In yesterday’s austerity referendum in Greece, much of the difference between the Yes and No voters seems to be explained by the age difference. The only age group to support the referendum was 60 and older. In this group, 50 percent voted Yes compared to 39 percent who voted No. Among voters under 30, barely one fourth voted Yes. This reflects a drastic difference in perspective between two groups separated by only 30 years of history.
I believe both Yes and No voters were voting to minimize risk and ensure continuity, but have differing views on where the risks and the potential for continuity are. Those who voted Yes were willing to risk a long-term economic depression on a scale the world has rarely seen. It is a risk that makes no sense to No voters, especially those under 32, who might forfeit their entire careers under that scenario. But those who voted No were willing to take a chance on the many unknowns of a whole country depleted of money, something that has never happened before because it is only the unprecedented monetary union of the euro that makes such a thing possible.
The age difference becomes more important when you look at the Eurogroup leaders. Nearly all are over 60, so perhaps they share much of the point of view of Greece’s Yes voters. The notorious “adults in the room” comment of last month looks a little different now. Are the Eurogroup that impatient with the needs and perspectives of people less than 60 years old? That’s an approach that may run into trouble for leaders who are supposed to be representing the interests of a population mostly under 60 years old in a process that is supposed to be founded on democracy.