ELDER MUSIC: Seasons - Spring
Elder Tweens

Brexit and Old People

You might not think that the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom last week falls under the purview of a blog about growing old. And on the face of it, you would be correct. But not this time.

If you've been under a rock for the past 80 hours or so, the U.K. held an advisory referendum last Thursday on whether the country should withdraw from (“leave”) or stay with (“remain”) the 28-member European Union. It was a one-question ballot:


Hardly anyone expected the outcome so it was a shock heard 'round the world when the Leave vote won, by just under four percent.

Stock markets plummeted. Uber investor Warren Buffet was said to have lost $2 billion, my financial consultant (much grander-sounding than the amount of money involved warrants) emailed an early morning briefing and Donald Trump, whose first concern is always personal gain, said the vote is will increase profit at his Scotland golf courses where he was visiting that day.

The defeat was so crushing that Prime Minister David Cameron, who had lead the Remain faction, resigned Friday morning.

Reporters worldwide spent the rest of the day speculating on the dire economic consequences of a UK withdrawal from the EU and by Saturday morning, more than 2 million Britons, harboring second thoughts about their Leave votes, had signed a petition to hold a second referendum.

Over the weekend, two TGB readers emailed each quoting the same New York Times Op-Ed written by a 42-year-old German reporter, Jochen Bittner. Like those petition signers (now up to more than 3 million) he is furious about the outcome of the vote.

Although a Times editor and not Buttner probably wrote it, the headline reads “Brexit and Europe's Angry Old Men.” One TGB reader asked, “How's this for old people bashing?” and both objected to the word “sclerotic” Bittner uses in this context:

”These politicians — men and women, to be sure — are young enough not to have experienced world war,” he writes, “but they are old enough to idealize the pre-1989 era and a simpler, pre-globalization world.

“At the same time, they are obviously too sclerotic to imagine how democratic institutions can adjust to the new realities. With their aggressive posturing, these Nigel Farages, Marine Le Pens, Geert Wilderses and Donald J. Trumps are driving the debate — and possibly driving the West off a cliff.”

By inference, Bittner is denouncing not just the politicians but the old people of the UK and when you look at this chart, you know the reason:


As the BBC further reported, “Of the 30 areas with the most old people, 27 voted to leave the EU.”

Another British journalist, Felix Salmon, writing at Fusion, pointed out reasons for the clash of generations:

”This vote is also the grimmest of reminders of the power still held by the older generation, not only in the UK but around the world. Young Britons—the multicultural generation which grew up in and of Europe, the people who have only ever known European passports, voted overwhelmingly to remain. They’re the generation that just lost its future.

“Meanwhile, Britons over the age of 65, fed a diet of lies by a sensationalist UK press, voted by a large margin to leave. Most of them did so out of a misplaced belief that doing so might reduce immigration, or make them better off, or save them from meddling bureaucrats.

“In a couple of decades, most of those voters will be dead. But the consequences of their actions will resonate far beyond the grave.“

Among those lies was this audacious one made by former London Mayor (and Donald Trump lookalike) Boris Johnson and the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage: that leaving the EU means the £350 million a week Britain has been paying to Brussels would be rerouted to ailing national health care services.

Here is how Mr. Farage tried to wiggle out of that promise the morning after the vote with host Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain:

Please indulge me for one more quotation – this one from my favorite lefty political pundit, an American who writes for Esquire, Charlie Pierce:

”Some of the Oldest and Whitest people on the planet leapt at a chance to vote against the monsters in their heads. They may have tanked their economy in the process.

“It was quite amusing to follow along on the electric Twitter machine as members of The Political Revolution on this side of the pond rejoiced at the result as some kind of ensemble rejection of the globalized financial system that indeed nearly did blow up the world.”

All the charts and commentary about the influence of the British elder vote in their referendum remind me that here in the United States we have a similar kind of oldest generation.

Over all the 20-odd years I've been studying ageing and keeping an eye on the cultural zeitgeist of old people in the US, the majority of them always vote against not only their own best interests but more reprehensibly, against those of their children and grandchildren.

