Generations disagree on public funding priorities: new poll data

MEDIA RELEASE | DECEMBER 15, 2011

Generations disagree on public funding priorities: new poll data

Younger adults want Canada’s wealth invested more evenly across the generations, while Canadians older than 55 say they should ‘wait their turn,’ according to new polling data.

University of British Columbia professor Paul Kershaw and community partners at the Vancouver Foundation, the YWCA of Metro Vancouver, the YMCA of Greater Vancouver and the Saskatchewan Knowledge to Action Network for Early Child Development (KidSKAN) recently initiated a national dialogue asking: Does Canada Work for All Generations?  In response to growing public interest, McAllister Opinion Research conducted a national poll to examine public attitudes about our country’s shifting generational realities.

Canadians agree young families squeezed for time, income and services

The poll shows that a strong majority of Canadians in all regions of the country share the view that it is now harder to raise a family in Canada than in the past – 83 per cent agree that families are significantly more squeezed for time than in the 1970s when often just one parent worked, and 72 per cent concede that housing costs comprise two to three times more of the family income than in the 1970s, after adjusting for inflation.

Earlier this year, Kershaw and his colleague Lynell Anderson, researchers at the UBC Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), released a study on ‘Generation Squeeze,’ showing that Canadians raising young families today are squeezed for time, income and services. Average household incomes have stalled for young couples even though young women increased their labour force participation from 54 per cent in 1976 to 82 per cent today. While household incomes have stalled, Generation Squeeze is simultaneously struggling with the costs of living because housing prices in Canada have increased 76 per cent since 1976.

“The new poll shows that Canadians from all walks of life and across generations recognize what is going on,” says McAllister Opinion Research CEO Angus McAllister.  “The economic facts that Prof. Kershaw reports in his studies translate into real lives and lived experience.”

Generational Disconnect

Although there is widespread agreement that it has become harder to raise a family, the generations diverge over how Canadians should respond.  With the Canadian economy having doubled in size since 1976, the poll shows that 65 per cent of 18-44 year olds believe “a greater share of wealth produced in Canada should be invested in the next generation of families and children.”

Canadians age 55 and older hold a different view. When asked how much of a priority it should be for Canadian governments to invest in programs and services that benefit different groups, 70 per cent of Canadians 55+ answered that seniors should be either a high or the top priority. By contrast, just 28 per cent of older Canadians think families with preschool age children should be a top or high priority, and just 16 per cent think young adults should receive high priority status.

“So far in the discussion about Canada working for all generations, I have insisted that Boomers and seniors care about those who follow in their footsteps. After all, we’re talking about their kids and grandkids, along with their legacy,” says Kershaw. “But these new poll data cast some doubt.”

“The poll results show more support among Boomers and seniors for programs that serve their own stage of life than for investments in kids and younger Canadians,” says Mark Gifford, director of grants and community initiatives at the Vancouver Foundation, one of several community organizations that provided funding for Kershaw’s research and public dialogue about family policy.

Canadians 55+ maintain these views even though Statistics Canada data show that incomes are up 18 per cent for those approaching retirement today compared to the incomes of near-retirees in the mid-1970s, and private wealth has increased for Boomers because housing values nearly doubled over their adult lives.

Statistics Canada data also show that poverty among seniors has declined from 29 per cent in 1976 to less than five per cent in 2009, while the poverty rate for families with children under the age of six is 15 per cent.

The McAllister poll reveals that 80 per cent of Canadians 55+ align with the view that “Seniors and the Boomer generation earned their fair share of the wealth produced by the Canadian economy and deserve to enjoy the benefits; younger Canadians can wait their turn.”

“Is there an intergenerational tension in Canada? You bet there is,” says Kershaw. “Canadians 55+ acknowledge that the standard of living has deteriorated for the generation raising young kids.  But knowing this obviously hasn’t changed their priorities.”

For more information about Kershaw and his research, visit: http://blogs.ubc.ca/newdealforfamilies

Click here for access to McAllister Opinion Research poll data.

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