What Is Intergenerational Equity?

Crystal Cook

Intergenerational equity is a values-based concept that future generations have certain rights. It is the belief that what is done today impacts future generations and that assets and resources belong to those generations. This idea covers many areas, including natural resources and financial security, and holds that future generations should not have to suffer because the current generation did not properly take care of resources.

Intergenerational equity holds that the natural resources enjoyed by the current generation belong to the future as well.
Intergenerational equity holds that the natural resources enjoyed by the current generation belong to the future as well.

The way intergenerational equity works is based on generational accounting. The entire world is seen as a community of humans rather than many communities made up of many races. With this in mind, each generation should be careful about how it handles resources, because those resources belong to future generations. Both direct and indirect impacts should be considered, because what may have a positive direct impact also could have an indirect impact that is negative, such as fertilizers that boost crop yield but end up damaging the water supply.

All future generations have the right to things such as clean air and water, according to the idea of intergenerational equity. These rights are to be recognized and protected by the current generation. Intergenerational equity requires the current generation to think responsibly about what it is doing. For example, if the current generation is overfishing a particular area, people must consider what that will do to the next generation. Children could grow up and find that food is scarce or that they are unable to make a living like their parents did because of the overfishing.

Intergenerational equity holds that the resources and assets enjoyed by the current generation belong to the future. This means that everything, from farming to economic laws, should be done with future children in mind. Resources should be left as the current generation found them, and children should not inherit land that has been stripped of nutrients or poisoned by chemicals. Air and water also should be left clean.

It is not just natural resources that intergenerational equity addresses. The concept applies to economics and even health care. In health care, the idea asks whether healthcare resources, such as certain medications or the ingredients to make them, will be available in the future. Debt often is thought of when intergenerational equity is used in economics, because the debt the current adult generation acquires will fall on the shoulders of today's children. The belief is that any future generations should have the same quality of life as the current generation and should be able to use the same resources.

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