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FT readers speak of the difficulties — and benefits — of being young in today’s difficult economic times © Robert Hanson

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Growing inequality between generations has been exacerbated by the pandemic and has left many people in their teens, twenties and thirties feeling like they have got a raw deal.

The Financial Times wanted to bring those young people into a discussion about shifts in asset prices, pensions, education and the world of work so we launched a global survey. We asked people aged between 16 and 35 to tell us what life has been like for them in the pandemic, and which problems need fixing most urgently.

The survey was only open for one week but we had a record number of responses, with 1,700 people replying to the callout and spending an average of 30 minutes each on their responses.

While the majority of respondents were from the UK and US, others who shared their views were from Europe, Brazil, Egypt, and Asia-Pacific. Many of the respondents, though not all, were graduates who worked in sectors such as law, banking, media, education, science and technology. Many did not want to share their full names or personal details for fear of professional and personal repercussions.

People spoke of the difficulties — and benefits — of being young in today’s difficult economic times compared with their parents’ generation, and about issues relating to housing, education, jobs, pensions and the environment.

The responses formed the starting point for an in-depth analysis of the problems faced by young people today by Sarah O’Connor, our employment columnist. It is the first article in an FT series on what policies would make the economy work better for today’s youth.

Here we highlight some of the many hundreds of comments we received from readers:

Cramped housing

I absolutely cannot relate to mid career professionals being glad to be at home in their leafy three bedroom houses with gardens, when I have to have mid afternoon calls with the sound of my flatmates frying fish for lunch in the background. — A 20-year-old female reader living in London

The burden of student loans

Student loans feel like a unique problem for our generation. I can’t think of a similarity in the past when youth had such large financial burdens that can’t be discharged in most cases. Not that cancellation is necessarily the right choice. I knew what I signed up for, but what was the alternative, work in a coffee shop while the rest of my generation bettered themselves?

Mortgages and car payments just aren’t comparable to the $100k in loans I’ve been forced to deal with since I was 22. The rest seems similar. We have climate change and equality, my parents generations had communist totalitarian governments, nuclear war and . . . equality. — Matt, who works in Chicago, US

Mismatched ideas

The older generation has never understood that while our pay has increased it has been wiped out by extortionate rise in property prices. The older generation also thinks young people only enjoy spending money on experiences rather than saving money, which is not true. — A 30-year-old engineer living in the UK

Living with uncertainty

Older generations don’t feel the uncertainty we younger generation live with. Now it is more common for us to have more temporary jobs, for example, the gig economy. This uncertainty makes planning for future harder and makes taking risks impossible. — Ahmed, a lecturer living in Egypt

Scrap stamp duty on housing

The government needs to sort out house prices and stop inflating them. It should also scrap stamp duty and introduce annual property taxes instead. — A 25-year-old investment banker living in London

Emotionally better off than my parents

I know I’ll be better off than my parents. My mom came from an Italian immigrant family with seven siblings. I’m one of the first people to graduate from college with a four-year degree and one of the only people employed. Neither of my parents really ‘did’ therapy through their adult lives despite needing it, whereas I’ve had a therapist since my second year in college.

I think a common misperception about being better off is the focus on wealth — being better off also means being more emotionally and mentally healthy, which I know I am already better off than many of my family members. — Alicia, a financial analyst living in America

Burnt out

London feels increasingly full of anxious, burnt out 20- and 30-something-year-olds who spend half their income on a cramped flat with a damp problem and spend their weekends in the foetal position on their landlord’s Ikea sofa, endlessly scrolling through the latest app.

We have so much more than our parents did at our age, but also so much less. — A 25-year-old woman from the UK

Artificially high property prices

Current policies like Help to Buy are making things worse for young people in Britain. The prices of new builds are artificially inflated as builders know HTB can only be used on new builds! £450,000 for a one bed flat in London? Jog on. It’s insane. — Chris, in his late twenties living in London

Gen X doesn’t understand Gen Y

Generation X, doesn’t understand Generation Y, who doesn’t understand Generation Z — Andreas, a young doctor from Bulgaria

Regulate financial markets

I also have a feeling that regulating the financial markets would create more stability which would reduce the constant fear of a market meltdown — Kasper from Finland

Who is accountable?

