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Are today’s young the worst off in history?

Young person with empty wallet

Would you be better off if you were 25 in the 1980s or today? Apparently today’s young need to earn twice as much as their parents to match their lifestyle of marrying, buying a house and having children.

If you’re in your twenties today (like moi) you’re probably worse off than your parents were at the same age.

A report by First Direct found that today’s twenty-somethings would need £40k to match their parents’ lifestyle – on average they actually earn just £21k.

That extra dosh would make it easier for young Brits to buy a house, marry or have kids. These are key life stages that earlier generations seemingly didn’t feel they had to delay, but today they’re being pushed into the mid-30s.

In fact, three quarters of the 3,000 polled agreed that today’s young people ‘are the most financially pressured in history’. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but house prices, one of the biggest financial pressures, have surged.

A married couple in 1985 could pick up their home for an average of £35,000, compared to £163,000 for a similar house today.

Sure, there’s no point comparing pounds like-for-like over the years, but if we weigh these house prices against the wages of the day, you’d have to pay four times your average salary for your house in 1985, compared to an eye-watering eight times today.

First-time buyers left out

So although the house price boom may have been good news for older generations, it’s another story for first-time buyers trying to get on the market.

What do you think the average age of a first-time buyer (who doesn’t get help from their parents) is today? The ripe old age of 37. Ok, maybe that’s not ripe nor is it old, but it’s certainly leaving us twenty-somethings out of the party.

Do you think today’s young people have a bum deal compared to their parents? Or were times just as tough for them?

Comments
Guest
Andy Harris says:
23 February 2011

I think young people had a harder time in the middle ages. You could die of plague or have nothing to eat because it p****d down constantly.

Profile photo of John Ward
Guest

I certainly think today’s young people have to struggle more to get on the first rung of the housing ladder depending on which part of the country you are considering. Here in Norfolk there are small flats and houses in the £60-80K bracket but – the inevitable downside – there might not be suitable work avaialable. Generally it seems that people are still only waiting until they are sixteen before starting a family, however, and the first car seems to arrive before their GCSE’s in many cases. When I left school at 18 in 1965 there was nothing like the availability of college and university places so we went straight out to work building up our financial and career resources. Before I was 21 I was able to buy a three-year old flat in Enfield Town for under £9,000; a three-year old flat in the same area today would cost around 14 times more. I was earning around £750 pa whereas today a 20-year old might be on £300 a week [£15,000 pa] – a twentyfold multiple. So it looks as though incomes have shot ahead of property prices. But in those days we didn’t have to pay for broadband connexions and ISP charges, mobile phone tariffs, and high fuel and energy bills; rates and taxes were manageable, insurance was cheap, and the cost of living was not such a problem – but the interest rate soon rose to 12-15 per cent [but on a much lower mortgage of course]. Overall, and taking everything into account, I thinks things are neither better nor worse but the young people of today are handicapped by the demands of the modern life-style and the extra time spent in education for little apparent financial benefit in the short term. A degree no longer puts young people in the higher pay bracket from the outset because employers are clogged up with over-50’s with paid-off mortgages, children off their hands, and three foreign holidays a year. Quit now, I say, and give the young graduates a chance.

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Guest

I was having this conversation with my parents-in-law at the weekend. Having had considerable help to ‘get on the ladder’ six years ago, I know how tough it is – and it’s got a whole lot tougher in those six years.

But the in-laws argued that young people today have higher expectations – i.e. grand 20K weddings and everything brand new for their babies. Not so for me, but they’ve got a point – we all have more stuff that we see as essential to everyday life nowadays and often aren’t prepared to give that up.

But, on balance, I still think that the rising cost of everything, paired with fewer job opportunities and rising uni fees all make it a lot tougher to be young today.

Profile photo of dean
Guest

I disagree that “we” are worse off (I include myself at 34)

My parents were quite poor when I was young and my Mum stayed at home to look after me and my 2 sisters. My Dad didn’t earn very much and now, even as a director of his own company, my Dad takes home less than most people would accept for a job in London.

