The New Pu­ri­tanism

Why Gen X par­ents are still par­ty­ing like it’s 1999, while their Mil­len­nial kids are liv­ing like saints

Sunday Herald - - NEWS - BY PETER SWIN­DON

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.”

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