:                     3,850          8,007 (1,403 60+)

September – Nov 2009:         3,779          7,987 (1,413 60+)