Thursday, October 19, 2006

There’s something about GenX men - Life and death inside the Xer bell-jar

Update 20 October 2006.

I’ve added a sub-title to the post, and now this explanatory foreword. The “bell-jar” is primarily meant as a statistical metaphor (although with an obvious nod to Sylvia Plath, also). Thus, bell jar as opposed to bell curve.

The jar is straight-sided; transparent for outside viewers, yet claustrophobic from the inside.

In dispassionate statistical terms, the left-side "wall" of the jar is men born in 1962 (the phenomenon I’m talking about also covers Xer women to some extent, but the male-only stats are more striking). For the born-1961-and-earlier “outside” men, “normal” statistical distribution applies – the curves are gentle, and indicia which usually positively correlate with age – such as DSP recipient rates and rooming-house tenancy – generally do so.

For the men on the “inside”, however, i.e. born-1963-and-later, these “normal” rules don’t apply – there is a cliff at the boomer/Xer divide, and then a plateau. Thus, DSP recipient rates are much higher for men born in the mid-1960s than in the late 1950s through to 1961 (“Budget to reduce disabled, sole parent benefits” (Graph) AFR 13 April 2005; see also here). While rooming-house tenancy rates can’t be plotted with the same precision (and the figures used below are based on a non-random sample), it is probable that they also travel up the steep, narrow wall of the 1962-born, and then plateau among Xers. Male suicide rates would also follow this precise pattern, I would speculate (I am unaware of published rates by exact year of birth).

Just a note, too, for any eager-beaver younger/GenY male readers out there. I really don’t know whether the Xer bell-jar has as steep-sided a demographic end as its beginning, nor hence what this end birth-year might be. But my guess (guess, I stress) is “yes”, and 1976. So say “phew” or “damn” accordingly.


Q 1. A company runs a network of 27 rooming-houses (with 374 rooms total) across the inner suburbs of Melbourne. The most common age-range of its tenants is:

(a) under 35
(b) 35-44
(c) 45-54
(d) 55 and over

Q 2. This company’s rooming-houses are, by its own admission, “in an appalling state of repair”. It apparently does minimal maintenance on these properties – and definitely zero capital works. Of the rent its tenants pay, $60 per tenant per week goes to the company for admin/letting costs and ad hoc maintenance. (Other overheads, such as cleaning and utilities, are separately costed). The company operates from stylish offices in a large (much too large for its ten or so staff, in fact) newly-renovated warehouse. This company is:

(a) a dodgy one, with links to convicted illegal brothel operators

(b) a real-estate agency with no qualms about making about ten times the margin it would make had the property been let as a single lot – under the latter arrangement, the estate agent would take only a 10% (or less) cut of the rent. (Landlords, not estate agents, generally pay for maintenance of course, but even factoring in some (small) additional maintenance overheads, the real-estate agency still has it sweet with a $60 per room per week gross margin).

(c) a “community housing” NGO

(d) a Macquarie Bank subsidiary


The answers, needless to say, are 1 (b) and 2 (c) – but if you said “(d) Macquarie Bank” to the second question, well kudos to you also: you get the Smart-Arse Male Xer Consolation Prize.

This Consolation Prize entitles you to (drum roll) watch the disintegration and premature death of your co-male Xer demographic from a box-seat: in fact, in/from a room in what is charmingly called “community housing” – but only for men in your age group, of course. (Take a bow Xers, for having gentrified the traditional rooming-house, so much so that it now takes the salaries and efforts of ten or so genteel staff (and their managers) at a NGO to do the job that was once done by One (per boarding house) Old Codger in a Dirty Blue Singlet, whose only pay for doing the letting/maintenance chores was free rent.)

From this box-seat – or lumpy, stale-piss infused mattress, actually – you can then ponder the strange quirks about your generation. Like its suicide rates: GenX males seized the Australian record for this in their teens, and are yet to be knocked off their perch, as it were – even into middle-age. Fortunately for you, your rooming-house domicile will seem a world away from this sort of bleakness, the explanation for which still baffles the experts, but never you mind.

Also able to be appreciated from afar are Victoria’s HIV seroconversion stats. Again, (gay) Xer men hog the limelight here, and again it’s a complete mystery to the experts why this might be so. But from the cocooned luxury of your Consolation Prize rooming-house bed, at least you don’t need to worry about your generation’s apparent death-wish.


Yarra Community Housing 2004/2005 Annual Report (PDF) and in-person enquiry.

$60 per room/tenant per week is based on current weekly charge per room of $98, of which $28 is guessed as separately costed overheads (communal-area cleaning, utilities etc) (Actual figure was $27 in 2004/2005). From the remaining $70, an unknown sum is paid to the state government (ultimate owner, but not operator, of YCH’s 27 rooming houses) – I am guessing this sum at $10 per room/tenant per week. Hence, the extraordinarily generous amount of $60 per room/tenant per week, going to pay multiple YCH faff-around salaries, notionally for doing a job formerly done by 27 Old Codgers working for free-room only.

Age range (2004/2005)

(These cover all YCH-managed tenancies, of which about one-quarter (153 out of 531) are self-contained, non-rooming houses (studio or one-bedroom apartments). At a wild guess, YCH’s minority of self-contained tenancies would be almost entirely occupied by women (27% of YCH’s tenants) and/or by non-Xer men. In other words, these figures almost certainly understate the rooming-house-specific preponderance of Xer (30-44 y.o. in 2006) men.

18-20 1%
21-34 26%
35-44 30%
45-54 24%
55+ 19%


HIV seroconversion stats, Victoria (gleaned from multiple sources; some sources put 2002 and 2004 figures at one pax lower). See also “Bugcatcher

1991: 317 pax (current all-time high, but almost certain to be eclipsed in 2006)

1999: 140 (low-number, since testing began in mid-1980s)

2000: 198 (average age 36)
2001: 218
2002: 234
2003: 225
2004: 224
2005: 286 (median age was 38 in second-quarter 2005)

2006 (to 30 June): 198

Thus the full-year 2006 figure is set to be 450-500 pax; smashing the previous 1991 record, and really getting the logarithmic curve going for next year – God help us. The median age will also have likely tracked upwards, only gently so this time. Meaning that – as with suicide rates over a longer timeframe – it is the same age-group of Xer men (born mid-60s to early-70s) who started, continued and remain the current mainstays of HIV’s second, larger epidemiological wave in Australia, 2000-??.

More stats 20 October 2006

I’ve realised that average/median age given (patchily) above doesn’t necessarily connote an Xer cluster/“bell-jar”. So (sigh) I’ve once again composed/re-typed a plain text mini-table, below.

(If anyone knows how to easily upload PPT slides into Blogger, please email me. I stress “easily” – this is from someone whose mobile phone bizarrely lacks a “Predictive Text is OFF, STAYS OFF, and CANNOT EVER, EVER, EVER BE ACTIVATED, ESPECIALLY ACCIDENTALLY” button. As to why telcos don’t charge for providing such a useful service (in contrast to ringtones, MP3s and other crap) is beyond me).

Male HIV diagnosis 2000-2004, by age group, Victoria
(excerpt from )

20-29 22.6% (220 men)
30-39 42.3% (412 men)
40-49 21.6% (210 men)

and there i was trying to figure out whether all my friends were homeless because they were my friends or I was homeless because they were my friends

And Mr John Quiggan, its not a generation attitude, its a demographic luck out, I think all generations worm and squirm the same complaints, but no everybody gets a complete bust when they enter the labour market while they spent their adolescence growing up in a 70s boom, walk out of job in the morning, get another before lunch
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