This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society—address key policy challenges, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
As rhetoric about home-ownership and avocados make headlines, you may be forgiven for thinking that intergenerational tensions have reached their peak. However, despite today's divisive rhetoric placing a spotlight on perceived differences between younger and older generations, it’s possible that there is more common ground to be found between these generations than is widely publicised and that finding this common ground may be key to the betterment of everyone’s shared futures.
It is uncontroversial to say that we, as a global population, are living through tumultuous times. Pre-existing challenges that relate to the climate, conflict, poverty and inequality, have been exacerbated as we continue to face the ongoing socio-economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pre-pandemic, large gaps in wellbeing outcomes already existed across population groups including by gender, age and education to name a few.
Let’s look at young people first. Three years into the pandemic, young people (a group already prone to additional social and economic challenges) have felt the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and policy responses disproportionately. This spans disruption to their education and training, loss of employment and income support, in addition to adverse impacts on mental health and their rights more broadly. We also know that these impacts are not limited to the short term. In fact, these impacts are projected to have a long-term effect on young people into adulthood and beyond.
The outlook for groups that face compounding barriers is even worse. This includes young people with disabilities, young women and girls, young people who reside in rural areas, young indigenous persons, young people from minority cultural and ethnic groups among others.
Survey results from OECD-based youth organisations reflect only 15% of participants felt that their government considered young people’s views when adopting lockdown and confinement measures.
Synonymous with recovery efforts is the aim to “build back better”. Beyond restoration of pre-COVID-19 socio-economic conditions, this phrase has also come to capture the objective to improve society’s collective resilience to future shocks. Against the backdrop of these lofty ambitions, young people are determined to be part of the solution. They are becoming outspoken advocates for their own needs and are well placed to both collaborate on decisions concerning our shared futures and to champion implementation efforts among their peers.
In late July, young leaders selected to represent youth from across G20 countries voiced their views about the world's pressing challenges via their official communique. In it, they urge G20 leaders to adopt a myriad of proposals organised around four priority areas: (1) sustainable and liveable planet; (2) youth employment; (3) digital transformation; and (4) diversity and inclusion.
This theme of youth participation in decision-making was also reflected in the adoption of a new Youth Recommendation on Creating Better Opportunities for Young People at the main annual OECD Ministerial in early June. The recommendation promotes strategies and principles to improve conditions affecting youth across a range of areas. This includes education and training, employment, trust in public institutions and representation in public and political institutions. The recommendation reflect decades of OECD work, in consultation with young people, to improve policy measures and outcomes for young people.
Why is this significant? Young people aren’t always meaningfully engaged with. Survey results from OECD-based youth organisations reflect only 15% of survey participants felt that their government considered young people’s views when adopting lockdown and confinement measures.
Read more about the No Pension Generation? Why youth-inclusive pension schemes are key, by Nikita Sanaullah, Senior Officer on Social and Economic Inclusion at the European Youth Forum
Now, let’s turn to older people. On the other end of the age spectrum, elderly people are another population group which was acutely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and its corresponding policy responses. Elderly populations experienced greater financial insecurity like young people. Furthermore, while social distancing measures and lockdowns minimised the spread of the COVID-19 virus, elderly populations reported negative impacts of these lockdowns both in terms of their physical and mental wellbeing. Primarily these negative impacts arose from their isolation but these were also exacerbated by the digital divide.
As with youth, marginalised groups of elderly people often face compounding barriers including elderly women, elderly people living in precarious socio-economic circumstances, elderly people with disabilities and others.
In view of this, it is perhaps unsurprising that as a global collective, against the backdrop of young people rising to the challenge of "building back better", attention is now being focused on how we can make strides towards a more prosperous, equitable and resilient future for all ages, young and old. As we approach International Youth Day on 12 August, the call for action for intergenerational solidarity is given renewed focus with this year's theme which tasks us with "creating a world for all ages".
Intergenerational solidarity has been identified as a key combatant against ageism by the World Health Organization.
This theme is predicated on understanding that many of the challenges felt by both younger and older people are rooted in a common cause: ageism. Young people have reported experiencing ageism by way of stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination that is directed towards them based on their age across several facets of their lives. This includes institutional ageism in the workplace, in politics and in the context of the legal system, including sentencing. Elderly people have also expressed experiences of ageism throughout the pandemic ranging from stereotypes about elderly people being fragile or even expendable and discriminatory practices relating to care for elderly persons in care homes.
Intergenerational solidarity has been identified as a key combatant against ageism by the World Health Organization in their Global Report on Ageism. It identifies intergenerational interventions as one of the three key strategies to address ageism, stating that such activities can also lead to a greater sense of social connectedness. An inclusive and people-centred approach will call on government, multilateral development partners, civil society organisations and individuals to play their part.
While the pandemic has revealed points of commonality between generations, we still have to acknowledge that points of intergenerational tension remain, evident even in the way that ageism manifests between young and old people.
Amid a climate which pits generations against one another, it is commonplace to see divisive headlines that reinforce the "us versus them" culture. Finding commonality and achieving intergenerational solidarity in an increasingly polarised climate is no small feat. However, to make strides towards our lofty ambitions, it is clear we can’t afford to leave anyone behind. This begs the age-old question: can we overcome our differences to find common ground?