We have something of a crisis going on in my generation. Vast numbers of us are refusing to grow up and act like adults. Many of us are graduating from university to find ourselves floating in some sort of rudderless existence in which we never seem to get out of a student lifestyle. Fast forward ten years, plenty remain jobless, in debt and living off a combination of the state and their parents.
How this has happened is relatively easy to explain. Fifteen years ago, New Labour decided it would be helpful to pump as many young people through the university system as possible. We were suddenly faced with more graduates than there were graduate jobs to accommodate them. A short while after this, there was a recession which shrunk the job pool even further. Additionally, the government – due to the large numbers now going into tertiary education – determined that they could no longer pay for all the degrees they themselves had decided would be good to award. Thus tuition fees were introduced which, not long after, turned into even more expensive top-up fees. These changes meant that those going to university were no longer guaranteed a job on graduation – certainly not a graduate one, at any rate – and were leaving university with vast amounts of debt.
Along with this, they were faced with a booming property market. With house prices having vastly outstripped wage rises over the last 15 years, the average price of a house in the UK (£215,847 [Source: UK House Price Index] is now 8 times the average salary. For most mortgages, this means you must be earning at least double the average salary in order to buy the average house. The rental market has capitalised on this and its prices have also vastly outstripped wages. For those renting, it is increasingly difficult to raise a deposit for a home. Though some may turn to the Bank of Mum & Dad, this relies on cash-rich parents. For many, the prospect of owning a home is so far out of reach that there seems little point in saving for the impossible.
What is eminently more achievable is the purchase of experiences. Millennials have a penchant for authenticity and story. Given that houses are out of reach, travel is an attainable goal. Many sense you are more likely to create stories and have authentic experiences travelling the world than you are settling down in a career with a family. When you factor in that houses are beyond the reach of many, and if children are added to the mix, childcare costs further impede your ability to purchase property. Work and money, therefore, pay for your food and rent – the latter of which are often higher than mortgage payments and from which you regularly have to move – and any savings, given housing is unattainable, are used to purchase authentic experiences abroad.
Previous generations *cough* baby-boomers *cough* have weighted the system against the younger generation. Having had free education, low house prices, jobs for life and, all in all, been the luckiest generation since the War, they now wonder why Millenials appear so flakey and rudderless. It is because the usual bases of stability – jobs, housing, pensions, community, the ability to remain near family – have all been destroyed by those who have enjoyed those things to the fullest possible degree. The reason Millennials can be flakey is because the entire system works against them settling down and being reliable.
I had initially titled this post don’t be a flake and intended it to be a call to my generation to be a little more reliable. I still intend to write that post. But, as I began writing, I decided it would not be a fair article until I had first been clear about how that flakiness has come about. Whilst reliability is an important trait, let us just remember it is hard to be reliable when the usual means of stability have been removed by a previous generation who now call you feckless for not having the same advantages they enjoyed. If you want reliability, you often need to instil a sense of stability. It’s hard to be reliable when you’re constantly shifting between homes and have no obvious career trajectory.
If you want to deal with flakiness, you must provide the stability that most people crave. It is much easier to be reliable when your situation is stable. Give a Millennial a lecture on flakiness, and they’ll hear you for 5 minutes; give them a home of their own and job that is credible, and they will learn the reliability that society currently stops them exhibiting. Baby-boomers want to put it all down to a bad work ethic; the truth is it stems from a lack of stability caused by those who previously pulled the drawbridge of privilege up behind them.