Canada's broken generational system
Canada’s generational system is broken, because we’re not living up to the principles of generational fairness.
We’re Failing to be Good Stewards
By extracting so much of the atmosphere’s scarce capacity to absorb carbon, older generations are leaving a legacy of big climate risks and costs for younger people, including more frequent extreme weather.
Thanks to rising prices, many home owners have extracted huge wealth from the housing system, especially those fortunate enough to buy into the market decades ago. Growing their wealth has come at the cost of harmful unaffordability for younger people, newcomers, and renters.
Hard work no longer pays off for young people the way it did for previous generations, thanks to declining wages and higher costs for things like education, housing, and child care. The generation raising young children is doing all it can to adapt by going to school longer, devoting more time to paid work, and scaling back expectations for their homes (in terms of size, access to yards, and proximity to employment). Despite these adaptations, more than one-quarter of Canadian children are vulnerable when they enter kindergarten.
We’re Failing to Foster Generational Reciprocity
While risks for younger people grow, many still think seniors are more likely to be economically vulnerable. But today’s retirees enjoy more wealth (especially housing wealth) and are less likely to have low incomes than other age groups.
Simultaneously, governments are growing investments in medical care at a pace that crowds out spending on the social conditions necessary to create health. So long as Canadians can’t access safe homes, good incomes, quality child care, and a healthy environment, our medical care system will never be enough to prevent people from dying early.
The aging family members we love worked hard and paid their taxes, but they still haven’t contributed enough to fully pay for the publicly-funded retirement income and medical services they now wish to use. Older generations are leaving their bills unpaid, kicking these costs down the road for those who follow. As a result, young adults are paying more in taxes to cover the cost of medical care and income support for the aging population than what today's retirees paid to support their parents and grandparents when they were young.
All the while, government debts are growing. Even before COVID, this debt was 3 times larger for Canadians under age 45 compared to four decades earlier – largely because we haven’t collected enough revenue to cover escalating spending on retirement income security and medical care. Since governments don’t report revenue and spending trends by age, age imbalances in our planning aren’t very visible.
We’re Failing to Plan for All Ages
Governments have increased spending on retirees 4 times faster than on younger Canadians. Older generations are being prioritized, as hard work pays off less for younger Canadians.
Global Age Watch ranks Canada in the top five countries in which to grow old.
UNICEF ranks Canada toward the bottom of countries when it comes to promoting child wellbeing.
Given these diverging rankings, Canada is identified as a laggard when it comes to promoting intergenerational justice.
The symptoms of our broken generational system
The symptoms of our broken generational system are all around. How you experience them depends on when you were born. Younger people are squeezed for money, time and services, while inheriting growing financial and climate debts. Older people are worried about the legacy they are leaving for kids and grandkids they love.
There's a cure! It's called generational fairness.
Generational fairness is the key to fixing Canada's broken generational system. The reciprocity so many of us show in our families – where each member contributes in proportion to their needs and opportunities – is a model for public policy that will make Canada work for all generations.