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Age and inequality



The generation gain



Millennials are doing better than the baby-boomers did at their age. But the gap is closing

千禧一 代目前比同龄时的婴儿潮一代过得更好,但差距正在缩小


ALL men are created equal, but they do not stay that way for long. That is one message of a report in October by the OECD, a club of 35 mostly rich democracies. Many studies show how income gaps have evolved over time or between countries. The OECD’s report looks instead at how inequality evolves with age.

人人生而平等,但这种状态并不长久。这是经合组织(有35个成员国,主要是富裕民主国家)10月发布 的一份报告所传递的信息。许多研 究都表明收入差距随时间或在不同国家之间变化,而经合 组织的报告却着眼于不平等随年龄的演变。


As people build their careers, or don’t, their incomes tend to diverge. This inequality peaks when a generation reaches its late 50s. But it tends to fall thereafter, as people draw redistributive public pensions and quit the rat race, a contest that tends to give more unto every one that hath. Old age, the OECD notes, is a “leveller”.

有人事业成功,有人成就寥寥,人们的 收入因而出现差异。当一代人快到60岁时,这种不平等达到顶峰。但那之后,不平等 水平往往会回落,因为人 们将领取再分配的公共养老金,退出那 种往往让富者更富的激烈竞争。经合组织指出,老年期 令人们趋向平等。


Will it remain so? Retirement, after all, flattens incomes not by redistributing from rich seniors to poor, but by transferring money to old people from younger, working taxpayers. There will be fewer of them around in the future for every retired person, reducing the role of redistributive public pensions.

这种情况会持续吗?毕竟,退休使收入趋于平等,靠的不 是把富裕老人的财富重新分配给贫困的老人,而是将 还在工作的年轻纳税人的钱转移给老人。未来,供养每 一位退休人员的年轻纳税人数量会减少,这将削 弱公共养老金的再分配作用。


One logical response to the diminishing number of workers per pensioner is to raise the retirement age. But that will exacerbate old-age inequality, if mildly. Longer careers will give richer workers more time to compound their advantages. And when retirement eventually arrives, the poor, who die earlier, will have less time to enjoy their pensions.

供养每 一位退休老人对应的劳动者人数在减少,对此一 个合乎逻辑的应对方式就是提高退休年龄。但这会 加剧老人的不平等状况,即使程度很轻微。更长的 职业生涯将给予富有的劳动者更多时间来扩大自身优势。而当最终退休时,寿命通 常较短的穷人享用自己退休金的时间也会更短。


Today’s youngsters may resent having to provide for more pensioners, not least because they feel that older generations have it easier than them. The OECD provides qualified support for this complaint. Baby-boomers (mostly born in the 1950s) have accumulated far more wealth (property, shares and other savings) than Generation X (mostly in the 1970s) and millennials (the 1980s and after).

如今的 年轻人可能会为不得不供养更多老人而感到不满,尤其是 因为他们觉得上几代人过得比自己轻松。经合组 织的研究在一定程度上支持了这种抱怨。婴儿潮一代(大多出生于上世纪50年代)积累的财富(房产、股票和其他积蓄)要比X一代(主要出生于上世纪70年代)和千禧一代(出生于上世纪80年代及以后)多出很多。



But that is partly because they have had more time to do so. Comparing generations at a similar stage of life paints a different picture. Today’s young adults have a significantly higher disposable income than previous generations had at the same age. OECD citizens now in their early 30s have 7% more than members of Generation X had at that age and over 40% more than boomers enjoyed when they were similarly short in the tooth (see chart). Youngsters may sigh with impatience when an old codger tells them how life was tougher “when I was your age”. But it was.

但这在 一定程度上是因为婴儿潮一代有更多的时间来积累财富。将几代 人的同一个人生阶段加以比较,就会得 到一幅不同的图景。如今年 轻人的可支配收入明显高于同龄时期的上几代人。目前,经合组织成员国30岁出头 的公民收入比同龄时的X一代高出7%,比同龄 时的婴儿潮一代高出40%(见图表)。当老家伙对小伙子说“我在你这个年纪”生活要更艰难时,后者也 许会不耐烦地叹气。但当时的确如此。


This millennial privilege is, however, smaller in America, which tends to set the tone for the generation wars. (Indeed Americans in their early 30s are slightly worse off than the preceding generation was at a similar age.) The gap also appears to close as the later generations get older. Gen-Xers were far more comfortable in their 30s than the people born a decade or two before them. But now they are in their 40s, their incomes have stopped rising, whereas their seniors enjoyed strong gains at the same age.

不过,千禧一 代的这一优势在美国却没那么显著,而美国 往往是为世代战争定下基调的地方。(事实上,30岁出头 的美国人比上一代人同龄时要稍穷一些)。随着后 面几代人年龄渐长,差距似 乎同样趋于消失。比起那 些比他们早出生一二十年的人,X一代在30多岁时 生活要更宽裕得多。但现在他们已经40多岁了,收入已经停止增长,而其前 辈在同一年龄段的收入却增长强劲。


This may reflect the lingering influence of the global financial crisis. But if this trajectory persists, a time may soon come when old folk sigh with impatience as youngsters tell them how much easier life was “when you were my age”.

这可能 反映了全球金融危机那挥之不去的影响。但如果 这个趋势持续下去的话,那么用不了多久,就会出 现年轻人对老年人说“你在我这个年纪”生活多么轻松,而老年 人不耐烦地叹气的情景了。

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