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The Big Tilt

3.5 stars out of 5

Bernard Salt (Hardie Grant, RRP$29.95)

This latest work from demographer, Bernard Salt, examines the population shifts that are now widely acknowledged. The boomers are approaching retirement, Gen X is looking for the top job and Gen Y is still living at home.

The Big Tilt doesn’t cover a lot of new ground. It builds on some of the themes of his earlier popular books – notably Man Drought, which humorously chronicled the issues originally highlighted by Bridget Jones.

That’s an issue that doesn’t seem to have gone away. In Australia, there are almost 12 single women available for every 10 men aged between 40 and 54.

Hence the arrival of the “cougar” – a term Salt dislikes, preferring the somewhat clumsy but technically correct SWaF (single women after 40). That issue also gives rise to another cliché. This time about men.

Salt suggests it encourages fairly ordinary men of a similar age to think they are quite extraordinary. No surprises that younger men might be more appealing.

Still, compared to 30 years ago, SWaFs enjoy better education, more career opportunities, better incomes and don’t suffer the same shame that was once attached to having had a failed relationship – assuming they had one.

Nonetheless, if you are a male looking to even up the odds, head for Byron Bay, where, according to this book, 54% of people aged 20-69 are single and most of them are female.

The unlucky generation in this book is Gen X. The boomer’s lives have been all about booms. Not just baby ones.

The economy has been pretty good to them throughout their lives, the value of their homes has boomed and so have their careers.

Salt sees the Xers as the non-complaining “silent” generation. They don’t constantly say “look at me” the way the boomers did – or maybe still do. They just quietly got on with it.

Then, when the usually prosperous years turn up around 40, the GFC steps in and makes it hard to service the not-yet extinguished mortgage on their home, the value of which has started to flatten out.

Gen Y, on the other hand, get the benefit of their boomer parent’s luck. The clichés about kids moving back in are backed up by the census figures.

The number of children aged 25-29 still living at home has risen by a third since the mid-80s. Put that down to the GFC, unaffordable housing and the enabling institution Salt calls the Bank of Mum & Dad – not only interest-free loans but no repayments either. There’s got to be a marketing angle in there somewhere.

Salt’s demography is handy information for marketers wading through the implications of generational change.

But there is no plot or central theme, which means the book meanders all over the place, sometimes irritatingly.

If you a looking for a cleanly structured profile of Australia’s generational segments, you won’t get it here.

But there is plenty of humor and interesting anecdotes. The dialogues with God and the Grim Reaper are hilarious and Salt’s numerous caricatures are easy to identify.

That makes it a comfortable read as you range across the issues facing all Australians, from the now aging “frugals” who suffered both war and depression, through to the closing days of the well-chronicled SNAG (sensitive new age guy), and on to the metro sexual, who, Salt says, is about to be eclipsed by the neosexual, which is some kind of hybrid of a bloke and a snag.

Perhaps free courses on meditation with every slab of beer are the way to go.

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