The New Puritanism
Why Gen X parents are still partying like it’s 1999, while their Millennial kids are living like saints
THE “New Puritanism” is driving a cultural wedge between the generations as the number of Scots Millennials who indulge in sex, drugs, drinking and smoking has fallen to a record low, while their more hedonistic Generation X parents continue partying well into middle age.
The Millennials – young people born in the late 1980s, 1990s and the early 2000s – are shunning the excesses of Generation X, those born in the late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, new studies have shown.
One Scots trends analyst who coined the term “New Puritanism” a decade ago to describe the changing patterns of behaviour believes the under-30s should be known as Generation Moderation.
The theory was supported by the latest survey of more than 1,000 Millennials which found only 10 per cent perceived getting drunk was “cool” while most see it as “pathetic” and “embarrassing” and “belonging to an older generation”.
The study follows figures released in the summer which show the number of Scots teenagers who regularly drink, take drugs, smoke and become pregnant in Scotland has dropped dramatically. Other recent studies have shown that drug and alcohol misuse has risen among those in their 40s and 50s, as well as incidence of sexually transmitted diseases.
Smoking is still a major problem among Gen X. Ben Fincham, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Sussex, who was involved in the study, said Millennials “have found different strategies for overcoming and diverting” inhibitions which were previously overcome by Generation X using alcohol and drugs.
Nichi Hodgson, author of The Curious History of Dating, who also contributed to the study, said Generation X suffers from “a stiff upper lip problem”. “They used drink and drugs to hide their problems,” she said. “Younger people don’t want to cover up their problems with drink and drugs, they want to face them.”
The latest Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle And Substance Use Survey suggests the downward trend in young people using drink and drugs is likely to continue.
The study – which provides a national picture of young people’s smoking, drinking, and drug use – found the number of teenagers who said they had an alcoholic drink in the last week has been decreasing since 2002.
The number of young people admitting to taking drugs in the last month has also been gradually decreasing since 2002. Despite an apparent increase in the availability of drugs – with reports of a spike in the proportion of pupils who have been offered drugs and the proportion who say they would find it easy to obtain drugs if they wanted to – the number of people actually taking drugs fell.
The percentage of 15-year-old girls who said they had taken drugs in the last month dropped from 22 per cent in 1998 to nine per cent in 2015, while the percentage of boys using drugs dropped from 23 per cent to 13 per cent in the same period.
Smoking has also dropped markedly over time. Around 26 per cent of 15-year-old girls and 29 per cent of 15-year-old boys were regular smokers in 1982 and that figure has steadily fallen to an all-time low of seven per cent of both sexes in 2015.
Teenage pregnancy in Scotland has also dropped to a new low. A total of 4,808 teenagers aged 19 and under became pregnant in 2015, according to the latest figures, a rate of 32.4 per 1,000 – down from 34.1 in the previous year and a marked drop from the most recent peak of 57.7 in 2007.
Trends analyst Jim Murphy, who is director and founder of strategic communications and insight consultancy Model Reasoning, coined the term New Puritanism in 2005 to describe the decline in the number of young people indulging in destructive behaviour. Murphy, who is from Kilmarnock, said: “The term New Puritans was born of a piece of work I did with a colleague on why certain habits were no longer favoured. When it comes to younger people, there are a number of telling factors, particularly the change in courtship rituals. Image is now pivotal to winning partners. It’s not a great leap to conclude that in the world of selfies and online dating the demand for good behaviour is such that people have had to adjust in order to become attractive.
“People are also very well informed these days about what’s good for you and what’s not. Once, confusion could be exploited. These days it’s unimaginable for anyone under 30 not to know what’s hostile to their biochemistry. No-one in Scotland under the age of 30 is going to smoke cigarettes, take drugs or drink to excess knowing the consequences.”
Murphy said Millennials have “redefined the treat” and prefer experiences to indulgence. “There is now the irresistibility of moderation,” he explained. “You don’t stimulate interest in you on the part of others by putting your nose in the trough.
“There is an implicit cultural conversation that goes on among Millennials about what’s appropriate. This conspires to create a culture of limited indulgence. This is Generation Moderation.”