The so-called 'generation gap' is disappearing, making way instead for an economic gap between the generations and class divisions within society, according to a UNSW sociologist.

In the 1960's cultural challenges included the burn-your-bras feminist revolution and sexual promiscuity. Professor Michael Pusey says that 40 years later the challenges are economic ones instead.

Writing in the journal Youth Studies Australia, he says Australia faces another 10 years of vigorous economic rationalism, which will pose a crippling burden on Generations X and Y.

He says the very wealthy, who have both high incomes and liquid assets, will be able to transfer money to their offspring before inheritance.

"What this [class advantage] means in practice is that these older couples in, say the top 20 percent of the range, can both enjoy their own retirement and, at minimum, make real transfers that will protect their adult children from the vagaries of the labour market for something approaching the whole of their working lives..." he says.

Those who don't have this financial stability "must look on helplessly as their kids incur increasing health, employment and debt risks".

These class divisions could entrench class envy and bitterness on an unprecedented scale, according to Professor Pusey.

While he claims that economic reform is a 'bad news story' for 70 percent of the population, there is some good news.

"It seems that we were then (in the 1960's) economically united but culturally divided whereas, now, the generations look to be more economically divided but culturally united," the paper states.

"We have far better communication and more respect for difference between the generations," says Professor Pusey. "Instead of imposing the standards of one generation upon the other, we instead seek to reach a common understanding of what is good for both."

Contact details: Susi Hamilton, UNSW Media unit, 9385 1583 or 0422 934 024