In the opinion of one of my esteemed colleagues at Trajectory, I moan a lot. Hearing this for the first time prompted a period of self-reflection, and had me asking myself why do I moan so much? Is everything really that bad?
As a 25 year old male living in London, seeing the Guardian’s focus on Millennials, subtitled “The perfect storm of debt, housing and joblessness facing a generation of young adults” gave me a strange sense of contradictory satisfaction. My generational cohort faces a potentially bleak future, but at least my moaning is justified. That said, my brief flirtation with questioning my own negativity has led to a quirky thought experiment – I’m going to find the positives and explore why the millennial condition may not be quite as bad as it first seems.
One of the reported implications of the triple threat of enormous debts, drastically unaffordable housing and precarious employment is the sacrifice of markers of adulthood.
This narrative goes as follows; millennials, saddled with debt, in low paying jobs struggle to buy – and in many cases rent – forcing us to remain in the parental home, preventing us from starting relationships and families, and stunting our progress towards being a grown up.
These problems are widespread – a quarter of young adults live with their mum and dad – but are millennials really sacrificing these markers, or are they simply being delayed?
Since the 1960s, what we perceive to be the ‘traditional’ life course has been changing for a whole host of reasons. The invention of birth control and the decriminalisation of abortion have given women greater control over their lives, and there are more women in the workplace than there were earlier in our history. Marriage too, has changed, with the tradition increasingly divorced from its foundation in religion, with the number of women marrying for the first time in their thirties and forties doubling between 1992 to 2012. The result of these processes has been later parenthood, with young people choosing to delay the formation of a family for reasons that may have very little to do with the macroeconomic status of a generational cohort. Clearly there is reciprocity here, and economic constraints have, and will, continue to affect changes to the life-course; for many, marriage, and subsequently family formation will be put on hold until homeownership has been secured.
The point then, is not that the economic constraints are not changing the nature of young-adulthood; economic considerations can and do affect the way in which individuals within society age. The point is rather that while economic constraints affect changes to the life-course, they are not the sole driver of these changes, but rather serve to catalyse pre-existing trends in what has always been a highly dynamic concept.
My message, which will shock my colleagues, is a positive one. Our lives are not going to resemble our parents’ but this is not shaped purely by austerity. Many of the changes which have changed the way we age – scientific, medicinal, and societal – have delayed the point at which we reach these markers of adulthood and the results have been profoundly positive.
That the economy has the ability to alter the rate at which these changes take place may surprise, but to attribute supposedly negative changes to the life-course to economics is to ignore the positive impacts of progress which have also changed the process of ageing.
Trajectory have discussed, analysed and forecast the prospects and experiences of the Millennial generation on dozens of occasions, including for the BBC, Barcardi, Greene King, Clear Channel and Taylor Wimpey. It’s also inspired a previous blog piece as well as serving the main focus of one of our Trends Breakfasts – the slides for which can be accessed here.