A Relative Insight comparison of 16-25 year olds in the UK today vs. 10 years ago makes for some sad, yet fascinating reading. Today’s discussions of society reveal young people who are unhappy and fearful.

Never mind the credit crunch, remember that Westlife song?

By comparison, 2009 looked like a great time to be young. Despite being only two years post financial crisis, the language of young people ten years ago compared to today showed:

  • 20% more happiness, expressing more good humour and contentment.
  • 50% more light-hearted discussion of their music preferences
  • 40% higher faith in the truthfulness and objectivity of news outlets, using statistics and assertions in news articles to back up their points in spirited debates. It’s hardly surprising that we don’t see the same today.

“It may not be natural, but it is the general social convention and the majority of the population are happy with it that way. I know I am!”

“bah, the thread title got this song in my head… ‘Tell me what makes a man wanna give you all his heart, Smile when you’re around and cry when you’re apart, if you know what makes a man Wanna love you the way I do, Girl you gotta let me know So I can get over you’ ”

Forget Westlife, the world is scary!

Conversation today presents a stark contrast. Compared to their 2009 counterparts, young people’s language in 2019 expresses:

  • 40% more unhappiness and fear in general
  • 50% more discussion and fear of harassment on the streets
  • 50% higher awareness of or experience of mental health issues
  • 40% more fear of offending other people
  • 50% more skepticism and distrust of the UK as a country
  • 500% more worries about homelessness as an issue, with some fearing it as an eventual outcome for themselves

“My mate got his pelvis broken…and two of my brothers got beaten up. Another friend got a dog set on him, and I’ve been chased for walking down the wrong street.”

“I understand you want to be proud of your country… but…There is another much darker side to Britain’s past, the empire was built upon slavery and exploitation.”

Fundamentally, however, young people have retained one main similarity with those in 2009: they like a good argument. Both groups feel like they can put the world to rights with their opinions, but what’s changed is what they debate and how they put themselves across…

2009: An age of moral philosophy

In 2009 debate was 400% more hypothetical. Young people took on huge moral questions about things like assisted suicide, or else explored broad concepts like ‘freedom’ in their discussions. Partly due to discussions being hypothetical, they were generally less passionate in the way they expressed themselves:

  • 50% more tentative in the way they phrased things
  • 20% more likely to present their points as opinions rather than facts
  • 40% more hedging language such as ‘quite’ and ‘pretty’, expressing themselves more indefinitely.

“To take the case study of squatters, is it not more profitable, if morality is our currency, to place individual happiness above rigid and unjustified doctrine which holds property rights as absolute irreversible by the state”

“A BNP government would only shatter the reputation and cripple the economy of Britain. Personally I don’t think they are serious about serving in the interests’of the British people”

In 2019, it’s getting personal

For 16-25 year olds today, debate is a lot more personal in that it’s heavily based in identity politics. 2019 debate is:

  • 400% more likely to classify people in groups, (‘trans people’, ‘lgbt people’, ‘obese people, ‘poor people’, ‘rich people’)
  • 150% more likely to discuss the concept of gender, and to contrast the behaviour of men and women.

“Denying equal rights to LGBT people is denying equal rights to humans.”

“I noticed the female staff are allowed free reign to wear whatever they fancy…Yet the men are expected to wear a suit and tie year round, despite the impracticality in this heat.”

Kids today, eh?

An uncharitable interpretation of all this would be the classic: “young people today are pathetic snowflakes who can’t deal with life”, but we all know that old chestnut’s been rolling around for decades, if not forever.  It’s clear that this is something running much deeper in our society; we can all identify with the undercurrent of fear and distrust running through the UK today. Whatever the reasons, it’s obvious that our young people are less happy today than they were ten years ago.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, (despite what our young folk might feel just now). In many ways, their sadness is evidence of something extremely positive; young people are now more aware of the disadvantages people can face. Their comparatively gloomy outlook on life may even be partially explained by the fact they have more direct empathy with individuals. They identify specific instances of unfairness rather than restricting themselves to talking in a detached way about ‘fairness’ and morals like their 2009 counterparts.

Our society will very soon be inherited by a generation of sensitive and empathetic individuals who really care about the difficulties faced by others. If that’s not a cheerful forecast for the future, then what is?

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Cover Image – Simon Maage from UpSplash

By Beth Thomas - Insights Analyst