Laura Perrins: The young have never had it so good? A spurious claim materially and spiritually

In 1996, the year before New Labour were elected to government, 2.7 million 20-34 year-olds lived with their parents. In 2013, this rose to 3.3 million, a staggering rise of 25 per cent. Despite this, James Delingpole tells us that today’s twentysomethings are a gilded generation and that they have ‘never had it so good.’ Is this true?

Mr Delingpole has had a Damescene Conversion from believing it was an absolute “no-brainer that the kids of today are going to be worse off than their parents’ generation” to finding that on “almost every available metric it turns out that the optimists have got it right. Today’s gilded generation is the most blessed that ever lived.”

He takes a number of benchmarks. One is health. He believes that as cancer survival rates are better and HIV is no longer a death sentence twentysomethings should be chipper. Well, sure. But then these improvements in health will benefit every generation, not just the young and hip. In fact, improvements in cancer rates will disproportionately benefit older people so I don’t find this very convincing.

Next he relies on working conditions. Salaries are up. This is true but only for graduates inpaid work. We still have approx 2.3 million number of people unemployed. Further, prospects for the unemployed non-graduates are dire. Until very recently you did not need a degree to do many jobs that now require one – not out of necessity for the job mind you, but just because employers use degrees as a sieve. So the unemployed twentysomething without a degree is stuffed.

For the lucky well-paid graduates, they will need that bigger salary to pay off the whacking great loan required to secure the degree in the first place. This must be considered when examining wages.

Next is homes. It is admitted that houses are ‘expensive’ (!) but mortgages are much cheaper now. Again, this might be the case judging by repayments, but cheap mortgages are only available to those who have large deposits in the first place (how are you supposed to save for this when you are paying off the student loan?) or when a parent goes guarantor. So again this in not persuasive.

Education – this one was funny. He ignores the fact that exponential increases in education spending over the last twenty years have coincided with the UK plummeting down the international league tables. This does not matter as we still have ‘lots of graduates.’

He states “now around half of all young people get to know the joys of freshers’ week, essay crises, late-night kebabs on vomit-spattered pavements and other formative further education experiences.” This is not my idea of a ‘formative further education’ and it tells us much of what the baby boomers think constitutes a legacy.

I do not believe that it is worth shelling out nearly £30,000 for the pleasure of experiencing vomit-spattered pavements. Having good contact time with your lecturer (they don’t do this these days, it is beneath them) and being challenged by fellow bright students is a formative education but now less common.

Delingpole does talk about how technology has given young people access to music and literature previously only available to the very wealthy. This is true. With a combination of Spotify, the literary classics, most of which are free on iBooks, and if you are lucky enough to live in London free access to art museums, your average twentysomething could access the greatest art, music, and works of literature Western Civilisation has ever produced.

This argument only holds, however, if young people know that this is the pinnacle of Western Civilisation and value it as their rightful inheritance. But many do not because the boomers told them Western Civilisation was nasty, racist and sexist. The Baby Boomers did not pass on the splendour and triumph of Western Civilisation - in fact they trashed it. So Facebook and Big Brother rule instead.

Finally, in addition to the financial debt and the cultural poverty, there is the spiritual poverty- and it runs deep. This generation suffered the widespread divorce of their parents – and things look no better for the next generation with a total of 4.2 million children in England and Wales – 35 per cent – not living with both parents.

Although many want to settle down they don’t have many role models and find it difficult to make this dream reality. Women in particular feel there is no one to trust (a damming indictment of forty years of feminism). So sure, no one is going down the mine anymore, and we have lots of stuff. But the stuff is just blocking out the mistrust of fellow man, the lack of family and real community.

Laura Perrins

  • agneau

    These are both undefined comparisons. In absolute terms there is no doubt young people are better off now than when their parents were young. I am sure if I had invested all the money I spent on buying my children things that were’t available when I was a kid I would have had more than enough to put a deposit down on a house for each of them. The problem is the goalposts have moved. They need smartphones, broadband, cars, 10x more clothes, better holidays, dining out etc etc just to be as happy as we were without those things. The honest position is that kids now need a lot more to feel as good as their parents did – the economy would collapse if they didn’t. Let’s try and fulfil that but in return kids should recognise they are getting more.