Here's how: In every congressional and presidential election over these years, most people 65 and older have voted overwhelmingly for the candidates who want to cut or kill Social Security and Medicare. Every election, in the two decades I've been keeping track, they do this.

I spend a lot of time on these pages defending elders against the slurs that (usually) younger people sling our way. In addition, it is impossible to miss the many faces of ageism and I do my best to chronicle those, to call for change. But that doesn't make me blind to the more repugnant qualities of my generation.

One of those is the tendency of some to become “sclerotic” in their beliefs or opinions – that is, if you accept the dictionary definition of the word as “rigid, losing the ability to adapt.”

It seems to me that applies quite well in the case of the Brexit vote of those who in Britain are often called the "oldies," which has blown up the world economy.

I don't mean to be flip, but we didn't have enough problems in the world before now?

This week's Monty Pythonesque New Yorker magazine cover about Brexit by artist Barry Blitt pretty well tells the story in one picture.



Thanks Ronni for writing about Brexit. My husband and I follow financial news, stock market etc closely. Kind of a hobby type thing, we find it interesting and entertaining. I wasn't a bit entertained to see our saving go down

I am one of many older people in the UK who voted last Thursday. An immigrant myself from the Irish Republic and a pro European to the soles of my feet. I voted to Remain and have been crying, off and on, ever since at the loss. The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic will be the only land border between the EU and the UK and will have to become secure once more; this after 30 years of work towards peace between these two warring parts of one island. Many older people voted to Remain in the EU; many 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants are fiercely anti-new-immigrant; I won't expand on the terrible complexity of the tragedy being played out here today. The reason it took place at all is the ultimate tragedy; it was a spat, a squabble, a vying for power between two old Etonians, David Cameron and Boris Johnson. Cameron is the son of a hedge fund manager; Boris a journalist who has been sacked from at least one journalistic job in the past for lying; this is just another "project" which Boris will tire of. Nigel Farage, the brains behind the hate campaign against immigrants, is at least genuine - genuinely racist! Its not over though. You can't hack off 16 million people who voted to Remain without a reaction.

Thanks for writing about this subject. The entire issue...from where I sit here in the U.S. as a retiree makes me sad. I came of age in the corporate world as the EU formed and globalization took hold. It was not always easy adjusting and compromising with coworkers of other countries, cultural and alien local concerns. But in the end, I always felt fortunate to have been exposed to world outside of US borders in a personal way. I gained so much knowledge and understanding. Especially at the realization that when we strip away all the facades - we were all more alike than not. So where does this leave us? Time will tell. I have a friend in the UK (lives in London, over 60 etc) who voted to leave. His reason: UK sovereignty and unaccountable and unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. He called it Federalism. From where I sit...at age 65...I might have leaned the other way. The new world does belong to the younger generations. Let them get involved and start to make their mark.

I've been reading scores of Twitter responses, Facebook comments, blog posts and newspaper articles—all furious with old people and the damage they have done to world economic stability and opportunity. I've also come across comments and articles which have cried, "ageism!", and railed against the way younger people have blamed the olders. But we can't hide from the facts—they are there in all of the reports and charts. Older English people did vote in large numbers to "Leave". Without thought or consideration to the future economic fate of their children and grandchildren, and to the many others who will be affected, they just up and left— to satisfy their own narrow views about nationalism and racism, or so it seems. This is a bad omen for the higher goals of humanity and globalization, not to mention the goals of writers and thinkers and bloggers who have worked so hard in the past to change stereotypical and negative views toward older generations. Thanks, Ronnie, for this post.

I struggle to understand the economics of it all, but I certainly understand how much of the vote came down to controlling immigration into Britain. I was also stunned by the number of Brits who went to Google to search "What is the EU?" on the day AFTER the vote. I worry about the number of similarly uniformed US voters who may not bother to search "What would a Trump presidency be like?" until after the election.

