GENERATION Y: Inside the mind of British youth

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Britain's young people are likely to have lost their virginity by the time they are 17, treat taking drugs as just another consumer experience and regard the political establishment with utter contempt according to an extensive study by The Indepe ndent into the lives of 16-24 year olds.

The study, published in five parts this week, confounds many of the conventional wisdoms. It finds that Generation Y, as the new generation has been labelled, are hard headed new realists, who have learnt many of the lessons of Thatcherism and yet combine them with radical views on the environment and their right to choose their lifestyles.

Generation Y is the successor to Generation X, the so called "slackers" defined by market research mainly in the United States. It was regarded as being so dispirited that it had given up on work and ambition.

The key findings of The Independent's research, the result of scores of interviews and in-depth discussion groups, are : n Sex. Generation Y is extremely knowledgeable, in large part because it has never lived without the threat of Aids. Values are influenced by the liberal ideas of the Sixties and Seventies, which mean they expect to have several sexual partners in their teens and a caution bred by Aids, which at times makes them sound prudish. Some say that as a result, non-penetrative sex is increasingly common.

Young women are increasingly assertive, rejecting feminism as just as outmoded as male paternalism. Their confidence is mirrored in a mounting identity crisis among many young men over sex and how to approach women.

n Drugs. Generation Y regards drugs as just another consumable item. Taking drugs is a part of everday life rather than an act of rebellion. Many think it is more responsible than their parents' consumption of alcohol. Although drug culture is central toGeneration Y's lifestyle, it shows no signs of breeding a counter culture as it did in the Sixties.

n Work. Generation Y is post-Thatcherite. In contrast to Generation X, work is very important. It is relatively individualistic and materialistic; and believes a modicum of wealth is essential to well being. Young people recognise that no one owes them aliving, to prosper they must compete in the jobs market. Education and qualifications are vital to their employment prospects. None of those interviewed expected to have a job for life n Politics. Almost every young person interviewed said party politics was at best irrelevant to them, at worst completely corrupt. Generation Y is fired up by a combination of environmentalism and libertarianism and particularly the freedom to pursue diverse lifestyles. It believes in "issue-ism" rather than ideology.

It is not out to overthrow society, its political ambitions are more local and specific -as in the campaigns against the Criminal Justice Act and live animal exports.When asked to devise a manifesto, one group recommended hard right policies such as making people work for benefits and asking the better off to pay for health care, combined with radical measures to protect the environment and leftist policies such as a minimum wage.