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Takeaways and Netflix to blame for young people failing to get on housing ladder, say half UK public

Many Britons think frivolous spending is limiting home ownership among the young

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Housing, hard work and identity: generational experiences and attitudes

Read the research

Half (48%) the UK public think a key reason more young adults today cannot afford to buy their own home is they spend too much of their income on things like takeaway coffees and food, mobile phones, subscription services like Netflix and holidays abroad, according to a new study.

In reality, these are minor factors given the huge increases in house prices and required deposits, while wages have stagnated. As one recent report has shown, the typical first-time buyer house price-to-earnings ratio has almost doubled since the 1990s, and the average first-time buyer deposit has tripled from 5% of the value of the property in 1989 to 15% in 2019.1

The research, by the Policy Institute and Institute of Gerontology at King’s College London, also finds that young adults themselves are more likely to agree than disagree that spending on such items and services is a key reason for their failure to get on the housing ladder. For example, 48% of Millennials agree with this view, compared with 33% who disagree, and there is a similar split among members of Gen Z (43% vs 33%).

But at the same time, there is a high level of recognition among the public that economic factors are also preventing young people from buying a home, with three in four (76%) agreeing the key reasons young adults today cannot afford to buy their own home are things like the increase in house prices, stricter lending rules and low wage growth.

The research was carried out to mark the Institute of Gerontology’s annual David Hobman lecture, which will be given this year on 13 June by Professor Bobby Duffy, author of the book Generations: does when you’re born shape who you are?

The public think that today’s youth do not work as hard as older people – or as hard as they did when they were young

It’s easy to see why much of the public think young adults don’t put in the effort needed to save for a home – they tend to view young people today as lazier than older people, as well as lazier than they were in their youth.

The public are three times as likely to say that younger workers are less (46%), rather than more (15%), motivated and hardworking than older workers. This is the most common view across all generations surveyed, except Gen Z, 42% of whom say younger workers are more motivated, compared with 28% who say less.

But when older people think back to when they themselves were young, they are less likely to see younger workers back then as lazy. 29% of those aged 30 and above say that, when they first began their careers, younger employees were less motivated and hardworking than older employees – lower than the 46% of the public as a whole who think the same about younger workers today.

We always think the current generation of young are the worst ever

The perception that today’s youth are especially inferior to past generations of young people is nothing new. Without mentioning where it comes from, researchers asked the UK public what they thought of the following quote, which is often attributed to Socrates, reflecting particularly negative attitudes towards young people in ancient Greece:

“Young people today love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love gossip in place of activity.”

Despite it referring to a society millennia ago, 51% of the public agree with the statement, compared with 22% who disagree with it.

There is little difference in views between generations, but among each, a greater proportion agree than disagree with this quote. For example, even Gen Z – the youngest surveyed – are more likely to agree (47%) than disagree (30%) with it.

But the public do recognise that young people today have it worse than their parents did on certain key aspects of life

There is a clear sense among the public that today’s youth face more financial and economic struggles than did their parents’ generation:

  • 76% think buying a home is harder for young adults now, with only 11% believing it is easier than it was for their parents’ generation. While majorities of all cohorts believe this is harder for young adults today, younger people themselves are less likely to feel this way. One in five (18%) Gen Z think it is easier for young people now to get on the housing ladder, compared with 4% of Baby Boomers who share this view.
  • 68% of the public also believe it is harder for young adults to save for the future, and 65% feel it is harder for young people to pay for university today.
  • And the public are twice as likely to say that finding a job is harder (52%) rather than easier (22%) for today’s youth.

But there are some things that are perceived to be easier for young people compared with the parents’ generation:

  • 47% say it is easier for young adults today to get into university, compared with 29% who think it is harder. Gen Z are the only cohort with a higher proportion who feel this is harder (44%) than easier (35%) for young people now.
  • 63% say it’s easier for young adults to stay in touch with family or friends, while 16% think it is harder. Around two-thirds of all generations believe this is easier for today’s youth – except Gen Z, 51% of whom feel this way.

The public think young and old have always lived in different areas – but age segregation is actually a new trend

Two-thirds of the public (65%) correctly think that young adults in the UK are more likely to live in large cities, while older people are more likely to live in smaller towns, villages and rural areas. But over half (56%) incorrectly think this has always been the case: previous research shows that the trend to young people living in cities and older people in smaller towns and villages only started in the 1990s.2

Over half the public think that generational labels like “Baby Boomers” and “Millennials” are “as useful as star signs”

And the public are generally sceptical about generational labels, like Baby Boomer, Generation X, Millennials and Gen Z: 58% say they are about as useful as star signs in understanding the differences between groups, and 55% say that other characteristics like social class are more important. However, 51% say there are real differences between generational groups that are important to understand.

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:

“The suggestion that the huge challenges young people face in buying their own home can be solved by skipping fancy coffees and Netflix entirely misses the point – but it’s still believed by half the public. That so many think it’s the case will be partly because it’s so often repeated by commentators, which recently included Kirstie Allsopp.

“But it also reflects our general tendency to think bad of today’s young people. Throughout history, people always think the current youth are the worst ever, as seen in the half of people who agree with a quote, often attributed to Socrates back in 400 BC, berating young people for their love of luxury, gossip and bad manners.

“We also tend to think of young people as lazy, with half of people again saying they are less motivated at work than older people. But we think better of young people from our own youth: only 29% think young people were less motivated than older workers when we ourselves were young.

“Part of the reason for our clichéd view of young people will be that we now live much more separately than in the past, with young people more concentrated in cities and older people in smaller towns and villages. Most of the public correctly identify that this is the reality now – but 56% of us also think this has always been the case, when it’s actually a relatively recent trend, starting in the 1990s.

“Generational labels, like Baby Boomers and Millennials, is also part of the problem, as there are so many stereotypes attached to each. The public do, however, recognise this – with over half saying the labels are about as useful – or useless – as star signs.”

Dr Wei Yang, director of the Institute of Gerontology at King’s College London, said:

“The survey results suggest that generation identities perhaps do exist as the majority of the population identify with their distinct generational labels. However, when it comes to views on social issues, we found that different generations seem to share some common views. For instance, Generational Z’s views on the statement ‘whether it is easier or harder to find a job for younger adults today’ are not markedly different from other generations. More than 50% in all four generations agree that ‘finding job is harder for young adults today’. Similar trends are observed on views on other social issues such as buying home and saving for future. These results reveal that almost no generation gap exists in views on these challenging issues facing the young adults today, and both the old and the young shows sympathy for the younger generations.”

Survey details
Savanta ComRes surveyed 2,291 UK adults aged 18+ online between 13 and 15 May 2022. Data were weighted to be representative of UK adults by age, gender, region and social grade. Savanta ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Data tables are available at www.comresglobal.com

The annual David Hobman lecture
The lecture is in memory of David Hobman, first director of Age Concern (now Age UK) and Chairman of the Age Concern Institute of Gerontology. Entitled “The Generation Myth”, this year’s talk will be given by Professor Bobby Duffy on Monday 13 June. Register for the event >

1. Resolution Foundation https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/app/uploads/2021/12/Hope-to-buy.pdf

2. Centre for Towns https://www.centrefortowns.org/blog/16-the-unequal-distribution-of-an-aging-population