Another Problem with Gerontocracy

Timothy Noah has a very good article about the ossification of leadership in the U.S. (boldface mine):

Let me stipulate at the outset that I harbor no prejudice toward the elderly. As a sexagenarian myself, not to mention as POLITICO’s labor policy editor, I’m fully mindful of the scourge of ageism. (I’ve had the misfortune on occasion to experience it firsthand.) But to affirm that America must work harder to include the elderly within its vibrant multicultural quilt is not to say it must be governed almost entirely by duffers. The cause of greater diversity would be advanced, not thwarted, if a few more younger people penetrated the ranks of American voters and American political leaders…

We heard a lot last November about the fresh new blood entering Congress, but when the current session began in January, the average ages of House and Senate members were 58 and 63, respectively. That’s slightly older than the previous Congress (58 and 62), which was already among the oldest in history. The average age in Congress declined through the 1970s but it’s mostly increased since the 1980s.

The Deep State is no spring chicken, either. POLITICO’s Danny Vinik reported two years ago that nearly 30 percent of the civilian federal workforce was over 55; two decades earlier, it was closer to 15 percent. Of course, the entire U.S. workforce is getting older, thanks to the aging of the Baby Boom—that giant Hula-Hoop-shaking cohort born during the prosperous post-World War II years from 1946 to 1964. But the federal bureaucracy is even older, apparently because civil-servant Boomers, despite their defined-benefit pensions, are less inclined than their private-sector counterparts to retire

While Noah spends a lot of time on What It Means For The Nation, there’s a far more prosaic issue. What we’re really talking about isn’t letting thirty year-olds run everything (though AOC is doing great!), it’s letting GenXers in their late 40s to early 50s have ten to fifteen years in charge before they (we) have to start winding things down to let Millenials take over (AVOCADO TOAST! BOOGA! BOOGA!). By ‘in charge’, what I mean is being in better positions, both in terms of agency and, well, salary and benefits. Businesses are starting to encounter this problem (boldface mine):

Generation X, represented by cultural icons such as Molly Ringwald, Kurt Cobain, and Alanis Morissette, was long ago written off as the “slacker generation” — apathetic, cynical, and antiestablishment. Like other generations before them, most Gen Xers have adopted a stronger affiliation for stability and tradition as they’ve aged and had children. But their unambitious reputation may be holding them back in the workplace, as new data reveals Gen X to be the “leapfrog” generation, overlooked for promotions at higher rates than their counterparts in other generations

In late 2018, we analyzed data that we collected from more than 25,000 leaders across industries and regions, with The Conference Board and EY, to examine leadership advancement by generation. We were surprised to see that in the past five years, the majority of Gen X leaders (66%) had received only one promotion or none at all — significantly fewer than their Millennial (52%) and Baby Boomer counterparts (58%), who were more likely to have received two or more promotions during the same period of time.

The finding is unexpected, as Gen Xers — now ranging in age from their late thirties to early fifties — should currently be in the peak stage of their careers, and advancing rapidly. However, many Baby Boomers are deciding to stay in the workforce much longer than previous generations, which may be affecting Gen X’s advancement. More than half of Baby Boomers are reportedly delaying retirement, many until 70 or later, because of financial insecurity and rising health care costs. As a result, older workers are not only holding onto their jobs longer but also are still trying to advance into higher-paying roles

While Gen X leaders aren’t being rewarded with promotions as often as their Millennial and Baby Boomer counterparts, they are bearing the brunt of the workload. Gen X leaders in both first- and midlevel positions manage seven direct reports, on average, as compared with five direct reports for Millennials holding a management role at the same level

While Gen X has been loyal up until now, this frustration is approaching a breaking point for Gen X leaders who have advanced to higher-level management roles, with 40% saying they are contemplating leaving to advance their careers. Additionally, nearly one in five Gen X leaders at this level (18%) indicated that their intention to leave has increased in the last year, a significantly higher proportion than both other generations.

Forget about whether generations are ‘good’ or ‘bad’–like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, we’re all kind of mediocre in our own unique ways. But it’s time for older Boomers and Silents to move on. Yes, plenty of Silents/Boomers are awesome (Bernie! Warren! Lots of others! Not Chuck Schumer!); there are bad GenXers (Scott Walker comes to mind). But, as DrugMonkey noted in the specific case of academic science, GenXers are ready–and we want the good shit, at least for a few years. Time to let us fuck things up for a change.

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