Over 400,000 British people people died during the Second World War, the vast majority of them men. Now, while this pales into insignificance when compared to the tens of millions who died in the Soviet Union, it still led to a serious lack of manpower in the immediate aftermath of the war. This had several major consequences. For instance, as the work of rebuilding the country got underway, the government of the time realised that more people were needed to help rebuild roads and bridges and to staff the new hospitals and schools that were being funded. To tackle this problem, they actively encouraged immigration from Commonwealth countries like Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados in the Caribbean and India in South Asia. Given that over the centuries, Britain has absorbed Romans, Vikings, Normans, and northern European Angles and Saxons, it’s safe to say that we have always been home to immigrant communities, but the post-war years marked a major step towards the nation becoming the global multicultural place it is today.
Another result of the war was a huge boom in the number of babies born. As the historian Landon Jones has pointed out, almost exactly nine months after the war ended, the cry of babies was heard across the land! More babies were born in 1946 than ever before, and this trend continued for at least the next ten years. The children born during the post-war years were the generation that came of age in the 1960s and that helped create such a powerful youth movement and a counterculture that opposed the Vietnam War, the military-industrial complex, colonialism, racism, and so on. Born in 1947, my own mother is very much part of this generation, many of whom are now reaching their 70s. The baby boomers are getting old!
And as this generation ages, the pressures it places on society increase as well. There are predictions of an economic slowdown once the majority of baby-boomers have retired. There’s also the problem that all countries with an ageing populations faces: fewer people of working age having to support more and more people of retirement age. This obviously breeds resentment, with the younger generation – my generation – feeling cheated and feeling that the baby-boomers have had the best of both worlds: they were young at a time of economic growth and growing freedom and now they’re old, they benefit from what’s left of the National Health Service and they get state pensions . . . leaving us to pay the price as we get older and the age of retirement gets ever later as we’re all forced to pay into the system for longer!
Given all of this, it wasn’t easy to feel the required sympathy for baby boomers this week when I read that they’re hitting the bottle harder than ever – drinking a lot more alcohol than their parents (or grandparents) did at their age. The reasons why baby boomers seem to be drinking to excess are numerous, but include drinking at home being more common than it used to be; more and more older people living alone; increased pressure to stay youthful, playful and fun; companies getting more adept at marketing to older drinkers, who, in turn, now have more disposable income available to spend on booze! Given the terrible side-effects that can accompany heavy drinking later in life, I know I should feel some sympathy.
However, when I ponder the added burden all of this will place on the NHS coupled with the fact that older people are apparently having so much fun, I find myself instead wishing – not for the first time – that I’d been born twenty years earlier than I actually was!
Oh well. Only thirty more years till retirement.
If I’m lucky!
- Has there been a baby boomer generation in your country? When were they born? Why?
- Does your country have an ageing population or is the average age quite low? What’s good / bad about this?
- Is your country experiencing a time of economic growth, economic slowdown or economic decline at the moment? Why?
- Do you ever wish you’d been born at a different time? Why?