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Adding more Salt to the wounds of Gen Y

By Fiona Heinrichs - posted Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Popular writer and KPMG Partner Bernard Salt has written a lot about the interactions between the Baby Boomer Generation, Generation X and Generation Y. Indeed, he has recently released a book about this, The Big Tilt and numerous articles like ‘Gen Y Grows Up with Satirical Tale.’

I thought that it would be a good opportunity to increase understanding not only between the Baby Boomers and Gen Y, but also between the ‘Big Australia’ growthers and those supporting for ecological reasons, a smaller population, if I publicly debated Salt. So I sent him a message. He did not respond. In other cases this would be perfectly understandable and expected, however this is the same person who wrote recently ‘Modern Manners Go Out the Window’ complaining about the bad manners of people not responding to messages. Apparently this does not apply to himself the way he claims.

I would have thought that the proposal for an intergenerational debate would be very interesting to such a passionate Baby Boomer pro-growth advocate. My being ignored shows it is clearly not. It is interesting that such pro-growthers are so confident of their position and splash it across the pages of the major newspapers, yet are seemingly intimidated by the opposing perspective of a 23 year old female university student.


Referring to Salt’s article ‘Gen Y Grows Up With Satirical Tale’, Salt makes many assumptions about Gen Y which are false, misinformed or lacking in justification, yet ironically when he’s given the opportunity to obtain greater understanding about Gen Y through a debate he turns it down. He says that Gen Ys have an ‘increasingly indulged childhood’, when in fact it is the big business elites who have actually caused the most damage to the Earth through their greed, affluence and extravagance. It is my generation and those to follow, if we are lucky, who will have to suffer the ill-effects of climate change, peak oil and the other horsemen of the ecological crisis. Ultimately it is Gen Y who will have to contest against the conditions of decline, which the previous generations leave behind and pick up the pieces of civilisation.

Salt continues his article by talking about his own situation growing up one of six children, but again he seems to have a lot of socially constructed and dated assumptions about the family and women. In his writing he is very concerned that women in families are having fewer children relative to say the 1950s. No doubt he fears a population crash or a birth dearth. But academic demographers know about age structures of populations and demographic momentum.

Professor Natalie Jackson has explained this trend known as the ‘demographic transition’ whereby the global shift from high to low birth and death rates has resulted in a spurt in population growth. Before this transition, which began in the developed world in the mid-1700’s when birth and death rates were high; both essentially cancelled each other out, resulting in zero or very low levels of population growth (ZPG).But during the transition, population growth is explosive. This is because the birth and death rates do not commence decline concurrently, nor at the same speed. If death rates – particularly infant and child death rates – decline first, which is precisely what happened in most developed countries and also two hundred years later in most developing countries, more babies survive and the population begins to grow. When these additional babies become parents themselves a few decades later, death rates have typically fallen further, and even more of their own children survive. The result is a compounding of population growth, driven not by birth rates, but by declining infant and child death rates.

Where does it all lead if there are fewer and fewer children with each generation with an increasing amount of wealth showered on them? Salt asks. He doesn’t seem to see the point that there’s nothing wrong with women having fewer children, or none at all. Feminism has given women more options than just being ‘breeders.’ Further, just because parents have higher salaries doesn’t mean that they give their children more. Families today have higher mortgages and costs of living than in say the 1950s.

Gen Y doesn’t necessarily have the affluent future that Salt depicts, with increasing uncertainty in employment, higher costs of living and a much lower likelihood of affording a house, thanks in part to mass migration and rapid population growth. For a lot of young families these days even paying off a unit is beyond their reach and competition for rental properties remains high. Throughout the housing shortage crisis there has been increasing reports of families living indefinitely in hotels/motels unable to obtain more appropriate accommodation.

Salt concludes by giving a brief book review of a Gen Y author Adam Mansbach’s Go the F… to Sleep. I invite Salt to review and respond to my critique of his worldview offered in my book Sleepwalking to Catastrophe. So Bernard, in the interests of good manners, which you are clearly passionate about, please respond to my message regarding an intergenerational debate, even if the answer is ‘no’ (although I’d be interested to know why).

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About the Author

Fiona’s interests lie in climate change, peak oil and population growth. These issues motivated her to write the book: Sleepwalking to Catastrophe. Tackling the vexed issue of youth unemployment, her latest work is: GUTTED! Youth Unemployment in Australia. Both are available online at

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