Relative Generational Size and Economic Inequality

Much has been written about the problems created when a very large generation (e.g., the Baby Boom) is followed by a small generation, most notably fiscal strain on age-based social welfare programs. But in his informative book “The Pinch” (thoughtful review here), David Willetts, MP makes the point that there is also an advantage to the smaller generation following a bigger generation: There are more adults around to socialize you, support you and help you grow up. As a result, if you are born into a relatively small generation you are less likely to engage in antisocial behavior, drop out of school, become addicted to drugs, and the like than are people born into a large generation.

However, this benefit is not available across social classes in Britain. In the nation as a whole, there are 4 adults for every person under the age of 18. But on the housing estates children and adolescents often outnumber adults. As Willetts notes, the ratio of adults to children on some of the most deprived estates is comparable to that of the poorest and youngest nations in the world. This virtually ensures that economic inequality will be maintained, because the kids who need the most adult mentoring, support, monitoring and guidance get far less than do the more affluent children of their same generation.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

One thought on “Relative Generational Size and Economic Inequality”

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