Put away the shot glasses and haul out the empties: booze Britain is on its last legs. According to the Office for National Statistics, the proportion of youngsters binge-drinking on a weekly basis has fallen by just over 10 per cent since 2005, while a quarter of 16 to 25-year-olds are choosing to abstain from alcohol altogether. It’s the 40 and 50-somethings – broadly, the ones with jobs and houses – who are getting properly, regularly hammered.
Possibly the most surprising thing about the news that young people are in fact an overwhelmingly civilised species is that we should be surprised. Then again, is it any wonder when we are drip-fed images of mini-skirted girls, three sheets to the wind, tottering out of city-centre chain pubs and hurling into the nearest gutter?
We live in a world where young people are forever portrayed as apathetic, Instagram-obsessed, work-shy, don’t-know-they’re-born nitwits, but these figures show we’ve got it all topsy-turvy. It’s we grown-ups who are the idiots now.
I spend half my working week with students and it’s with a combination of awe and relief that I find they are, by and large, sensible, resourceful, resilient and kind. Some have endured real hardship while others have glided through life on luck and a loving family. But whatever their backgrounds, they look after each other, phone their mums and, while getting out of bed is an eternal struggle, they’re not afraid of hard graft. They are, by some distance, some of the best people I have met.
On the occasions that my patience is tested by the odd display of narcissism, I only need look back at myself 20 years ago, when my student debt never exceeded four figures, and when, post-university, I could look forward to living off benefits while I dithered over my true calling, and I am chastened. I had a blast back then – which was, after all, the point of higher education – but I wouldn’t want to be the one trying to teach me about real life.
In fact, real life was a breeze for the new graduate. Now, aside from the privileged few, what do today’s young adults have to look forward to? It’s a future where, whether they are educated or not, menial work and temporary contracts stretch out to the horizon. It’s one where home ownership looks as feasible as a daytrip to the Moon. For students, it’s £30,000 of debt by their 21st birthdays and squeezing back into their childhood bedrooms while they take their first steps towards self-sufficiency. This isn’t down to apathy or lack of ability; it’s that the things we took for granted are no longer available to them.
Moaning about the younger generation is a rite of the middle-aged but, all things considered, it’s a wonder that these kids aren’t getting tanked up every night trying not to think about their futures. We should look at them and be proud.