    • Laura Perrins

      Dear Agneau, thank you for your comment. I agree that my comparisons are somewhat difficult to measure, but even on health/education and housing I do not accept the twenty somethings have it better than their parents. Although I do agree they travel more – there is not doubt about that. Education and Housing in particular are a big problem and from my point of view will have a detrimental impact on family life down the road – something I have been meaning to blog on for a while. Laura Perrins

      • agneau

        Thanks for the reply Laura – much appreciated. I still don’t accept your points. At 56 I am an older father but still a boomer. Health – early age mortality rates are better than in the previous generation. Any deterioration in later life mortality will be down to self inflicted problems linked to obesity, i.e. having more than we did. Growing up, my slightly older neighbour was crippled from Polio! Healthcare rationing will be down to there being more available on the NHS – fertility treatment, gastric bands, cosmetic plastic surgery and a lot of modern psychiatric treatment was not available when I was young. The measure should be percentage of GDP spent on healthcare. Education – more people than ever before attend tertiary education. The problem is a lack of strategic direction from the govt as to which courses to promote. There is no lack of education compared to prior generations. Housing – after I graduated I spent 5 years saving for a deposit on a small flat in a London suburb. My salary, in line with expectations had risen to 2.5 times my starting salary and a mortgage of 3 times that got me a small flat. It would still do today on a good graduate salary times 2.5 plus a 25% deposit. No big change other than kids today, and their parents, wouldn’t want a flat in a dodgy part of Harlesden. It is tough – but not that much tougher. Same as always kids can achieve with focus, effort and putting up with some hardships – can they still do that?

        • Laura Perrins

          Ok briefly – health of course has improved but as I say in the piece this applies to every generation and I dare say the boomers will grab all the resources to put into their health needs and not that of other generations. Point in case- boomers do not have children anymore so maternity care stinks and we have a high still birth rate for western country. Education. Again I accept that access to third level is much broader, BUT the quality varies widely. Many degrees are not worth the debt incurred. And this has had an impact in that the wide availability of third level means degrees are a basic requirement for many jobs, even though they do not require the skill set. Employers just use it to set a minimum standard. But it costs £30,000 just to pass this test. It is crazy! And state and primary education is pretty rotten. Just see our many education blogs! Housing. Again with the debt most people will need help from a parent. I do not see a major problem with this as I think the boomer parent owes them this, but still the boomers have done very well out of housing.

          • Selfishyoungun

            Laura I guess the problem is boomers will always compare what they had in the 60s,70s and 80s with what they “perceive” young have – the technological advances are misleading and it angers to have the cheaper availability of technology and the advances of science held up as reasons why young people should not want to try to make their own home and have their own family realistically within the window which nature gives women (but also men) to do that – i.e in the 1960s women might expect to move into their own home and think about starting a family any time from 18 years up, now it is literally a race against time for women to get there by their late 30s. Pregnancy in your late 30s or early 40s when you might at last have a home into which you can bring a child is literally scary in terms of birthing at a lot of NHS hospitals and midwives and health visitors are the fairytales of “Call the midwife”. True you are less likely to die in childbirth but you are right about stillbirth numbers. In terms of the men, many struggle with never having been given enough responsibility to hone their career and life skills because the top of the ladder in the workplace and in the economy generally is so congested. This plays out in the form of failure to commit to relationships with romantic interests, accepting jobs totally incompatible with family life (working hours, long commutes or job hopping every couple of years because that is what the job market is like). I won’t start on education – you have said it all much better than I could

          • Mary Fountain

            As a boomer, I was in infant and junior school in the 60’s so had nothing material at all to show for it. I did leave school in the middle of the 70’s recession, bought property just before the 80’s crash and struggled with high interest rates of 7-10% in the 90’s. I can’t think of any aspect of the last 30 odd years in which I felt I was lucky. We were lucky to stay continuously in work given all the upheaval in the economy. My brothers were self employed and having had a family each are still paying off substantial mortgages, now we scrabble together the cash for our pensions, and hope the state honours it’s commitments, having paid NIC and taxation since the age of 16 from work.

