OPINION: Talk about my generation

When Treasurer Joe Hockey announced last month that Australians born after 1965 will have to work until they are 70 before they are eligible for the age pension, I sighed.

Here we go again. Given we were once labelled the ‘‘slacker’’ generation, Gen X has matured to become anything but. There are a few more accurate labels I can think of for people born between 1965 and 1980, including the ‘‘user-pays’’ generation, the ‘‘insecure’’ generation, and the ‘‘give us a break’’ generation.

We came of age as AIDS took hold – I remember being frightened by the grim reaper TV ad we were shown in class – and ever since, we have been forced to adapt to dramatic, unsteadying social upheaval.

Some of the change has been rewarding – women’s increased participation in higher education and the workforce – but a hell of a lot of it has been wearying.

While we absorbed the message that unprotected sex could kill you, we were the first generation to experience divorce on a large scale. Kramer vs Kramer anyone?

And forget about a job for life: I have friends who are on to their third careers by 45 and a handful have already received two redundancy pay-outs. Heck, the first redundancy cheques arrived before their first child was born, which leads me to another phenomenon that has had a profound impact on Gen X – infertility.

One in six Australian couples is affected by the emotionally bruising and, in some cases, economically crippling, condition. Yes, previous generations endured infertility, but it was not as widespread.

We were the first generation to be hit with university fees: the Higher Education Contribution Scheme was born in 1989, but it was not a cause for celebration. HECS felt like a hex, which is why we need to support this generation of students in light of the federal government’s plan to deregulate fees.

After Gen Xers paid for their university studies, competed to find a job and were ready to buy a property, they were confronted with punishing prices. Most of my Sydney friends accept they will never own their homes due to the size of their mortgages – and we’re not talking about mansions. Novocastrians have fared better, but goodness help generation Y.

Globalisation, which rapidly gained momentum in the 1980s, has created winners and losers – as has unprecedented technological change. When I began my internet-free university degree, I relied on library books and photocopies of library books. All my first-year essays were handwritten. Now, there are a dizzying and distracting number of apps and programs to deal with. Tweeting has become compulsory in this job.

On the home front, we find ourselves sandwiched between an exhausting clash of demands. As our children navigate high school and adolescence, we will be split between their needs and those of our ageing baby boomer parents. For Generation X women who have become parents later in life, throw menopause into the mix and you have a perfect storm.

When I look around at my fellow Gen Xers, I don’t see slackers, which is why Mr Hockey’s pension announcement cut deep. I see women and men juggling careers, children, housework, study and sick parents under increasing economic and emotional pressure. Insecurity is often lurking. Will the job last? Am I a good enough parent?

With insecurity comes anxiety and a variety of ‘‘coping’’ mechanisms, such as alcohol, medication and over-eating. Earlier this month, the Herald published a report about Queensland University of Technology research that found middle-aged women were drinking more alcohol a day than younger women. I’m not surprised.

And now, when we eventually want to wind down and receive a pension, the government is going to make us wait until we are 70.

Demographer Bernard Salt writes of Generation X: ‘‘They don’t complain and yet they have every right to. Here they are now, aged 34 to 49, falling slap-bang in the middle of the difficult years of child-rearing and career development, and what do we hear from them? Nuthin’. Not a peep …

‘‘Accordingly it is with great confidence that I predict a generational explosion at some point over the next decade when Xers suddenly share their innermost thoughts … Xers are a powder keg that is bound to explode.’’

Light the fuse, I say.

Twitter: @RosemarieMilsom

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