How wonderful is it to be young? The Italian labor market and intergenerational conflict

April 19, 2017
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In the 1969 novel Diary of the War of the Pig, Argentinian writer Adolfo Bioy Casares described an imaginary civil war that broke out all of a sudden in Buenos Aires when young people began to attack anyone over the age of fifty, considering them useless. Intergeneration conflict, after all, has been a reoccurring theme of literature – simply consider Greek tragedies and the myth of Oedipus or Freud’s 1913 Totem and Taboo in which he identifies patricide and subsequent guilt as principles behind the origin of religion.

Even beyond artistic representations and psychoanalytic interpretations, the relationship and necessary balance between younger and older generations within a society is extremely current. If it is true that the realization of young people requires turnover, insertion into the workforce and promotion of opportunities, it seems that these components are often lacking in Italy.

A recent study by Michel Martone, entitled: Il diritto del lavoro alla prova del ricambio generazionale (The Right to Work and Generational Turnover), published in a recent issue of the journal «Argomenti di diritto del lavoro» (Topics in Labour Law), analyzes worrying data on youth unemployment in Italy: from the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008 until 2016, unemployed youth has grown from 24.4% to 40.1% for those between the ages of 25 and 24 and from 8.9% to 17.43% for those from 25 to 34. Concurrently, the growing average age of employed persons was not slowed by the Jobs Act.

To explain this trend, the most important factor to take into consideration is obviously the Italy’s aging population, as well as the end of early pensions and a higher pension age, all contributing to reduced turnover from older to younger generations.

In this context, the labor system not only fails at promoting even the most minimal generational turnover, but has even favored the formation of a gerontocracy in various aspects that the crisis has only strengthened.

During the horrible war in Bioy Casares’ novel, a romantic relationship grew between the “old” Vidal and the “young” Nélida. In the Italian labor market, however, the conflict seems far from an end. Very few are the institutions (mostly originating from labor unions) that aim to favor generational turnover, but they are costly and thus rarely used. Indeed, Martone’s study reveals that the biggest problem facing the Italian job market is the scarcity of opportunity for all, young or not.

"Il diritto del lavoro alla prova del ricambio generazionale"

The author

Michel Martone is Full Professor of Labor Rights and Industrial Relations. He has acted as Vice Minister of Labor in the Monti Government as well as Visting Fellow at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University in New York


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