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Generational conflict, consumption and the ageing welfare state in the United Kingdom


The British welfare state is over 60 years old. Those who were born, grew up and who are now growing old within its ambit are a distinctive generation. They have enjoyed healthier childhoods with better education than previous populations living in Britain. That they have done well under the welfare state is accepted, but some critics have argued that these advantages are at the expense of younger cohorts. The very success of this ‘welfare generation’ is perceived as undermining the future viability of the welfare state, and some argue that the current levels of income and wealth enjoyed by older cohorts can only be sustained by cutbacks in entitlements for younger cohorts. This will lead to a growing ‘generational fracture’ over welfare policy. This paper challenges this position, arguing that both younger and older groups find themselves working out their circumstances in conditions determined more by the contingencies of the market than by social policy.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Paul Higgs, Division of Research Strategy, University College London, Charles Bell House, 67–73 Riding House Street, London W1W 7EY, UK. E-mail:
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L. Auerbach , L. J. Kotlikoff and W Leibfritz . 1999. Generational Accounting Around the World. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

G. Clark 2006. The UK occupational pension system in crisis. In H. Pemberton , P. Thane and N. Whiteside (eds), Britain's Pension Crisis: History and Policy. Oxford University Press for The British Academy, Oxford, 145–68.

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G. Esping-Andersen 2002. Towards the good society, once again. In G. Esping-Andersen (ed.), Why We Need a New Welfare State. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 125.

J. Myles 2002. A new social contract for the elderly? In G. Esping-Andersen (ed.), Why We Need a New Welfare State. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 130–72.

P. Taylor-Gooby 2004. New risks and social change. In P. Taylor-Gooby (ed.), New Risks, New Welfare: The Transformation of the European Welfare State. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 128.

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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
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