While the whole nation has been deeply impacted by the pandemic and subsequent restrictions, new research has found that young people have been hit twice as hard by coronavirus job cuts and have experienced greater levels of mental health problems since the start of the pandemic. Considering that the coronavirus is much more likely to cause serious health issues and death for the elderly and vulnerable—and that most young people who contract the virus recover—a growing number of psychologists, economists, and child welfare experts have questioned whether sacrificing the mental and financial wellbeing of young people outweighs the health risks to them, and whether it might be time for a different approach to lockdowns.
In our latest polling this week, we found young people are split as to whether they think their financial situation will worsen or remain the same in the next three months: 30% of 18-to-24-year-olds think their financial situation will remain the same in the next three months, while 32% think it will worsen. On the other hand, the majority (51%) of those over 65 think their financial situation will remain the same, likely owing to the fact that the vast majority (83%) of respondents in this group are retired and are not concerned about losing their work. Under-25s were more likely to be furloughed than any other group, and with the furlough scheme coming to an end, many young people are concerned about their financial situation going forward.
Nevertheless, younger people are also more likely to think that their financial situation will actually improve in the next 3 months. 17% of 18-to-24-year-olds and 25-to-34-year-olds think their financial situation will improve compared to 5% of 55-to-64-year-olds. But on the eve of the national lockdown in March, 30% of employees in sectors that were shut down were under the age of 25. Moreover, the job cuts which have occurred as a result of lockdowns, especially in the hospitality sector, have disproportionately affected young people. Therefore, the optimism expressed by a minority of younger people could be indicative of how the economic impact of the virus has already been felt by the young very early on in the pandemic and perhaps a belief that, financially, things can only improve. Likewise, the limited proportion of older respondents who think their financial situation might improve is likely a reflection of the fact many of them live on pensions or savings whose value is clear to them, and thus there is very limited uncertainty about their future financial wellbeing, whether for better or worse.
A plurality of 18-to-24-year-olds (36%) and 25-to-34-year-olds (44%) think their happiness and wellbeing will worsen in the next three months, while pluralities in the older age groups say their wellbeing and happiness is likely to stay the same.
At the same time, younger people are also more likely to be optimistic than older age brackets: a fifth (20%) of 18-to-24-year-olds think that their wellbeing and happiness is likely to improve in the next three months, compared to just 3% of those over 65. When it comes to what the next few months’ hold, there are not only significant disparities between age groups, but significant differences within age groups.
While the majority in all age groups say they have been fully adhering to the rules in their local area, nearly half (47%) of 18-to-24-year-olds admit they have only been mostly adhering to the rules in their local area, compared to less than a quarter (23%) of those over 65. Given that the restrictions imposed through the new ‘tier system’ are legally enforceable, the fact that such a substantial proportion are not complying provides some indication of the level of frustration among younger people.
A lack of adherence to all of the lockdown rules may demonstrate how young people are struggling with the lack of freedom: only 35% of 18-to-24-year-olds think the Government understands the economic and social damage the current restrictions are having on the public, compared to the majority of 55-to-64-year-olds (51%) and those over 65 (63%).
The majority of 18-to-24-year-olds (56%) and 25-to-34-year-olds (56%) agree that younger generations are being asked to make too large a financial sacrifice as a result of the local or national lockdowns that are primarily intended to protect the elderly. On the contrary, pluralities of 55-to-64-year-olds (46%) and those over 65 (47%) disagree.
Furthermore, 37% of 18-to-24-year-olds would prefer the Government to mistakenly implement measures that are not restrictive enough, while another 37% would prefer the Government mistakenly implement measures that are overly restrictive. Those in the 25-to-34-year-old age group are similarly divided. By contrast, a clear majority (59%) of those over 65 would prefer the Government were overly cautious. Younger people’s health is less likely to be directly impacted by the virus and they overwhelming think every step should be taken to protect the elderly, but some young people are clearly more inclined to favour erring on the side of less restrictive forms of lockdown.
While the majority of 55-to-64-year-olds (51%) and those over 65 (58%) would prefer the Government decide what actions they are allowed to take during the pandemic, young people are starkly divided. 37% of 18-to-24-year-olds would also prefer it if the Government decided, yet a similar proportion (34%) would prefer to make their own decisions about what actions they take during the pandemic. Those aged 25-to-34 are similarly divided, with 42% favouring the Government making the decision and 39% favouring personal decision-making being allowed.
Almost a quarter of 18-to-24-year-olds (24%) and 25-to-34-year-olds (23%) are aware of the Great Barrington Declaration, compared to 15% of the overall sample. The Declaration is a pact created by scientific experts from Oxford, Harvard, and Stanford, that calls for an end to lockdowns. Instead, it suggests that the best way to tackle the pandemic is to provide “focused protection” for the elderly and vulnerable, which the scientists argue will reduce the damage currently caused by lockdowns on those that are unlikely to be significantly harmed by the virus. However, the widespread lack of awareness surrounding this declaration is illustrative of the limited scope of the public debate surrounding lockdowns.
And when respondents are provided with a description of the Great Barrington Declaration, younger age groups are evenly split on whether this more focused approach to restrictions would be better or worse than a lockdown-centred approach, while clear pluralities in the older age groups think the Great Barrington Declaration would be worse than a strategy involving regular lockdowns. Ultimately, younger people are more likely to be aware of different scientific proposals to combat the virus and are more likely to be receptive to them.
Overall, although younger people are not adhering the lockdown restrictions as strictly as the older members of society, and they are pessimistic about the coming hardship on their personal wellbeing or financial circumstances. Young respondents to our polls display a clear concern that their financial situation, happiness, and wellbeing will decline over the winter, and they are more likely to feel that the younger generations have had to make too large a sacrifice as a result of lockdowns. Financial worries among younger people are likely to rise further as the furlough scheme ends this weekend, and a substantial proportion of younger people ultimately believe that the Government does not understand the economic and social damage caused by lockdown. If the economic prospects for younger people continue to decline, the sacrifices most are making may no longer seem worth it to them, suggesting a future broader generational schism in attitudes towards the coronavirus is very possible.