The Brexit referendum is not only about racism and "sclerotic" opinions about change, it is about the fallacy of referenda being more democratic than institutions such as Parliament or Congress. The people voted into such institutions have the time to consider complex issues and the access to appropriate information to educate themselves on such issues. Not that they always educate themselves or always make rational decisions, but they have much more opportunity to do so than the majority of opinionated but poorly informed voters. Brexit voters were fed poor information and outright racist propaganda and surprise surprise a significant number were swayed to support a bad idea.

I think we older people are guilty of excessive nostalgia for "the good old days" and need to always take that into account when we discuss public issues. Myself, as I age I like peace and quiet more and more and change less and less. I need to be aware that my desire for a slower pace and less change is not always in the best interests of all members of society.

The good news is that nothing in British law requires Parliament to act immediately on a foolish referendum. Watching how various political figures are responding to this situation I wouldn't be at all surprised if the whole thing gets dialled back to something far more rational as everyone takes stock of the very serious ramifications of a rather rash decision.

I, too, often wonder why people vote against their own best interests. I think partly it's fear. That's what got little Bush in office. If Donald is elected (an he might be if he continues to whip of fear and loathing among his followers) it will be another example of voting against your own best interests.

I agree with you Ronni. At the risk of sounding like a traitor to my generation, it doesn't serve anyone when we vote to protect only those values that serve only my /our interests. Besides this being a generational divide it's also an educational divide with the un or under educated as well as older adults voting based on fear. At this point in our lives it's required that we vote to support future generations.

I also place responsibility on the media who routinely sacrifice the truth - as close as we can get - on the alter of sensationalism. Elections the world over are going to be decided on all of the above - and it's frightening indeed. I try to remember that things often unravel before evolutionary leaps... Fingers crossed.

And then I read something this morning that about "the DT" (he who shall not be named lol) becoming a born again Christian so all is well in heaven I guess.

(Tongue firmly in cheek): DT may just have started a ground-swell of atheism.

There has been some comparison made between the actions of the British people this weekend and those supporters of Donald Trump here at home.
A commentator on a Sunday morning talk show (on CBS), when asked who Mr. Trump's supporters really are, he said that they were made up mostly of people who fear, or cannot cope with the rapid changes in the world today and wish things were "just like the old days."
Unfortunately, I think this may reflect some of the mindset of many older folks.

I'm nearly 66. I have the most unusual experience of being able to reconnect with many from my graduating class on Facebook. Many of them have had huge struggles on all fronts, and they continue to struggle especially financially. Guess what...a majority of them are voting Trump. Makes so little sense, because they are in the class of people who should vote Bernie or Hillary. They are working poor (still working at low level jobs). It's a challenge to read their anti Dem posts, but I don't "unfriend" them, I have "unfollowed" a few. How do people suspend all logic like they do? All I can guess is that my classmates in Illinois dream of getting those wonderful manufacturing jobs back again. Where we grew up there were factories everywhere. sigh.

I'm from Canada. A yes/no national referendum on a complex issue like this is pretty much always a very, very bad idea. David Cameron didn't have to do this. I predict the people of the UK will curse Cameron's name the way I still curse Brian Mulroney. Canada was lucky; we escaped being torn apart... but only by the skin of our teeth. I see a lot of parallels.

I am not surprised that many in the older generation voted to Leave. You can't have missed the huge emphasis the Leave campaign placed on "immigration." This was deliberately left fuzzy, but it wasn't hard to pick up the implication that a vote to Leave would get rid of all those foreigners "coming in and taking our jobs." Some actually thought that if Leave won, the EU citizens already present would

I don't know. Perhaps the 1% is reaping the whirlwind sown in the 80s. This win for Leave is in part a consequence of lying to the middle class for decades about trickle-down economics, while picking their pockets. That same fury exists in the US, and is likewise being consciously misdirected against a miscellaneous grab-bag of convenient scapegoats.

The pattern is not new. And the outcome is rarely good.

