High Flyers? Students belonging to Generations X and Y accuse the Baby Boom generation of committing "intergenerational theft", but, as Jill Ovens points out in this guest posting, these students might benefit from a course in New Zealand's recent social history. For many of their parents, particularly those born into the working class, life in the 1970s and 80s was not as easy as they're being encouraged to believe.
THERE IS A LOT of idealised commentary on what it was like to be a university student in the 1970s compared with the lot of today’s students. This is leading young affluent university students to accuse “baby boomers” of stealing from the next generation.
It is a concept of affluent students because the kids of working-class parents don’t generally get to university. Those few who do make it know how much their parents struggled, working two or three jobs, night and day, to get them through school.
Working-class kids didn’t get to university in the 1970s either, unless they had a scholarship. University Entrance paid 9/10 of your fees, but that still meant a bill of $90.00 (the equivalent of two-and-a-half week's pay, or more than $1,000 in today’s terms). There were student allowances in the form of bursaries, but if your parents lived in a university town, you couldn’t get a boarding allowance.
There were no fast food restaurants to provide jobs throughout the year, so you had to earn enough to live on during the varsity holidays. That was okay for the guys as there were well paying jobs in the freezing works and car factories. For women students, it was very different.
Equal pay didn’t come in till 1972. That meant that if we did the same job, men and women were to be paid the same. But we weren’t given the opportunities to do the same jobs. They didn’t let women into McKechnie Brothers, the aluminium extrusion foundry where my boyfriend worked in the holidays (except in the canteen).
I packed peanuts at Eta Foods, screwed lids on Vick’s jars, sorted indescribably filthy linen in Christchurch Hospital laundry, and I earned $15.00 a week cleaning people’s houses for Nurse Maud, a district nursing association. But I could never earn enough to go flatting, so I spent my whole varsity life living with my parents.
When we graduated, the opportunities were very limited. I didn’t want to be a teacher, and the Bank of New Zealand said I’d make a good teller because I was good at maths. I turned them down.
We got paid a lot less than our male friends, and despite women’s liberation, there was a cultural expectation that we would soon produce babies (at least three of them).
We bought houses in huge Neil Housing subdivisions way out in Massey, Manuwera and Glenfield where there were no trees, no amenities (certainly no gym!), and no public transport.
I washed the nappies in a wringer washing machine and hung them on the clothes line. We ran an old VW between the two of us so I was stuck at home. The couch was Mum and dad’s hand-me-down and the bed was bought at a second-hand store.
There was no paid parental leave and limited childcare, so we women graduates had a big gap in our careers that made it difficult to come back into the job market. We had no superannuation as Muldoon scrapped the Kirk scheme.
If we got divorced, as many of us did, any equity we had in our house was divided up. And when our kids came out of high school in the 1990s, there were no jobs, so they stayed home for years, along with their girlfriends and eventually their kids.
Because our kids can’t afford to buy houses, we bought houses for them to live in using the equity from our house, and now all our money is tied up in mortgages. At the same time, we’re supporting our parents in their old age.
That’s how life is and always has been, for most of us. Our parents worked to give us a decent start in life, and we worked hard so our kids could have a fair go. We’re looking after our parents in their old age. We hope we’ll be looked after in our old age.
What about this is “intergenerational theft”?
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.