The kids aren’t alright

Think tank: Onward

Author(s): Luke Stanley; Will Tanner; Jenevieve Treadwell; James Blagden

September 1, 2022

This report from UK think tank Onward looks at why young people are detaching from democratic and social norms – and what to do about it.

Young people today are unhappier, less socially trusting, and more detached from society than young people historically or older people today. They have fewer friends and lower quality friendships. They are less likely to volunteer or contribute to their neighbourhood. They are more likely to suffer emotional problems at school and stress at work. And their narrowing social networks are undermining economic mobility. All of these are self-reinforcing, with narrower networks driving greater loneliness and lower social trust. This is not just about rising loneliness among young people. It is also driving a generational slide away from democracy and social norms and towards atomisation and authoritarianism. Nearly half of millennials believe that army rule would be a good way to run the country, for example, triple the level a decade ago. The atomisation of youth will have profound implications if left unchecked. But what is driving this crisis – and what can be done about it? Onward’s Age of Alienation report last year exposed these trends and how they have changed over time. We found some correlation between rising levels of university enrolment and declining homeownership and falling rates of neighbourliness, but could not examine more proximate causes of declining social trust, friendship quality and support for democracy. That is the task of this paper, drawing on a major survey of 8,000 people by J.L. Partners and new analysis of official surveys.