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Wednesday, 27 November, 2002, 16:07 GMT
Behind the twenty-something malaise

Born in the 1970s? Then you earn more than the children of the 60s, but you are also more miserable, according to a new report. Why?
First the good news. If you were born after 1970 you earn more than Britons who grew up in the 1960s did when they were your age.

Twenty-something male graduates (in childless relationships, who did well in maths tests aged 11 and whose parents owned their own homes) are doing particularly well.

Scottish pupils open exam results
Do well in maths? It will show in your pay packet, probably
The bad news? It's a surprise you can find time to gloat over your wage slip, what with your increased propensity for headaches, fatigue, indigestion, violent rages and other worries.

Perhaps you can enjoy thinking about your salary during one of the sleepless nights you're more prone to having, or when you wake up "unnecessarily early".

A new report comparing the earnings and well-being of people growing up in 1960s and 1970s is grim reading for those who assume that so-called Generation X is having an easy ride of it.

Measuring malaise

People born in 1958 and in 1970 were quizzed on their minor maladies and the state of their nerves when they reached their mid-20s.

Aside from reporting fewer twinges of rheumatism, the younger generation racked up higher scores in the so-called "malaise inventory", used to measure their experience of non-clinical depression.

The malaise inventory:

  • Often find people annoying?
  • Mostly feel tired?
  • Often worry about things?
  • Often have backache?
  • Often feel miserable?
  • Difficulty sleeping?
  • Easily upset?

    Source: Young people's changing routes to independence. Joseph Rowntree Foundation

  • Female Generation-Xers fared especially badly when compared to their elders.

    A fifth of the women born in 1958 said they were affected by none of the 24 problems that make up the malaise inventory. Fewer than one in ten women born in 1970 were so lucky.

    At the miserable end of the malaise inventory - where respondents endured eight or more problems - the 1970 group featured twice as often the older women.

    This runs contrary to studies in other western European nations, which showed life satisfaction actually improving with every new generation. The UK is unique in having increasingly miserable young people.

    Middle-aged British Baby Boomers may think their young offspring are just feeling sorry for themselves. But one of the report's authors, Professor Peter Elias, says the seemingly minor problems in the malaise inventory are good indicators for those prone to full-blown depression.

    Degree of happiness

    Traditionally educational qualifications have made people happier. A degree for a 1958 baby "protected them quite strongly from depression", says Mr Elias.

    Average hourly wage in mid-20s
    Women born in 1958: 1.68
    Women born in 1970: 4.97
    Men born in 1958: 1.95
    Men born in 1970: 5.47
    Although Generation-Xers are far more likely to have gone to university - in many cases to escape a job market in recession - these graduates seem not to be so protected from unhappiness.

    "We don't really understand the increase. We suspect it's something to do with pressure," says Mr Elias.

    "Though some of the 1970 people are earning more, there's more risk and uncertainty in their workplaces. They have experienced more unemployment and have more friends who have been unemployed."

    Clever clogs

    It seems you can indeed be too clever for you own good. "The younger group is better educated, but there aren't necessarily better jobs for them to do," says Mr Elias.

    This may have created what the report's authors call a "crisis of expectations", where Generation-Xers were promised a bright tomorrow but woke up to cloud and drizzle.

    A fast food restaurant
    Do you want fries with that? Many Xers are also in low-income jobs without prospects
    "Women's expectations especially have been raised. They have been promised many things, but reality hasn't turned out that way."

    Despite women born in 1970 having better qualifications than their male contemporaries, the report found these men still earned on average 50p an hour more.

    If you're a twenty-something who has yet to be made miserable by these findings, remember that good news about earnings mentioned earlier on?

    Many Generations-Xers may well be earning more than previous generations did in their 20s, but when compared to older members of the UK workforce their wages have slipped by as much as 12%.

    Are you in your 20s and agree with the report? Are you older and think the twenty-somethings are feeling sorry for themselves? Add your comment using the form below.

    I was born in 1974, and I totally concur with the findings of the study. I think the phrase, "crisis of expectations" hits the nail on the head. My peer group finished A-levels in 1992, full of expectations, only to find an economy in recession and huge unemployment. I think this feeling of "let down" was exacerbated by the older siblings, etc that we looked up to who did very well in the 80s boom.
    Jeremy Burton, UK

    My peers (myself included) have high expectations from life, we feel that we should have certain standards, and although we may be doing relatively well, it is easy to feel you deserve more. Such high expectations can lead to debt and add to the load of worry.
    Damien Bove, England

    We did too many Es. Study that.
    Joe UK

    I don't normally take a great deal of notice of 'generic' surveys like this, but I found a lot of it to be ringing true! People have annoyed me for the last year or so, and I have sporadic indigestion and back ache too. I'd put down being tired a lot to late nights, but now I realise it was because I was born in 1974!!
    Pete Burton, England

    I have only just turned 30 and the 'malaise list' describes exactly how I am feeling today!!!! Does it get better from here on in?
    Adrian Smith, UK

    I was born in 1957 and in many ways feel as though we have enjoyed the best of all possible worlds, I still like "some" of the modern hits, and can remember Jimi on TOTP in 1967.
    Julian Sims, England

    This hits the nail on the head. The biggest problem is that life is now too easy for lots of people, increasing affluence means less of a challenge to get out of bed for. People need something to fight for, and none of the jobs I've had since graduating have ever given me that. Now, image is everything, the actual substance doesn't matter so much and I am less motivated as a result. The worst thing about work is that nobody really seems to care about it, they just want to take the money and go home, or go out and get drunk.
    Richard Hughson, UK

    I think the moaners are just spoilt brats, in my day we just got on with trials of life - deal with it. This generation didn't have a war so have no cause to complain
    Jan, Kingswood

    Jan - congratulations for wheeling out the good old "war" argument. Yes, clearly because we didn't fight a war, we have absolutely nothing to be concerned about whatsoever. So I can just happily forget worrying I may not have a pension when I'm older, worrying that companies now chop & change so much I may not have a job next week, and of course the fact I won't be able to afford to buy a house until I'm in my mid 40's, and worrying that the ineptitude of previous generations has left a planet half-starved and half at each others throats. N.B. I am of course massively spoilt.
    Gaz Haman, UK

    Jan, don't speak too soon we may still have one in the New Year.
    Rachael, Cambridge, UK

    It's interesting to note that most of the problems on the Malaise list also occur to people spending large amounts of time sitting in front of a computer, couple this with the fact that the 70's generation are the first big computing generation and I think we have the real culprit. Answer: Move to Munich and become a lumberjack like me. (OK well eCommerce developer, but they're nearly the same thing).
    Allan Knabe, Munich, Germany

    For God's sake stop whining. Every generation has its crosses to bear. Born in 1969 I left school, with no less expectations of life than later generations, into an era of genuine mass unemployment. It was not pleasant but taught me the leson that life is not about work, if you expect what you happen to do for a living to be the corner stone of your existence on this planet and the root of all happiness you are on a hidding to nothing. Look to your relationships, family and nature to discover what's realy important.
    Danny, England

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