For me, it’s the entitlement culture that has skewed this debate. In no other country is the ability to buy a house portrayed as a “right”. Have a roof over your head, yes, but really, why do people think it is a “right” to go into massive debt for 25 – 30 years?

The interest rate for my parents on their house was 15%.

In my opinion, people just need to learn how to manage money and budget rather than complaining how expensive things are. Maybe they need to logon to Which Money and take some advice from there?

For example, just think how much buying lunch costs you every day. Think how much you could save by making your own sandwiches at the weekend, freezing them, and taking one out each day to take to work? By the time it reaches lunchtime, it has thawed out and is ready to eat.

We just need to stop being lazy because it costs so much more.

eg. I will never buy anything again at Euston after I was charged £4.50 for a sausage roll and a bottle of This Water

Guest

I love reading your articles, purely because they’re so pompous at the same time as being really badly written. I love a good laugh.

“Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but buying a house, one of the biggest financial pressures, has surged.”

Well put, my Vulcan friend.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Guest

Hello Pete, I’m sorry to hear that you’re not a fan of my articles. We try to create a down to earth and conversational writing style on Which? Conversation, which may not be to your liking.

However, upon closer inspection, you’re quite right that the sentence you have included didn’t make sense. Sometimes mistakes slip through, but we try our best to thoroughly check every article before it goes up. I have now edited the copy, so thanks for pointing it out.

Guest
bechet says:
9 March 2011

House prices have always been too high for the young to get onto the housing ladder easily. I’m not sure about the 80s but in the 60s you usually had to find 15-20% of the price before a building society would lend you the rest and then only up to 2.5 times your salary. Repayments were high because the interest rates started at around 6% (compare that with today’s) and, in the 70s rose to 15% at one point. And mortgage famine is nothing new.

The reason for costly tuition fees is that so many young people now expect to go to University and 40% or so actually do so ~ compared with about 10% in the 60s. The money has to come from somewhere and they are the beneficiaries of study. Although it may well be that for many who enroll uni isn’t the best choice. I must admit that the fees would put me off ~ I decided that I couldn’t afford it when tuition was free and grants were available.

The real frightener is the prospect of unemployment or badly paid jobs. This seems comparatively recent ~ I cannot remember a time when work was so hard to find (for young or older). However, if my father was alive, he would be able to. It is very discouraging to leave school with high ambitions and find that there is no work and that job applications are not even acknowledged. But, in the 30s, my grandfather was unable to find work for more than 20 years. So this ain’t new, either.

Guest
Daryl says:
20 June 2011

Hi all

I am 25 years old and have a skilled job. I didn’t go to University and have no intention of spending 20k on a wedding. I work hard for my money and could just about afford to pay for a standard terraced house in a not-so-pleasant area, but why should I to be forced into living in a poor area in order to gain some independence? For a nice home, monthly repayments are ridiculous. It is all about money and if you haven’t got it you are going nowhere fast!

The older generation that your article refers to are now the ones with the money having made so much from seeing their properties rocket in value, a case of right place right time maybe? Also this older generation are now snapping up affordable properties just to rent out to the unfortunates like myself. It seems this country is fuelled by greed and self worth, the young have no chance to live like previous generations and this will not change for the better – rising cost of living, bills, insurance and a reluctance to lend at a moderate repayment rate is crippling us as a generation.

To me it seems there are two options:

RENT and throw away your money!
SAVE and throw away ten years of your life not doing anything/living with your parents!

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Guest

Thanks for the comment Daryl, it definitely seems like we’re in a lose-lose situation. I’m personally a renter, and a baulk to think how much money I’ve thrown away renting in London for the past two years… but hey, what choice do we have?

Guest
Damn Young says:
31 July 2011

I feel qualified to comment here. Life is very tough for youngsters. It is not worth getting into serious debt to get a degree. In the 80’s you could buy a house for the price of a degree today. A degree is definately no guarantee of a job at all, let alone a highly paid one. However poor you might be, living within your means is the route to hapiness.
It is swings and roundabouts though, because all the baby-boomers are going to die, and there will be a glut of homes available then.