Some argue that millennials have it easiest compared to any previous generation, yet whine much more than their parents ever did. This begs the question: Do millennials have anything to complain about?
Well, let’s take a look at Joel Stein’s cover story of millennials for Time magazine, published three years ago. The cover reads: “Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.” The implication here is that millennials want to live with their parents because it gives them an easier life. Maybe this is the case for a minority, but every 20-something I have spoken to desperately wants to get out of their parents’ house. Having to obey your parents’ house rules and miss out on a life of independence in your 20s is no fun. Do millennials really want to be in this kind of situation?
The short answer is no, not really. In the UK, findings from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals that 25% of adults aged 20 to 34 still live with their parents. It is a matter of choice, to an extent, but not preference. The alternative appears (and often turns out to be) financially pointless.
House prices are rising by £16,000 a year, according to the ONS. It is much more difficult for young people to save for a deposit for a house compared to the previous generation. Meanwhile, London has the highest rents of any city on the planet, according to property firm CBRE.
Most young people are unable to afford a one-bedroom flat in London, and so often live in a flatshare instead. Perhaps this isn’t so bad if it ends up being an important life experience. On the other hand, losing hope of ever owning a house is certainly more of a problem for millennials than for previous generations.
House prices and the cost of rent are not the only things keeping millennials stuck in the nest. Youth unemployment has been going down, but there is still the problem of unpaid internships, which are wrong for two reasons: firstly, by their very nature they exclude those from low-income backgrounds who cannot afford to work for free, and secondly, they are often illegal and prevent young people from being able to move out.
What these ‘promising’ unemployment statistics also overshadow is the number of people on zero-hours contracts and the rising numbers of people who are underemployed. It’s all well and good that unemployment is falling, but why don’t we focus more on increasing the number of secure jobs with sufficient hours/pay to meet basic living standards?
Millennials are not perfect. They are annoying in many ways. But this does not mean young people don’t have their own struggles. In fact, many young people are suffering. 1 in 10 young people in the UK experience mental health problems. In addition, 70% of those young people suffering did not have early interventions at an early enough age; mental health services are under threat, and mental health stigma remains a major issue. Moreover, suicide is the number one killer of young men in the UK, while self-harm and suicide attempts have been becoming increasingly prevalent at universities.
Carrying around a massive student debt is also a contributing factor in the stress and anxiety experienced by young people. Then you also have experts arguing that millennials will never be able to retire. Young people face very real financial struggles and marked uncertainty in their lives.
In addition, it is tragic how long the NHS waiting list is for psychological help, preventing those from a lower socio-economic background from receiving treatment, and resulting in thousands of suicides a year.
A deep-seated problem in modern society is that, too often, mental health issues are seen as an excuse for, or identical to, normal or even immoral characteristics. The lack of motivation plaguing the person who is depressed might be seen by others as laziness, whilst the problems of the anxiety sufferer could be mistaken for plain old worry. I’m sure that a lot of millennials are lazy, but stereotyping all young people in this way does a lot of harm for those who really are suffering.
Millennials, despite brandishing selfie sticks and being glued to their smartphones, have a unique set of challenges to deal with. (While the millennial obsession with social media may appear narcissistic, it’s also having negative mental health outcomes for young people.) The important thing is to recognise the unique problems faced by each generation and to avoid getting bogged down with judgement, moralising and stereotyping.