OPINION23 February 2010

Generation lost…?

The recession’s over (apparently) and now life can get ‘back on track’? This belies a certain amount of infinite opportunity and potential. We can learn from the folly of those irresponsible bankers and start being uber-responsible citizens, wresting control back over our own destinies.

And, if you’re young, the chances are you didn’t have much to lose anyway. Few investments and a fat chance of getting onto the property ladder meant that all most of us had to worry about during the recession was fleecing 2 for 1 deals courtesy of the ever generous Martin Lewis.

At Voodoo, we’ve spent a lot of time speaking with those who have proverbially (and somewhat forebodingly) been dubbed ‘The Lost Generation’. But what now for those pre-family and pre-mortgage in the post recession landscape? What are the implications (both positive and negative) for their outlook, lifestyle and spending?

For starters, I contend that it’s not really a ‘whole new world’ but a world we’re looking at in a whole new way. In spite of the continuing smugness to be gleaned from ‘voucher-coding’, life isn’t looking that rosy for the post-school, pre-career crowd. A generation has had to start actively thinking and evaluating the future.

The record 952,000 16-24 year olds out of work in the third quarter of 2009 would indicate that pursuing higher education is a smart (and necessary) way to see out the aftermath of the recession. However, given the record number of cuts in higher education funding, university is looking a less secure prospect. In fact, gaining any sense of ‘control’ in the current climate is becoming increasingly out of reach.

But it’s not all gloomy. This challenge in shaping our destinies on a macro level (no job, no uni course, no ‘certain’ future) could well have a positive impact, perhaps even sparking a more profound reorientation of life priorities. Before, life’s trajectory was pretty much ‘deserved’ and ‘expected’ for a majority of middle-class young people; instant gratification ruled. Facing the prospect of short term insecurity means the concept of longer-term wins (and investments) is suddenly not only more relevant but increasingly necessary.

Anecdotally, I know a number of ‘early career-switchers’; each one of them spurning the ‘get rich quick culture’ of the post-university careerists in favour of more tangible, fulfilling and ‘human’ pursuits with less attractive salary packages. An estimated 51% increase in graduate applications to the public sector in 2009 may merely be the sign of a greater desire for job security. But, wearing my optimistic hat, I’d like to think it’s less of a symptom and more of a cure to the previous conspicuous consumption that dominated the pre-recession landscape for the majority of credit card wielding young adults.

Considered purchasing and the value of a debt-free lifestyle may yet become aspirational in a way never anticipated before. The poor performance of the high street stores earlier in the year was largely attributed to the snow but VAT’s return to 17.5% is bound to have contributed, too. Price comparison sites and cost-saving apps are likely to become more and more popular as ‘savvy spending’ becomes the new micro route to ‘control’ for a generation of young people.

It’s not only spending and career choices that have been impacted by viewing life through this new lens. The decline of ‘I deserve, I expect’ culture means we have found a renewed sense of self-reliance and creativity. Growing our own food, crafting our own clothes and making our own entertainment are just some of the notable examples (you don’t have to look too far to witness the ironic re-embrace of the cheese and wine/fondue evening/dinner party dating amongst this audience).