As a British citizen living in Denmark, one might have thought I would have voted to remain due to the ease of travelling within the EU, you'd be wrong.
This referendum was not just about immigration, in fact I don't think I've mentioned immigration once in any discussions on Brexit. It was, for many young and old, a vote against watching unelected officials in Brussels decide on and overule our own elected officials time and time again. Imposing rules and tariffs on our industries and basic everyday issues - often against the wish of the local population and many times, quite often ridiculous. The petition doing the rounds to have a second referendum is currently under investigation, as it seems that thousands of signatures are not even from British citizens or indeed coming from Britain at all. It has also been shown that one can subvert the system and create thousands of signatures at a couple of clicks, so please don't anyone put their faith in that avenue of rebellion.
Regarding the stock markets. Of course they were going to go down in the short term, nobody suggested they wouldn't, but that also goes to show how important the 5th (or 7th depending on the source) largest economy on earth is and using one's common sense, how nations will have no choice but to renegotiate with the UK.
Leaving the UK also frees us up to make our own trade deals with countries we have been restrained from because of the EU and it's own interests.
Please everyone, don't just accept it was the 'oldies' that voted the UK out if you look at the stats, you will see that it was between 48 and 57% of middle age tax-payers that also voted to leave, no-one is mentioning much of that demographic however because it doesn't suit the narrative.
Common sense needs to prevail here and as David Cameron quite rightly said in his speech today, "It was not my preferred decision, but it was the one of the majority of the people and we must accept that and move on.."

We look at some things like this vote in too narrow a viepoint. In this case and here in the large numbers supporting Trump, there has been a leader or leaders who were able through lies and similar means, were able to lead the elderly and even some younger to vote against their own interest.

Excellent article, Ronni, and first class observations in the responses.

Like one of your British writers, I am so heavy of heart and depressed about the outcome. There is chaos in the UK at the moment - in-fighting in both the Tory and Labour parties over leadership and the Out lot back pedalling on their promises; vicious verbal and physical attacks on immigrants as well as insults towards older people. It is repugnant and I fear for the future.

I would love to be able to defend my generation. We have been labeled "The Greatest Generation." It's too bad that so many of us learned nothing in our 80 plus years. In fact, many of us not only have not changed, we have regressed. The good old days were not all that great and my generation has made selective thinking a religion.

Lest you think I exaggerate, I say that you have not tried to reason with the elders I know. Many of them are actually going to vote for the most unqualified man ever to run for the Presidency; you know who I mean. And no amount of facts will influence them to change their minds. Rigid? In spades. Lacking in critical thinking skills? Most certainly. Subborn? Absolutely. Nostalgia? Yearning for a world that never existed.

I have been reminded that Abby said that silence implies consent and so I tried speaking up when a contemporary cites the lies heard on Fox News. One contemporary told me that I would not change his mind and to "suck it up". At least he learned the vernacular of today.

I am grateful that my daughter and granddaughters are able to ,reason and therein lies the hope of the future. If my generation leaves them a future, that is.

I can't speak for what it is like to live in a country that is a member of the EU. But here in the US, it isn't just some older folks who want to cut their noses off to spite their faces. The far right in its pervasive hate and obstruction of all things it seems is in a perpetual snipping spree. They seem to want to believe all things unbelievable and then force it on everyone else. Arghhh! Sorry, just needed to vent I guess. It's probably why I love animals and all things in nature more than my own species.

People can be so frustrating in their gullibility. I still receive social media posts including one this week that claim a one term congressman can retire from office with a six figure pension. Really? I had previously even private messaged this person the .gov link that explains benefits, but reading facts must be too strange, ha!

Bill Maher said it best: 48% voted for Sense and Sensibility and 52% voted for Pride and Prejudice.

Interesting to see that many young people didn't bother to come out to vote. The stats below come from the Washington Post.

18-24: 36%
25-34: 58%
35-44: 72%
45-54: 75%
55-64: 81%
65+: 83%

Well said, Darlene. This is certainly true of some of my British contemporaries. One in particular I have known since the 80s who has a very rosy view of life in the UK in the 50s, 60s and 70s and has become an embittered old woman longing for the "old days" which didn't exist.