  • franknowzad

    Add the really rubbish fashions and moribund music scene and you’re onto a loser!
    Western politicians trying to start WWIII through weakness and a POTUS arming islamists should guarantee a good cull tho.

  • Kevin T

    I think how you see the country now really depends on whether you have money or you don’t. Labour is actually right about that divide, except no one is more enthusiastic about the cause of it – a debt-fuelled economy and a huge supply of cheap immigrant labour – than they are.

  • Selfishyoungun

    Laura this is one of the best articles I have read in a long long time and voices many of my feelings about the baby boomers and the younger generations. And I am not just referring to “entitled millennials”, I am 43, mother of two with post graduate professional qualifications, husband and I bought our house and work so hard we rarely see each other and our time with our children is so precious. I regret having had to return to work so quickly after my children but it was not in any way as a result of the feminist doctrine I was taught as a girl, literally to help pay the mortgage and try to have some kind of plan on schooling for our children (catchment areas, massive competition for primary school places, should we work even harder for private school fees etc). I feel angry but then I look at my 33 year old sister and I just feel massive relief I am not her. An Oxbridge graduate, she is trying to climb the lonely ladder of saving up for a deposit on a flat, something I did achieve myself aged 32 but I think she has no chance. She has not returned to our parents home but lives independently and is resolutely following the “career is everything” path, no marriage or baby in sight, not because necessarily she wants that but because that is increasingly the most “attractive” (if attractive is the right word) path for bright girls who want to be financially independent (i.e not rely on their parents and never claim anything from the state as has always been the case with our family). She daily faces criticism about entitled millennials and questions about the technology she carries (IPad, Iphone both for her work). If I feel down about the trajectory of reduced choices for younger people I think of her and consider myself, at 43 very lucky. But ask any baby boomer whether they feel their generation was lucky you will be attacked for asking a question like this.

    • Mary Fountain

      If you ask a boomer if their generation was lucky, you’d received answers that could include leaving school during the depression of the 1970’s, (at the end of the decade continuous electricity cuts, hospital waiting lists, the dead lying unburied, dustbins unemptied, something like 10% general unemployment ). Higher rate tax increases led to Doctors and Surgeons leaving the UK. The housing crash of the mid-eighties, and recession of 1992 that ended in 1995/6, last two recessions with interest rates at 7% average. Many people ended up bankrupt and have been unable to borrow since without paying higher interest rates from specialist lenders. In the 1960’s women were only entitled to 50% of their wage ratio if they were working, you couldnt assume you’d get a mortgage as the men who were most often employers thought you’d ‘just get married and have children’. Women ‘pre’ the inequality act were not treated equally in any way. There were careers described as ‘suitable for women’ in the guidance books of the time, and there just were’nt the variety of jobs there are now anyway.
      There were jobs like teaching in infant or junior school or physiotherapy which didn’t need degrees so most didn’t choose to go to Uni and so when it was possible to buy a home could, without the debt from Uni education. I know several people who studied for degrees part time with the Open University while they worked to support themselves. I bought a studio flat when I was 27, if I use the same income multiplier now as then, it would still require a lot less than the average wage. For borrowing nothing much has changed other than expectations.
      It’s possible to have free higher education in some Scandinavian Countries and low fee in France, but studying part time is still the cheapest way although without the lifestyle..this isn’t a generation issue. Boomers are ageing and understand young people won’t especially want to help them in old age by becoming carers, there’s also a problem with the ‘gift tax’ which didn’t exist 20 years ago. None of it’s easy but it isn’t a ‘boomer’ problem, more a government mismanagement problem that’s ended up with certain dislocations in society.

  • Mary Fountain

    Turning children against their parents is what Stalin did

  • timbazo

    Salaries are up? Not if you measure income in terms of the accommodation you can rent or the house you can buy.