At Trajectory, we talk about one particular trend a lot. It’s a trend that explains a great deal about the way we live today – from the way we eat, work and shop to the way we approach big decisions and events in our lives. It affects the way we spend our leisure time and even how much of it we have. The trend in question is what we call the Deregulation of Life – the subject of our most recent Trends Breakfast event.

At its simplest, Deregulation just refers to the greater flexibility we have in what we do, when we do it and how we do it. Our exclusive Time Use studies are a fantastic tool for visualising this; by looking back over decades gone by, we can see how the rhythm of our daily lives has changed and how activities are much less likely to be associated with particular time periods than they used to be. It’s not a complete free for all – by and large we still eat a few times during the day, relax after work and sleep at night – but there’s an increasing fluidity to our routines.

Mealtimes: now and then

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Source: Trajectory’s Study of Time, 2016

There are a lot of benefits to our Deregulated lives. We have greater freedom to do what we want when, and more options for leisure than ever before. A key driver of Deregulation is social progress, with, for example, the role of women in society changing massively over the past few decades. A secondary (and related) driver is technological development, which has contributed to reducing the amount of time spent on household chores and giving us greater access to information and our family and friends.

But living life on demand has another side to it. The 24hr services we enjoy today are enabled by new, more deregulated ways of working.  The recent court case involving Uber and the strikes by Deliveroo drivers are examples of the gig economy testing the definition of employment, and companies in this area are tasked with negotiating a route through the demands of both consumers and their workforce. Beyond start-ups, recent exposures in the delivery of social care, and ongoing issues at major retailers suggest that this issue stretches across the full landscape of modern employment.

Deregulation does not just affect our daily work-life balance, but our entire journey through life.

The same social progress that has been changing gender roles is also changing the definitions of family, with the idealised image of a nuclear family unit at the centre of society long outdated. The demographic markers that define adulthood are shifting, losing their linearity and are becoming much more convoluted.

In the 1960s or 70s you could quite reasonably expect to be moved out of your parents’ house, done with education, financially independent and married with children by your late twenties. Today, those milestones are hit much later – and not necessarily in any particular order.

These changes have huge implications for policy makers, organisations and businesses of any kind, but especially those in the financial sector who will find their customers moving into a new and far more complicated era of financial planning.

Perhaps the most profound demographic shift will be a change in the way we think about gender. Views of it as binary, or fixed, are increasingly outdated, and data from the Gender Identity Development Service illustrates how powerfully this shift will occur in the next generation.

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Source: Source: The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust; 2016

Changes such as these illustrate the enormous benefits of the Deregulation of Life, with both our daily lives, roles in society and identities less constrained than ever before. The challenges of the future are how to deal with the natural complexity the trend produces. Central to this is finding a balance between routine and deregulation in our lives and to ensuring that the services we demand do not expect too much of others.