Ronni - I was so pleased by the time I got to the end of your post because I thought when I started reading that you were going to argue against the facts of voter's ages - the saddest thing about the whole Brexit disaster is that it makes the world even more divisive - frontiers/boundaries/visas/passports /no entry - the fact that Scotland voted to remain is also sad because it looks like they will now vote again for independence - more division within a tiny island. When will we come together as humans! But Yvonne had a point - if the young want to rule the world they have to get out there and do something about it - including using their valuable votes! As a Scottish-Australian - I'm glad to be where I am - thanks for the post Ronni.

Wow, very interesting info, Yvonne.

In Buddhist theology one of the most egeregious sins is and certainly my British contemporaries (certainly the ones who voted for Brexit) are guilty of that. I understand and support your efforts to combat ageism but now we must stop calling the spade "a portable earth moving apparatus" - it really is a spade and the people in Britain who voted for Brexit are willfully ignorant and "may God have mercy on their souls "

I think maybe the struggling middle class people in the this "prosperous global market world" are beginning to wake up to the fact that maybe some changes need to be made.

"A protest vote by people who feel economically left behind in modern Britain"
is what an article in The Independent said.

Donald Trump and Bernie are the reaction on this side of the pond.

Maybe a movement to go from the greedy 1% to a chicken in every pot thinking is emerging?

Good post and comments.

Some things I could look up, but not that interested, I guess. For instance, I would like to know how many were polled about the stats given - was is 5,000 for each age group or 500 for over 55 and 5000 for the youngest group? This could be enough to skew the results. I'm not a fan of polls and the media can make hay with them. Maybe not, just sayin....

I for one am getting tired of the global financial system which seems to help the financial (and well-off)folks, as if they're an insatiable force that must be fed - first. I wonder how much is 'trickling down' and making life work for most people, not only in USA and Europe and now Britain, but in all parts of the world. Years ago I remember the anger and coalitions against the World Bank and its questionable objectives and means for the majority of people. I think that attitude prevails. So perhaps those old folks are voting because they're not asked, nor heard. And showed it with their votes.

Right or wrong, governments must be held accountable, and I fear we're losing that as the populations expand worldwide and ready journalism is becoming yellow and untrustworthy with their lack of objective and thorough reporting.

I also think the younger generations need to know this world, how they want their future to evolve and what they can do about that. May we all learn the good lessons to be known from this Brexit.

The one quote was perfect: "Voting against the monsters in their heads," Indeed.

What's done is done. I went looking to see what John Oliver had to say about the result. I'm sure Ronni will be linking to his classic Grade A rant here on Saturday. But... as he says: "There are no do-overs." They've made their bed. Now they must lie in it.

I expect some of them were thinking, how bad can it be? The British people have surely lived through worse. Or, well... the parents and grandparents of today's older voters did. No matter how bad the Brexit consequences are, they won't be worse than the Blitz. They probably won't be worse than the years that Britain's shattered economy took to recover from the war. Too young at the time, for the most part, to have experienced the war themselves, they grew up on legends of a recent heroic past.

Let's hope the current older generation has inherited some of their forebears' ability to grit their teeth and muddle through. They'll need it.

I'm 68 and voted to remain,as did most of my family and friends and we are totally shocked and ashamed of this result. Maybe if more young voters had actually voted we would have had a different outcome.

We are a parliamentary democracy and should not have had such a referendum-I hope there is a legal way to ignore the result!

I think the big problem (apart from the lies spouted by press and politicians) is the growing north/south divide with not enough investment outside London and the southeast.

People in the traditional northern working-class towns(but not the cities) maybe associated Mr Cameron and the Conservatives with Old Etonian Londoners rather than actually thinking about the EU and I fear this was a protest vote against the Establishment.

The sad thing is that these deprived regions will be even worse off in the future if they do not receive EU funding and there will be less money available from central government as we will go back to austerity measures.

Don't you find it curious that the stock market has surged ahead and BREXIT is a thing of the past in four short days?

Janette, I'm thinking the major global financial players are doing what they need to do to stabilize and calm the waters, so choices and decisions can be weighed and debated (with an emphasis on their own wants and yes, with manipulation).

Or they decided to buy/sell to make a good profit in a short time, and went for it. I wonder what the downside to that would be, and for whom.

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