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The gulf between old and young has never been wider

A mother and father with son and daughter running out of the ocean, Palm Beach, Florida, 1947. (Photo by Constance Bannister Corp/Getty Images)

When my mum visited me in east London, says James Marriott in The Times, all she kept saying was: “Everyone here’s so young.” On holiday in the Lake District two weeks later, I was thinking the opposite: “Everyone was so old.” This may seem obvious – of course the young prefer “bustling” cities and the old like “restful” countryside. But it’s amazing how new a development this is. “As recently as 1991, villages and cities had the same mix of ages.” Now all 10 of England’s largest cities are experiencing “an exodus of the elderly”, with young people “heading in the other direction”. It’s the same within communities: the decline of social clubs, local sports teams, churches and pubs has left few places where “young and old mingle socially”.

Age segregation is “one of the most dramatic and unprecedented demographic developments of our time”. And its effect is to “divide us culturally”. Everyone used to know Morecambe and Wise; parents were exposed to their children’s music tastes from Top of the Pops “blaring away in the front room”. When a High Court judge once said he hadn’t heard of the Beatles, it was hilarious because it suggested “superhuman efforts of cultural self-segregation”. Would it seem strange today for a judge not to have heard of Bad Bunny, the most streamed artist on Spotify last year? These divisions aren’t harmless. The “intergenerational strife” characterising today’s culture wars is being exacerbated by young and old rarely actually talking to each other. Lazy stereotypes abound: Gen Zs are arrogant, for example, and boomers are selfish. We have a “crucial rent in the fabric of society” – one that “needs to be mended before it’s too late”.