Social class, more than generation, dictates work prospects

It is very much in vogue at present when talking about young people to refer to them in the context of a generational stitch-up. The post-war generations – or more specifically the ‘baby boomers’ – are said to have left the rest of us high and dry, with little in the way of job prospects and less in the way of savings and assets to our names.

For lots of young people the future indeed looks decidedly bleak. There is a good chance that during the lifetimes of today’s newborns even the prospect of retirement before arthritis and incontinence set in will be considered a hopelessly utopian throwback – as out of place as cassette tapes and VHS are to today’s twenty-somethings.

All of this too comes before we even consider young people’s future access to that which their parent’s generation took for granted – education, healthcare and the prospect of stable, paid employment – making uncertainty about the future something that occupies the thoughts of many of today’s youngsters.

Not all of today’s youth are faring so badly, however. The increasing unwillingness of companies to take on paid staff has seen dwindling employment opportunities for most coincide with a boom in the fortunes of the small proportion of people willing and able to live without a wage.

Despite the classless rhetoric espoused by politicians of all stripes during the last 30 years or so, it is not only in 19th century novels where one will today find privileged aristokids elbowing aside their lean-walleted peers in pursuit of desirable careers – and doing so very successfully. Newsrooms, PR departments and parliamentary offices up and down the country are increasingly dominated by horsey tones and chinless nepotism, as breeding and bank balance snare positions that were at one time dished out, at least a fraction of the time, on the basis of merit and hard work rather than the lottery of birth alone.

While the idea of post-1945 Britain as a social democratic paradise may be wide of the mark, there undoubtedly existed for a time a degree of social mobility which saw many from modest means going on to work in the professions and, shock horror, producing a standard of work comparable with that of their peers from the shires.

30 years of Thatcherism and three years of post-crisis recession have gone some way to obliterating these modest gains, and many professions are again reverting back to the mirror in which the aristocratic elite gazes at its own naval.

As a society we love to lecture those at the bottom about hard graft and sacrifice. It is the upper classes, however, who understand very well that the really top jobs have little to do with either, hence why they continue to spend such vast sums of money bypassing any pretence of meritocracy when it comes to snapping up the best positions.

Today’s youngsters may as a whole be worse off than their parents, but if you’re a working class youngster you’ve probably more in common with the downtrodden characters of Charles Dickens than you do with certain sections of your generational peer group.