Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Episode 32: Millennials vs. Baby Boomers: The Coronavirus Edition (Demographic Doom podcast script)

This is the script for my Demographic Doom podcast episode (#32) released on 11 March 2020. It may differ slightly from the final broadcast. This episode is available on major platforms, including PodbeanApple Podcasts and a video version on YouTube. See the description on the YouTube version for annotations, links and corrections. You can also comment on this episode there. (If you leave comments on this blog post, I might not see them.) The main website for this project is

I’m Glenn Campbell. I call myself a demographic philosopher. I’m looking at life and trying to predict the future through the lens of demography, or the study of human populations.

Today is March 11, 2020, and I want to talk again about the biggest news story on the planet right now: the spread of the coronavirus around the world, but I have a different angle on it you might not have heard. I want to talk about how it relates to the conflict between the generations, because the virus discriminates based on age. Old people face a significant risk of dying or become seriously sick, while young people are likely to skate through unscathed. At this early stage, children seem to be unaffected by the epidemic, at least beyond the colds they normally get, but if you are over 80, you might face a 10-20% chance of dying, at least according to current figures.

As you may know, there is an ongoing societal conflict between the Millennials and the Baby Boomers. In the USA, Boomers seem have monopolized the wealth; they've spent the country deeply into debt and have effectively impoverished all of the younger generations. The Boomers have charged up the national credit card that future generations are somehow expected to pay, and they've have generally behaved badly regarding the legacy they leave behind. I'm a Boomer myself, and I'm not proud of my generation, but none this was intentional. It was just millions of people pursuing their own self-interest without any meaningful government supervision.

But now the coronavirus could even the score. If you're old—like the Boomers now are, most of them over 60—you're legitimately fearing for your life, but if you're young, the virus may seem like no big deal. Your chances of dying are low, so you have no great motivation to change your behavior. Once you realize how little risk you face, as a young person, you might not observe any quarantines or follow any hygiene protocols. It's not in your personal self-interest. It's in society's self-interest, but most people haven't been trained to think about society. The indifference of young people to the virus could mean it spreads more quickly through society and puts the Boomers more at risk.

So it's payback time. It's time to kill off the Boomers.

Now, it would be different if every age had the same risk of dying, say 1%. It that case, everyone would be equally vigilant about avoiding the virus, but when one segment of the population gets a free pass, they have no great motivation to follow the official guidance. As of today, I'd say everyone is equally scared, but I'm predicting that as the age distribution becomes more widely known, many of the young are going to rebel. They'll say, "Why should I change my life when my own risks are low? I'm probably going to get the virus eventually, so why not just get it now and be done with it?" This puts the Boomers at risk because it means they are more likely to catch the virus from young people, and they will get it too soon, when the medical system is overwhelmed and can't help them.

So that's the ultimate revenge of the Millennials against the Baby Boomers. They're gonna try to kill off the old folks. I'm not saying it's intentional. This is just young people pursuing their own self interest just as the old people did before them. In this case, I think the Boomers are going to be the losers.

So watch for this in the coming weeks: a rebellion by young people. They'll say, "Why should I do all of these things if my own risks are low?" That's why some districts are closing schools. The students don't seem to be at risk. It's the elders they're trying to protect, because children are potent disease carriers. So we have two classes of people—young children and their relatively young parents—who are expected to make great sacrifices for the Baby Boomers. I wouldn't fault them for rebelling. They could say, "Give us our schools back! Let Boomers be responsible for their own health." I can't blame them.

Boomers still hold the lion's share of the power in this country, and they're going to use that power to protect themselves. It may in their best interests to close schools and impose lockdowns, even if it's not in the best interests of students and parents. Once again, they are transferring their burdens to the younger generation, and maybe the younger generation has the right to rebel.