Millennials would rather have grown up in an earlier time

Published on Housing, Wealth and Debt, Intergenerational Commission

Britons across all age groups no longer believe that young people today will have a better life than their parents, with pessimism strongest among graduates and high earners, according to new analysis by Ipsos MORI for the Resolution Foundation published today (Saturday).

The report, based on a survey of over 2,000 adults commissioned for the Foundation’s Intergenerational Commission, finds widespread concern about young people’s prospects that is shared across society.

Overall, people were more than twice as likely to say that young people today will have a worse standard of life compared to their parents (48%) than a better standard of life (23%). There has been a sharp turnaround in views compared to 15 years ago, as the proportion of people who think their children will have a better life than them has halved.

This pessimism was strongest among those with a degree (57% of whom think young people will have a worse standard of life than their parents) and earning over £55,000 a year (55% worse, compared to 44% for those earning under £20,000). While concern was strongest among millennials themselves (53% worse), their pessimism was shared by generation X (47%) and baby boomers (44%).

Young people’s concern about their own prospects is so strong that, highly unusually, many would rather have grown up in an earlier time – despite major social, technical and economic progress. One in three millennials (33%) agree that they would prefer to have grown up when their parents were children, compared to 32% who disagree.

In contrast, just 15 per cent of baby boomers and generation X said they’d prefer to be a young person growing up today.

This widespread pessimism comes despite people thinking that young people will be better off than their parents in many aspects of their lives. The survey’s youth outlook scores (the proportion of people saying that the young will have a better life than their parents on certain issues, minus those saying they will be worse off) were strongly positive in terms of access to information and entertainment (+67), traveling (+34), freedom to be true to themselves (+26) and education (+22).

But the Foundation notes that in the public’s perception of young people’s prospects, these positive social gains are far outweighed by the huge economic challenges the young face.

The survey found one concern in particular outweighing all others, with a huge majority believing young people will be worse off than their parents in terms of owning their own home (a youth outlook score of -63). Other economic worries included whether today’s young would have a comfortable retirement (-51 on balance worse than their parents) or a secure job (-43).

The survey data reinforces Resolution Foundation research highlighting the living standards problems facing young people, including the finding that those born in the early 1980s were earning £40 a week less by the age of 30 than those born a decade earlier earned at that age.

The Foundation says tackling the living standards challenges that lie behind this widespread anxiety about the direction of Britain for young people is a central task of our politics today.

It adds that with higher turnout amongst the young at the 2017 general election and a clear majority of people of all ages supporting the principle that that every generation should have a better life than the one before (59%, compared to only 8% who disagree), tackling this issue should be a top priority for all political parties.

Laura Gardiner, Senior Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said:

“The idea that each generation should do better than the one before is a principle underpinning British society, but Britons no longer believe that young people today will be better off than their parents.

“That such an anxiety has taken hold despite decades of economic growth, technological advances and growing social freedoms suggests we have failed to ensure that these gains have fully fed through into young people’s living standards and prospects.

“This living standards anxiety is so strong among millennials that many would prefer to have grown up when their parents were young rather than today. Of course cheaper flights and smarter phones are great, but they’re no substitute for a secure income and a home of one’s own.

“Widespread concern about the prospects of young people is likely to have been one of the driving factors behind their higher turnout than in recent decades in June’s election. Addressing their core concerns about housing, job security and lifetime living standards should be a top priority for all parties, not least because these concerns for young people’s futures are shared by voters of all ages.

Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute, said:

“Concern about the future prospects of the young is a global issue, but one that is particularly stark in Britain. Our research programme on millennials has already revealed how the younger generation is being left behind on key metrics like home ownership and income and this new survey shows how these are challenges have not gone unnoticed. As well as concerns about millennials’ economic and housing prospects, people also think their lives could be impacted by global instability and war.

“Yet despite growing evidence of intergenerational imbalances, there is little tension between the generations. The young may be envious of the better circumstances of older generations, but do not blame them. While older people are generally sympathetic to the difficulties millennials face today. In fact, which generation you are in is not the most important driver of pessimism – education, political belief and marital and employment status are all more important.”

Notes to Editors

Analysis based on a survey of 2,179 adults in Great Britain aged 16-75 conducted between 26 and 30 May 2017, and a focus group with members of different generations held in London on 15 June 2017.