The Irish Times view on intergenerational inequality: survey shows threat to social cohesion

The starkest finding is that many of this group do not expect to reach important milestones in their lives, such as buying a home or starting a family, until their early to mid-thirties

The deep pessimism that pervades young people in their late teens and twenties should be a cause of concern for policy makers and wider society. Something has gone badly wrong when a credible survey of 18-to-29-year-olds finds that despite living in a country which, by some measures, is one of the wealthiest in the world, this age group are despondent and worried about their futures.

Half of them can be classified as having low mental well-being, according to the survey carried out by the National Youth Council of Ireland. A third say they never or rarely feel optimistic about the future.

Financial worries seem to weigh heavily on this generation and are intertwined with the consequences of the decade-long housing crisis that has continued for much of their lives.

Most of them say they feel worse off financially this year than they did last year, and a quarter of respondents say they are having some difficulty coping with the rising cost of living. Unemployment amongst this group may be low but many are dissatisfied with their jobs and incomes. Environment and climate change are a concern for many.


Perhaps the starkest finding is that many of this group now do not expect to reach important milestones in their lives, such as buying a home or starting a family, until their early to mid-thirties. Over half of them are living with their parents – a significant portion of them had flown the nest only to be forced back by financial necessity, presumably in most cases soaring rental costs.

Of those that are renting, less than half are satisfied with the quality of their accommodation. And with Central Statistics Office data this week showing that house prices continue to rise, buying remains out of the reach of many.

Some will undoubtedly seek to minimise the findings of the survey as evidence of a cosseted “snowflake” generation that has unrealistic expectations of life as a result of coming of age in the era of social media and relative prosperity.

To do so is to miss the point. Regardless of the causes, the widespread dissatisfaction felt among young people is both real and tangible. As the youth council points out it will – if allowed to fester – have serious consequences for social cohesion. It is not too difficult to draw a straight line between the findings of the survey and support amongst young people for more extreme positions on both the right and left of the political spectrum.

In this regard the survey is something of a wake-up call to the political parties that have been in government in one form or another for most of this group’s lifetime. It is a warning of what might await them at the ballot box as a result of their failure to address the housing crisis and stem rising intergenerational inequality.