Almost half all UK adults believe the collapse in home-buying among young people is caused by them spending too much on takeaway food and coffees, mobile phones, holidays and Netflix, a study on generational divides has shown.
The research by academics at King’s College London found that while such opinions often crossed age bands, the increasing tendency for younger people to live in cities and older ones elsewhere risked exacerbating splits between age bands.
It also discovered that myths about housing affordability were common among younger people, something the researchers said could be caused in part because of much-reported assertions about profligate twentysomethings floated by commentators such as Kirstie Allsopp.
Overall, 48% of people agreed with a statement saying young people could not afford to buy a home because of such consumer spending, something the report notes is factually incorrect given the rise in the price-to-earnings ratio for properties, and the challenge of putting together a deposit.
While older people believed this more strongly, with 52% of baby boomers agreeing, the view was prevalent among all age groups. Even in generation Z, those born since the mid-1990s, 43% believed it.
The research, taken from polling of 2,291 adults, found greater splits across age groups on other issues. For example, while only 4% of baby boomers believed young people were more motivated and hard-working in jobs than their older peers, 42% of generation Z respondents agreed.
While arguing that dim views about younger generations have existed for many centuries, the report’s authors, from the King’s College Policy Institute and its Institute of Gerontology, warned that divides could become entrenched given the increasingly likelihood for older and younger people to live in different places.
The study found that 65% of people correctly believe that the UK’s young adults are more likely to live in large cities, with older people tending to live more in smaller towns, villages and rural areas.
However, while 56% think this has always been the case, the research notes that this geographical split only began to emerge in the 1990s.
There was, however, also consensus, with 76% of people agreeing it is harder for young people to buy a home than for their parents’ generation, and strong support also for the notions that it is more difficult for young people to save money and to find a job.
On the issue of age groups being defined by labels, there was similarly agreement, with a majority of respondents in all brackets agreeing with the idea that they are “about as useful as star signs”.
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Prof Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute, said myths about takeaway coffees and Netflix had in part arisen because of comments like Allsopp’s, but also reflected “our general tendency to think bad of today’s young people”.
He said: “Part of the reason for our cliched view of young people will be that we now live much more separately than in the past, with young people more concentrated in cities and older people in smaller towns and villages.”
However, Dr Wei Yang, head of the Institute of Gerontology, said the research also uncovered significant common ground, for example on the challenges faced by young people in saving money or finding jobs.
“These results reveal that almost no generation gap exists in views on these challenging issues facing the young adults today, and both the old and the young show sympathy for the younger generations,” she said.
This article was amended on 13 June 2022. The original version mistakenly used the pronoun “he” for Dr Wei Yang, who is a woman.