It is a lucky person who finds affordable housing close to a job that makes them enough money to have spare time to make new friends, find new lovers and to actually explore what the local community might offerby Mark Brown / May 2, 2018 / Leave a comment
When we are asked to picture who is most likely to be lonely, we seldom picture young people taking their first independent steps in the world. Surely being young is about fun, friendship, freedom: going out and taking life by the scruff of the neck?
Apparently not. Despite accusations of selfish hedonism and feckless self-indulgence—where failing to get on the property ladder is a result of too many avocados—the endless treadmill of making the rent each month isn’t all fun and games. According to new Office of National Statistics research, Generation Rent is getting lonelier: younger people who rent report feeling lonely more often than older people who are settled and live in homes they own.
Using data taken from the 2016 to 2017 Community Life Survey, the ONS identified three groups of people as being most at risk of loneliness: widowed older homeowners living alone with long-term health conditions; unmarried, middle-agers with long-term health conditions; and younger renters with little trust and sense of belonging to their area. To give an idea of scale, 46 percent of people aged 25 to 34 rent from a private landlord. In 2016 to 2017 five percent of adults in England said they were lonely “often” or “always.” Women said they felt lonely more often than men
The survey found young people were likely to be in paid work and, while they tended to identify their marital status as single, just over half were cohabiting. Yet the researchers found 61 percent of young renters aged between 16 and 34 reported they felt lonely occasionally or more frequently, compared with 46 percent of the overall sample.
The explanation may lie in how this younger generation relates not only to their housemates, partner or colleagues, but the place they live. Only 25 percent of them felt they could trust their neighbours, 70 percent of them lived in the 50 percent of most deprived areas or neighbourhoods and 55 percent said they belonged to their neighbourhood “not very strongly” or “not at all.”
One of the defining experiences of Generation Rent is the feeling of having somewhere to live but never really living there. The shared house or poky flat becomes a place only seen in darkness: a storage space with a bed; a staging post, rather than a home. The local community is takeaway menus and ever-growing paranoia about the kids who hang around in the stairwell.
Even cohabiting with a partner might be an economic choice rather than a romantic one—and that’s if you can find the time and money to date in the first place.
It is a lucky person who finds affordable housing close to a job that makes them enough money to have spare time to make new friends, find new lovers and to actually explore what the local community might offer. For the rest, the economics of actually having a life is a desperate balancing act between the affordability of rent, the cost of travel and the desperate hope for, perhaps one day, enough left over to save for a place of one’s own.
People do not plan to be lonely. Renting starts as a stop gap but soon becomes all there is, like the “day job” taken so that another creative career can be explored that eventually just becomes “a job.”
Feminist Nancy Fraser refers to the current phase of capitalism as being characterised by a crisis of social reproduction, where the demands of social and economic life make it impossible to maintain the social capacities such as having and raising kids, caring for friends and family, maintaining households and broader communities, and sustaining social connections that are vital for us to be able to continue as people.
At the end of the day, at the end of the month, there is nothing left over to be put into vital work of building the relationship that sustain us and through which we sustain others. As the band LCD Soundsystem, a favourite of our generation, put it: “You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan and the next five years trying to be with your friends again.” Renting creates a hole which it seems little can fill, and eventually it will be big enough to fall into.
As social mobility slows, short term tenancies with little security, a volatile jobs market and an ever-widening gap between those who can buy and those who can’t mean that the slow, steady process of making friends and finding community grinds to a halt. A constant centrifugal force of rising house prices spins you and your friends further from each other.
There is no magic solution to loneliness. Forever delaying the establishment of friends, family and community relationships as the conservative home-owning dream of two kids, two cats, a big kitchen and a welcome mat recedes is creating a timebomb of social debt, of communities weakened and friendships lost or never made. Unless something changes and this crisis of social reproduction is averted, young and lonely renters are likely to become older, lonely renters—and the cycle will continue.