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Europe's Generation Gap

How Pensioners Are Threatening the Continent's Future

A Greek pensioner argues with an official outside of a bank in Athens, July 2015. Christian Hartmann / Reuters

Since the outbreak of the European debt crisis, Greek retirees have become a scapegoat for the continent’s financial and political woes. International creditors were infuriated by the lavish Greek pension system, which allowed public employees to retire as early as the age of 50, and demanded radical overhauls in exchange for bailout funds. They got what they asked for; today, pensions in Greece are 50 percent lower than in 2010. As a result, about 45 percent of Greek pensioners receive monthly checks below the official poverty threshold.

Yet the harshness displayed toward Greek retirees is unusual by European standards. The continent’s decision-making process is so heavily tilted in favor of the elderly that pensioners have preserved their privileges even in the face of stagnating growth, crumbling public finances, and skyrocketing youth unemployment. But as the young are pushed to the margins of society, Europe’s gerontocracy is becoming not only financially unsustainable

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