Commuters or Pensioners

Two trains are about to crash. One contains pensioners and the other containers commuters. There is a fault on both lines but you can save one group. Which do you save and why?

This was a previous question asked at an Oxbridge interview. It is more of a philosophical question than it is economic and rather than give a conclusion I will present some points below as to the advantages of saving one group over the other. Please note that the argument isn’t intended to cause offence and I completely understand that each life is very precious and no-one should be prioritised (this is completely hypothetical!!!).


Pensioners provide many benefits in monetary terms to an economy. Pensioners are likely to have a higher marginal propensity to consume and may therefore spend more money, particularly on retail goods which provide a boost to the economy.

Pensioners may provide baby-sitting options for their parents or friends, which may enable these parents to work. This allows them to bring money into their household and increase their living standard, as well as not rely on government benefits or subsidies (the government may for example subsidise childcare in some cases), they will pay more tax. However this could be at the detriment of professional baby-sitters who may then have to find another job.

They may provide baby-sitting so that relatives can go out and enjoy themselves, this may make them more motivated in their work (if they are not constantly tired, from looking after children) and gives them opportunities to go out and spend.

Following on from this pensioners may be able to pass on wisdom and experience to their grandchildren (or whoever they provide daycare for) which may, in the long run, lead to a better educated and moral workforce. (There is particular evidence of this in rural economies and emerging countries like in India, where the grandparents look after children a lot).

Pensioners have a lot of free time and may therefore volunteer to help with charities. This provides many benefits and can bring people out of poverty. However, this may just result in charities taking on volunteers more and no longer paying people to do the same jobs. This may lead to redundancies and perhaps unemployment.

Although they may not currently be paying taxes, they have done so all their life.


(These are assumed to be young people that are in work)

Because they are younger the commuters are less likely to be a drain on NHS resources, as the elderly generally need a lot more provisions of healthcare.

Commuters (we assume) are in work and so are producing monetary value directly to the economy, they are also paying taxes, which are likely to be greater than those paid at present by pensioners, therefore the commuters may be perceived as more beneficial to society.

The commuters are young and so have a lot more of their life left ahead of them, the pensioners have already experienced most of their life and are unlikely to have much longer left (at least compared with the commuters).

The commuters may have children that are quite young, this would be more detrimental to them at their stage of life. In comparison pensioners children are likely to be older and may be more emotionally stable.


Please feel free to add any more suggestions below, but like I said I didnt answer this question ethically/morally, purely economically.

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