‘Youthful pessimism’ becoming the norm as half of young people say background determines life chances

Social mobility is getting worse for the young

The dissatisfaction that underpinned young people’s votes in the general election is laid bare by a new report from the Social Mobility Commission, which finds that 51 per cent of young people believe that where you end up in society today is mainly determined by your background and who your parents are.

Overall, 48 per cent of people agreed with the statement, compared to 32 per cent who believe that anyone can get on through hard work and talent.

‘Young people increasingly feel like they are on the wrong side of a profound unfairness in British society — and they are unhappy about it,’ commented Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, what could be dubbed the ‘revenge of the young’ was evident at the general election with record numbers of young people turning out to vote.

Down the generations, hope has been a defining characteristic of the young, but this poll suggests that today youthful pessimism is becoming the norm. There is a stark intergenerational divide about Britain’s social mobility prospects.”

Just 30 per cent of young people believe it is getting easier to move up in British society, compared to half who believe the social mobility situation is getting worse. And just 34 per cent of 25-49 year-olds say they are better off than their parents, compared to 47 per cent overall, and 73 per cent of over-65s.

Just a fifth of 18-24 year-olds believe they have more job security than their parents, and just 17 per cent better job satisfaction.

‘The feelings of pessimism young people are expressing are borne out by the facts they are experiencing,’ Milburn continued.

“Those born in the 1980s are the first post-war cohort not to start their working years with higher incomes than their immediate predecessors. Home ownership, the aspiration of successive generations of ordinary people, is in sharp decline among the young.

Britain’s deep social mobility problem, for this generation of young people in particular, is getting worse not better. The 20th century promise that each generation would be better off than the preceding one is being broken.”

The new dividing line

Post-election surveys of how Britain voted suggest that age, rather than class, is becoming the key dividing line in British politics.

YouGov’s survey finds that for every ten years older a person is, their likelihood of voting Conservative increases by nine points. So among first time voters (aged 18/19), Labour was forty seven percentage points ahead, while the Tories had a 50-point lead among over-70s.

Turnout among 18-19 year-olds was estimated at 57 per cent, while 84 per cent of over-70s voted.

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