The media calls us Generation Sensible. But hedonism comes at too high a price
Generation Sensible, say the headlines each time young people are reported to be in less trouble than previous generations. Gone are the days when parents would fret over their kids’ excessive consumption of Bacardi Breezers – now, the problem is that we’re just not drinking enough.
As a 23-year-old, I drink – and have also, on occasion, made an absolute idiot of myself after one too many Stellas. I even like pubs that don’t serve craft beer – you know, the ones with pool tables and distinctly sticky floors. But for me, drinking comes second to hanging out with friends – something nice to do before a gig or cinema trip. I rarely entertain the idea of having a few at home on a week night – and I’m not alone in my self-restraint.
Figures released by the Health Survey for England last week show that in 2015 one in three 16 to 24-year-olds was teetotal, compared with one in five in 2005. Lifetime abstainers increased from 9% to 17% in the same period, while for the rest of us young ’uns, rates of bingedrinking have declined. It’s hard to dispute the label we’ve been given – our lack of appetite for a tipple is sensible, especially given the results from a recent study that suggested there is no healthy level of alcohol consumption.
Why are young people so boring? Not because we’re all Fitbit-wearing, hypochondriacs who are far too concerned about the possible implications of having a can to make time for a booze-up. Yes, social media and excessive Photoshopping have ramped up the expectation for perfect appearances and lifestyles, but we are not extremists.
It is necessity that drives us to cut down on drink. For most of us, our futures hang in the balance – now more than they ever did for our elders, which means we’ve simply got a lot more to get on with. Hedonism, once the height of youth culture, has lost its cool factor.
The best way to understand this is to look at how the financial situation for young people has shifted in the period covered by the Health Survey for England. Almost half of all young people in England go on to higher education, paying up to £9,250 a year for the privilege. In 2005 students were charged only £3,000 a year. As real-term wages have barely grown during that period, it’s no wonder those sitting on a mountain of debt by their 21st birthday are loath to get smashed with their pals all the time.
When we’re thrown into the adult world, the stakes are also much higher. More twenty-somethings have precarious work contracts and stagnating wages; over half of us have no savings at all. The prospect of owning our own homes is diminishing. Since 2005, the average house price in the UK has risen by more than 50%. Up to a third of young people face living in private rented accommodation for the rest of their lives, according to the Resolution Foundation. Even a drink is more expensive– a pint today costs, on average, £1.20 more than in 2005.
It’s not only that we may never be financially comfortable. With NHS services slashed, young people’s mental health is in crisis. Since even our wellis determined by economic factors, fewer of us are willing to throw caution to the wind – although drinking has not decreased amongst those with poor mental health.
For more proof that overindulgence is no longer in vogue, look also to the icons of our era: the trashing-hotel-rooms-for-the-sakeof-it types they are not. You won’t see a member of the Kardashian clan or Ed Sheeran stumbling out of a club with a fag in one hand and a bottle in the other à la Liam Gallagher. Nowadays, young people are too busy trying to establish ourselves and keep afloat in society to enjoy being on the fringes of it.
You could say we’re all just very dull – but, like our lives, it’s more complicated than that.
Soft drinks are a better choice these days for those twentysomethings sitting on a mountain of debt.