«September 2007 International Longevity Centre - UK The International Longevity Centre - UK (ILCUK) is an independent, non-partisan ...»
Nevertheless, the case for relieving younger cohorts of paying for older generations is compelling if their retirement income is to be sufficient. It is also important to be clear that when younger cohorts are forced to take on increasing mortgage debt with their associated repayment costs, they are not just forgoing income being available for holidays, entertainment and luxury goods. Some younger cohorts are seeing less income available to spend on childrearing, such as for food and books. In this sense, wealth accumulated through the housing market is at the expense of children, who will potentially see correspondingly lower outcomes over the rest of their life course. This aspect of house-price growth receives remarkably little comment.
Clearly there is a powerful argument for the Government to encourage older people to see their housing as just another investment they have accumulated and which, like a pension must fund their retirement. This policy would inevitably affect the attitudes of younger cohorts, who are already highly likely to see property as an investment. However, herein lays another dilemma for the Government. With so much of the nation’s wealth tied-up as illiquid property wealth, it could be argued that the Government needs to change society’s attitudes about the supposed benefits of house-price inflation, and the virtues of other investment-vehicles over property, i.e., to not see property as an investment. There are profound arguments in favour of such an approach, but they are at odds with the need for the Government to improve policy enabling decumulation.
The Next Wealth Transfer
While the Government has been slow to respond to changing patterns of asset accumulation, families have been much quicker to respond and act. Asset Accumulation across the Life Course pinpointed enormous wealth transfers between entire cohorts via the housing market;
however, the levels of illiquid wealth among the - albeit declining - proportion of younger cohorts that own property does indicate some wealth transfers downwards within families.
Indeed, there has been growing evidence that families are busy transferring available liquid
wealth among different generations of family members to where it is most needed and useful:
frequently the youngest members.
The unprecedented accumulation of assets by older cohorts may yet be followed by an unprecedented transfer of assets by older cohorts, albeit mediated by the messy circumstances of family relationships, individual circumstances and existing inequalities. It is important to emphasise that not all families have sufficient liquid wealth to transfer downwards, and when considered across entire cohorts, such transfers are significantly less than those that have occurred upwards via the housing market. Nevertheless, such family wealth transfers do appear to be growing and may continue to do so as the baby-boomers enter the decumulation phase of their lives. Researching, understanding and responding to this next wealth transfer is perhaps the most important task going forward.
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