New Study: Young People Are Increasingly Glum About the Future in Western Countries

An Ipsos Mori survey released today has found that young adults in rich, western countries are less optimistic about the future than their counterparts in developing countries. While people in Europe, Australia, North America and Japan largely felt that the younger generation were unlikely to be better off than their baby boomer predecessors, those polled in Brazil, Russia, India, Turkey and China said they believe their children's lives will be better than their own. In Britain, only 20% of the population thinks that young people are likely to have better lives than their parents.


Is this the end of western optimism? There is no denying that things are looking terminally glum for young people in light of how the recession has affected western economies. The results of the research are perhaps unsurprising, yet they go to show that the nosedive in young people's living conditions has not gone unnoticed.

Sky-high tuition fees and private rents, a shortage of affordable housing, low wages and benefit cuts have combined to make adult life in Britain a daunting prospect. Economic collapse and austerity measures have had a similar impact throughout Europe, not least in France which is bottom of the league table with only 7% of those polled feeling optimistic about young people's prospects for a better life.

Of course, it's worth considering what exactly a "better" life means. In this case it appears to be financial security and comfort. Owning a home is the goal which preoccupies my generation but which many have given up on entirely, choosing to spend their money, if they have any, on consumer goods or nights out. Then there are almost a quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds who are unemployed and will be denied housing benefit in the expectation that their parents, if they have any, will provide. Indeed, in modern Britain only the wealthy with their trust funds and house deposits courtesy of their parents have any right to feel good about the future.

Or it might be that you consider a "better" life to be one lived kindly and authentically rather than with comfortable wealth. I largely agree with this, but those who say money can't buy happiness have probably never been poor. As a generation we have been taught that money, or perhaps more accurately our ability to buy things, is the ultimate goal. Flaunting it has become the norm – we have social media status anxiety as a result – and we have been taught to always want more.

When I was unemployed all I wanted was a job or enough cash for something posh and tasty from Sainsbury's. When I finally got a job I wanted a better one so I could buy nice clothes and go on holiday. Then I started wanting a house, but despite the fact my boyfriend and I earn decent enough salaries this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Do I feel thwarted? Yes. Am I angry? Most certainly. Will I be revolting? Probably not.

In response to the research Ángel Gurría, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, told the Guardian: "Nothing is more politically explosive, more dangerous and more destabilising than having a whole generation of frustrated young people." I fear he is wrong. The pessimism unearthed by Ipsos Mori is, in Britain at least, characterised by a kind of apathetic inertia; none of us are taking to the streets. Perhaps this is happening in France or Greece, where some kind of revolutionary spirit remains. In the UK we are being told that the most meaningful revolution we can create is one in which we withdraw participation and refuse to vote.

Sometimes older people, especially on the left, forget that young Britons lack any kind of political education. Yet as a demographic we are woefully ill-informed of even basic political structures, let alone things like socialism or feminism. All we have to back us up is a sad, niggly feeling that we've been robbed of something but we're not quite sure what to do about it. A niggle doesn't start a riot, but then maybe I'm just a pessimist.

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