All my girlfriends seem to spend a lot of time and energy wishing they were twenty again and spending a lot of money trying to look like they were. It’s exhausting, and I posset that we over fifties are becoming as much under pressure from media role models to defy time as younger women are coerced to be stick insects. I actually heard someone say that fifty is the new thirty – but I remember thirty as being a period of self-imposed pressure to look ‘proper’ and ‘soberly’ so that my bosses would take me seriously. Being 54 is kind of liberating. I feel I know now who I am and what I want from my life. I have learnt how to get on with people and have a pretty serious amount of control over my life. Being fifty is definitely one of the best decades I’ve done. All I want, is to do it as healthily as possible. I know there is an inevitable decline, but I’m going to keep a hold of what I’ve got for as long as possible.
Last week, I was talking to my 20 year-old daughter, who is half way through her undergraduate degree, about her future. These are very difficult times for young women. The care-free student years of old seem to have gone with my waistline. There is an earnest quality to young people’s deliberations on their futures; not unreasonably partly because of the cost of educating yourself with no promise of work at the end of it. I found myself arguing that a degree just isn’t enough anymore in the highly competitive world of employment, you have to have a Masters degree at least to steal that march. Surprisingly, she agreed with me.
Things were so different 30 years ago
This conversation got me thinking about how it was so different thirty years ago. Why was my student experience a voyage of discovery rather than a tick box exercise in order to get a mortgage. Then I remembered, when I was that age, there were jobs to be had at just about any level. Manual work was easily come by; apprenticeships were part of the infrastructure and university automatically led to a higher-level job of some kind.
I then remembered Harriet Harman, who in a more lucid moment in the mid 90’s, gave an interview on national news about the rise in street crime amongst the young. She noted that if we wanted young people to respect society and play a positive part, then we had to give them a stake in that society. This hit me as an important truism. There were no jobs for our young people to go to and many had been failed by an education system that did not give them basic skills for employment. These two elements fuelled a lost generation.
And now our young are at the beck and call of the free market. The chronic lack of unskilled work and traditional apprenticeships has forced them into an academic funnel whether they are suited to it or not, and for this they must pay at levels we could not have imagined. What is much worse is that just getting a job is now so competitive is that only the most focussed serious minded of them will get past the first post. No wonder its no fun any more. What makes it so much worse is that this awful state of affairs has been bought about by our generation – the ones that profited from free and systematic education from the generation that truly had social freedoms. We reaped the rewards and they seem to be paying the costs.
What do you think?