Move over boomers: Millennials are flexing their political muscle
By KATRINA GRACE KELLY
According to the ABS, baby boomers and millennials each have over 5.4 million people, with only 5662 more baby boomers than millennials counted at the census on August 10, 2021.
The old stole their future by wrecking the planet and hogging all the housing, but the young just stole the election and will have their revenge. This is a simplistic description of demographic tensions and trends but, nevertheless, it is time for us all to sit up and take notice of the under-40s.
As of now, our older generations are outnumbered, and our younger ones are flexing their political muscle. No political party can afford to ignore them. Governments will fail or succeed based on their votes, so their concerns will increasingly shape policy.
Millennials, or Generation Y, born between 1983 and 1994, are sometimes derided as “Generation Me”. Gen Z, who seem to attract less flak, were born between 1995 and 2003.
In June, an Australian Bureau of Statistics media release pointed to 2021 census data, regarding the shift that has just occurred. Within a very small margin, numbers of millennials have finally caught up to baby boomers as our largest generational group.
In 2011, the millennial cohort was 20.4 per cent of the population, but by 2021 it had increased to 21.5 per cent. In the same period, boomers went from 25.4 per cent down to 21.5 per cent. Consider these numbers against the 1966 Census, where nearly two in every five people (38.5 per cent) were boomers. Now, according to the ABS, “baby boomers and millennials each have over 5.4 million people, with only 5662 more baby boomers than millennials counted on August 10, 2021”.
The data tells a story we instinctively know. Australian statistician David Gruen said: “We see that an increasing number of baby boomers are needing assistance with core activities – with 7.4 per cent reporting a need for assistance, compared to 2.8 per cent across the younger generations.”
However, the census also showed that despite their age and failing health, boomers are the “most likely to volunteer and provide unpaid assistance to others”. Around one in eight reported caring for other people’s children, often their grandchildren.
When it comes to finances, millennials are well behind the boomers and still in the accumulation phase of wealth acquisition. They may have spent too long in the education system and probably paid too much for it, but they are highly educated and currently represent 40 per cent of people attending vocational education.
The young are portrayed as soft and oversensitive, but we are relying on these “snowflakes” to defend our country; they comprise 48 per cent of people currently serving in the regular service of the Australian Defence Force.
Socially, most are acutely aware of the differences between the young and the old. Sexuality and gender issues are a point of disagreement and, in particular, when it comes to religion, the generations have parted ways.
Nearly 60 per cent of boomers are Christian compared with only about 30 per cent of millennials. More than 45 per cent of millennials report having no religion compared to 30 per cent of boomers.
While plenty have been happy to ignore or even deride the young, Deloitte has been looking more constructively into their attitudes for 10 years to produce an annual report.
The latest, the 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey, surveyed nearly 23,000 people in 45 countries. Key findings from Australian respondents show climate change is listed as the primary concern. Just under half surveyed believe wealth is unequally distributed in their country and around half believe systemic racism is widespread in Australia.
Importantly, just under half of our millennials (48 per cent) and Gen Zs (47 per cent) believe businesses have a positive impact on society. Most think businesses only focus on their own agendas and have no ambition beyond wanting to make money.
All of this information won’t be news to Liberal Party insiders, who understand these are the issues that caused young voters to abandon them at the last federal election. A senior operative expressed concern to me at their negative view of the world, as “drummed into them by the education system”, and the anxiety that this produces about the future.
When asked what the party could do to win back these voters, he said that while there was recognition these attitudes were held, it also was understood they could not be actively challenged, meaning “we can’t tell these people that they are wrong”. He said instead the party needed to calibrate policy to address their concerns.
Internal party data shows professional young women are the primary cohort that brand Liberal does not appeal to. They are far more likely to look elsewhere for votes, particularly to the Greens.
It should come as good news for all, then, that the Centre for Independent Studies has decided to embark on an intergenerational program, looking specifically at the young and what can be done to address their concerns.
We will all be old one day, and misinformed policy focused on point-in-time inequality is something the program might help us avoid. It will gather evidence on intergenerational inequality, conduct research on the diversity of preferences and aspirations within and across generations, and make the researched case for free societies, fiscal discipline, and productivity-enhancing reforms.
This comes at the perfect time, because as all parties chase the votes of a growing cohort, public policy must be well informed.