Millennial malaise: unhealthier than their parents?

Published: 21st Jun 2018

In brief

Claim

Millennials are on track to become the first generation to suffer worse health than their parents when they reach middle age, a study has warned.

Conclusion

A report by the Health Foundation says “The gains made as a society in improving the health of previous generations may well be eroded by the precariousness and instability of the lives some young people are facing.” We’ve asked it for more information.

“Millennials are on track to become the first generation to suffer worse health than their parents when they reach middle age, a study has warned.”

The Times, 18 June 2018

Despite “gains made as a society in improving the health of previous generations”, the future health prospects of millennials are “uncertain”, according to the Health Foundation.

The think tank looked at the importance of “social” factors (like secure work and supportive relationships) associated with effects on long-term health prospects, and argues that young people are “not getting the support they need” in those areas. The Health Foundation also says that disadvantage in these areas is often becoming more acute for young people.

We haven’t seen an explicit statement that millennials have worse overall health prospects than their parents. Nor does the Health Foundation try to provide a definitive millennial bill of health.

It states: “The gains made as a society in improving the health of previous generations may well be eroded by the precariousness and instability of the lives some young people are facing.”

We’ve asked the Health Foundation whether the Times’ claim is an accurate reflection of its findings.

The report looks at the “social determinants” of health

These are “conditions that promote good long-term health and wellbeing throughout adult life… the combined effects of education, employment, housing, relationships with family and community”.

The Health Foundation identifies key “building blocks” that underpin these: “a place to call home, secure and rewarding work, and supportive relationships with their friends, family and community”.  It says there is “strong evidence that health inequalities are largely determined by inequalities in these areas”.

It points to evidence in each of these areas, showing how lacking these building blocks can increase stress and anxiety, lower living standards, damage self-esteem, and increase loneliness—all of which negatively affect an individual’s health.

What does young peoples’ social health look like?

The Health Foundation carried out research on social health with 2,000 people in the UK aged 22-26, and also drew on wider research about millennial lifestyles. The research included panels, app-based diaries, social media analysis and online surveys.

The Health Foundation says “In some aspects of young people’s health we have made great progress. But these gains may be temporary, as their current experiences erode their mental health and future health prospects”.

The Health Foundation looked at a wide range of evidence in its report. Some of the evidence it looked at in terms of work and finances included that millennials “are at risk of becoming the first generation to earn less than their predecessors”, and young people have a higher debt to income ratio than older age groups. They’re also more likely to be on zero-hours contracts (36% of all zero-hours contracts were held by 16-24 year olds in the last three months of 2017).

It adds: “Recent research has found that at the age of 25, people on zero-hours contracts were less likely to report feeling healthy than those in more secure work and reported more symptoms of psychological distress.” The Health Foundation also reported that almost half of recent graduates in work are employed in ‘non-graduate’ roles, and 28% of working young people “feel trapped in a cycle of jobs they do not want”.

It notes that “Young people today are more likely to go to university than ever before”, and that “Higher levels of education have been associated with better future health.” However, they add that it’s also “unknown whether highly educated individuals who have few opportunities and low incomes will continue to experience the same strong health prospects”.

In terms of friends, mental health and loneliness, the Health Foundation reports that “the proportion of young people who feel they have someone to rely on has decreased in recent years”. The number of young people reporting mental health issues, like anxiety or depression, has also been rising.


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