British Millennials: A Generation In Crisis

| by Zach Cohen
UK millennial Sarah Marsh with her parentsUK millennial Sarah Marsh with her parents

Young adults in the UK are reportedly facing immense economic pressures, and millennial women may be bearing the brunt of the psychological effects.

Nearly half of British women between 18 and 30 years old report feeling "worn down," while over half say they "lack self-confidence" and are "worried for the future," according to a poll commissioned in June by the UK-based non-profit Young Women's Trust.

Of the young women surveyed, 38 percent say they are "worried about their mental health." 

The pressure that millennials find themselves under appears to be rooted in the grim prospects they face on the job market. Of those polled, 30 percent said they had been offered "zero-hours contracts."

Employers reportedly use zero-hours contracts "to accommodate or avoid the 'national living wage' (an hourly minimum which does not guarantee a living weekly wage)," according to a letter to The Guardian.

This is consistent with YWT's findings; of the poll respondents, 28 percent say they don't have enough paid hours, and 22 percent report being paid less than minimum wage. 

European Central Bank president Mario Draghi blames the strong labor laws of many European countries.

"The labor market is set up to protect older 'insiders' -- people with permanent, high-paid contracts," Draghi told The Guardian in a March interview.

"Employers are reluctant to invest in young people," Draghi said.

Most young people who can find employment "are stuck with lower-paid, temporary contracts and get fired first in crisis times," he added.

Employers are increasingly forced to cut labor expenses in order to fund the pensions of the retiring Baby-Boomer generation.

"Not enough was paid in, in the past, which is leaving deficits and the company has to pay," Jonathan Gardner, senior economist at one of the world's largest pension advisory services, told The Guardian.

"If the company is paying something, the money comes from somewhere, and it tends to affect workers ... [and] it’s the young who are bearing the burden of those past mistakes," he added.

Because of the stark economic reality, "the incomes of this generation stay lower over their lifetime," Draghi says.

And indeed, millennials don't have much hope that the situation will improve. Of those polled by YWT, only 36 percent thought that they would be debt-free by age 40. 

Many of them are taking dramatic steps toward reducing expenses to mitigate this eventuality, as evidenced by the 43 percent of respondents who still live with their parents.

Sarah Marsh is one of them, and she described the experience in a March article in The Guardian: "At first it was tough (it’s hard to feel like an adult when you’re living with the people who used to brush your teeth), but then I had an epiphany: I am actually saving money, so being at home means that one day I might even be able to afford a place of my own."

In addition to living at home, almost half of the poll respondents think they will have to put off having children.

According to the Telegraph, millennials in the UK don't want to get married, and the average age of first marriage is increasing. Forty-six years ago, 60 percent of 25-year-old men and 80 percent of 25-year-old women were married. By 2014, those numbers had dropped to 5 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

These economic and social trends are not unique to the UK. According to Pew, in 2014 more 18- to 34-year-old American men were living with their parents than with a partner or spouse. Americans' average age of marriage is six years older than it was in 1960, according to The Atlantic.

"It’s getting so expensive just to be out on your own," Dustin Henson tells the Atlantic. "You want to make sure you can handle ‘us’ on our own once you’re married."

Domain reports that of the young Australians responding to a real estate industry survey, 80 percent believe that the "Great Australian Dream" of home ownership is out of reach.

Sources: Young Women's Trust, The Guardian (2) (3) (4), The Telegraph, Pew, The Atlantic, Domain / Photo credit: Hugh Langley via The Guardian, Luxembourg Income Study Database via The Guardian

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