Sustainability (renewable energy, mindful meat consumption, plastic usage awareness, social responsibility, ESG) are utmost key, and older generations seem to miss this. It feels they have put us in a stage where there is no going back, and there is no accountability whatsoever. — Renato, a risk manager from Brazil

Soaring rents

Many items that are considered a luxury to older generations, holidays, clothes, going out to eat, for example, are cheaper these days, but buying a house or renting is so much more expensive compared to when my parents were young. A lot of young people can afford the former not the latter, but for many older generations it seems the opposite was true, which creates contrasting views from each side about who has it worse. — Sophie, in her mid-twenties, from London

Young vs old

A number of older people I know are relatively sympathetic to a lot of the issues we face. There is a young versus old narrative pushed by certain sections of the media which, at least for many older people with families, has rung hollow with me. Generally they do recognise that we live in a more competitive world than they grew up in, for university places, jobs, housing etc. If anything I feel older generations probably understand younger people better than we understand them — Alex, a student solicitor in London

Cannot afford to buy a house

There is no acceptance that working from home is not feasible for younger people where you’re in significantly smaller accommodation. My company released an internal communication informing us how to be more efficient working in shared accommodation or working from your bedroom at the same time as starting consultation on closing all offices and homeworking permanently. — Lewis, who is working and studying in Bristol, UK

I have a mildly dystopian view

I feel older generations don’t understand the value of money, and it feels strange because my parents have lived a frugal life and I am doing well enough for myself, yet, given the economy, I feel compelled to save, while they don’t understand why I think thrice before every purchase.

On the issue of non-renewable resources, I feel that my parents have a particularly different mindset compared to mine; I have a mild compulsion to turn off any running tap or switch if it’s not being used. They have this comfort and faith that there will be enough for the coming generations, while I have a mildly dystopian view of the future Water/Resource Wars — Pia, a woman in her twenties in India

Steep housing costs

At my age on an apprentice’s salary my dad owned his own house and was buying and flipping more houses. I’ve got a masters degree, earning about 40 per cent more than the national average and I’m still struggling to find anywhere. They just don’t seem to understand, my dad refused to believe me until I showed him the tiny studio flats selling in my area for almost £300k — A data scientist in his late twenties, working in the UK

My generation is worn out

In many ways I think I am better off than my parents were. I’ve been able to travel and live in different countries. I had more choices than women before me. Where I live, I can love whomever I want to love. I do not have a physical job that wears down my body. But I guess each generation faces different challenges.

My generation is perhaps more likely to be mentally worn out. Housing is less affordable and returns are relatively less certain and I don’t have a pension or a pensions saving account that is protected from double taxation. — Deborah from the Netherlands

Change the voting system

It is probably an unrealistic policy change, but I would like to see some kind of weighting system applied to future voting (be it elections or referendums). The older you are, the fewer years you have left to live and the less you will have to suffer from poor long-term choices.

Brexit is a good example of this. Foolish and impressionable members of the older generation selfishly voted to leave the EU — a decision which will cause long-term damage for my generation well after they are deceased. Older people’s votes should have counted for less in the referendum. — David, working in fintech in London

Introduce a ‘meat licence’

I would introduce a “meat license” which every adult in the UK would require before they purchase/consume meat. To get this license, once a year they would have to go to an abattoir and slaughter a cow or pig. Once they have done this, they are allowed to consume as much meat as they want during the year.

This would encourage others to switch to alternatives that are available or at least reduce meat waste which is a tragically growing issue in the rich world. — Dan, working in London, UK

Replace student fees

Instead of tuition fee loans and maintenance loans I would give all young people a lump sum at regular intervals for their first several years post 18. They could use this towards going to uni, getting training, buying a house, etc. It would help diversify the paths people take post 18 whilst redistributing wealth. — A man in his mid-twenties living in Sheffield, UK

*Comments have been edited for length, style and clarity

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