Many have grown up in broken families and have lost their parents' sense of belonging to any community.
Uncertain job prospects add to their insecurity. So, lacking traditional supports, they are forced to create fresh sources of stability and safety.
This extraordinary picture of youthful seriousness emerges from a survey, called 2020 Vision, conducted over two years by the Industrial Society of 10,000 young people aged between 12 and 25.
It portrays a generation bent on personal self-improvement while trying to bolster threatened institutions that offer security. More than half want to strengthen marriage by making it harder to divorce if there are children involved.
A majority think marriage is the best living environment for men and women, against just one in six who think living with a partner is best, and one in 12 who want to live alone. A third think it should be made harder to get married.
"Marriage is important. It is a sign of stability, a foundation and that's important for children," says Jill Patton, 18, a student from Newtownards, Northern Ireland.
Danny Docherty, 18, from Birkenhead, a DJ at night and volunteer youth worker by day, agrees. "It's important to have someone to come home to. Someone who cares for you like you care for them," he says.
Top of this generation's list for higher government spending are the key departments that will keep a person healthy and prepared for work - the National Health Service and education. And, despite several years of falling unemployment, the majority rank unemployment as the most pressing problem in the United Kingdom today.
There is a strong work ethic with only a quarter disagreeing with the statement that "work gives meaning to life".
Work is worthwhile even if unpaid, with a high level of volunteering (15 per cent of young women).
As Danny Docherty says about his unpaid youth work: "I don't care about being paid. I'd rather do a job I enjoy and not be paid than make money and do something I don't enjoy. I make enough out of DJing to the do the voluntary work."
The most important skills are not technical or academic. Some 43 per cent say being able to get on with people is the top priority, along with being able to manage money. "You need to know what to do when you get bills through the post and where to go if you are in trouble financially or mentally," says Mr Docherty. His generation is obsessed with getting educated and making themselves as employable as possible. Nine out of ten say education should continue after school. And this can-do generation does not sit back when out of work: 50 per cent say that if jobless they would get more qualifications, with just a quarter waiting around for the right job. Nor do they expect a handout - better social security benefits rank tenth in their order of areas needing more spending, behind public transport and leisure services.
Young Britons are also highly critical of the education system for not preparing them properly for life, with the majority (63 per cent) feeling school let them down. A third say boredom at school damaged their education.
"I'm a big believer that school doesn't teach life skills," says Karl Reza, 24, who was homeless at 17, when a family row forced him on to the streets. Today he is setting up his own public relations company specialising in youth work. "You need social skills to get a job. School focuses too much on textbooks. There seems to be a belief that children are at home with Mum and Dad caring for them in the background and preparing them for life, but not everyone has perfect parents. My generation is not a product of those sorts of parents. More and more young people are suffering from divorce."
The extent of isolation felt by this generation is astonishing in a country that until recently called itself Christian and prided itself on local loyalties. Just one in five feels part of a community, while only one in ten identifies with a religion or race. Two per cent see themselves as belonging to a political party, while 13 per cent feel part of a social class.
"I'm very much a creature of the planet," says Mr Reza, born in Glasgow of Mauritian parents. "I don't belong to any particular land mass. My skin is brown but I don't feel Mauritian. I feel more British when I go abroad. I don't belong to any religion. I'm open to the existence of anything but I don't believe in God. Some of the Buddhist philosophies I find quite palatable. I don't want to be a member of a class. I'm a person. I've never followed on political party. I'm not a believer in one though if you had to label me I would probably fall somewhere between Labour and the Liberal Democrats."
In the hostile world they inhabit, the majority have been affected by crime by the age of 19. Family background, boredom and drugs are blamed by half as the chief causes of lawlessness. For 75 per cent, particularly women, the greatest fear is physical attack. Mr Reza says: "I think it is disgusting that women can't travel at night. I know women who just can't be as free as I can be. They can't live their lives to the full."
2020 Vision is co-ordinated by the Industrial Society.
The Action Agenda along with full results of the research will be launched next Monday.Reuse content