Young people’s wellbeing linked to reaching big life milestones

Young parents with baby moving into new home.

Researchers have found that your generation had lower levels of life satisfaction in your mid-twenties compared to those born 20 years earlier, and that this may be partly explained by changes in when people are reaching big life milestones.

Using Next Steps, and a similar study following a group of people born in 1970, the team of researchers at UCL found that there is a strong link between life satisfaction and certain key life events. These include things like moving out of the family home, moving in with a partner, and having children.

What we asked you

When you were 25, we asked you how satisfied you were with your life so far and for information about the following five life milestones:

  • leaving full-time education
  • entering full-time work
  • moving out of your family home
  • moving in with a partner
  • having children.

A team of researchers at UCL compared your answers with data collected from participants in a similar study when they were in their mid-twenties, back in the mid-1990s.

The researchers looked at the connections between these life milestones and life satisfaction, to see whether they were as important for your generation’s wellbeing as they had been for the older generation.

What the research found

The researchers found that in 20 years, levels of life satisfaction had dipped for people in their mid-twenties. Among men, 79% of those born in 1970 were satisfied with their lives at this age compared to 68% of men of your generation. The proportion of women satisfied with their lives had dropped from 81% to 75%.

For participants in Next Steps and the other study, life satisfaction was strongly linked to home ownership, full-time work, living with a partner and marriage. However, your generation were significantly less likely to have reached these milestones by your mid-twenties.

At the same time, some things had changed for women specifically. Not being in full-time work now had a bigger negative impact on women’s life satisfaction than it had for the older generation, possibly due to increasing financial pressures.

In addition, motherhood appeared to give more of a boost to women’s wellbeing than before. Previous research has shown that parents tend to report higher wellbeing in the years before and after childbirth. So one explanation for this more recent finding could be that more of the mothers of your generation were new to motherhood in their mid-twenties compared to the generation born in 1970 at this age.

Why this research matters

These findings highlight a possible link between decreasing life satisfaction among young people and the changing nature of adulthood in the 21st century. The researchers note that younger generations are facing more challenges in achieving key milestones and that policies should focus on providing better housing and employment opportunities to improve wellbeing.

Find out more about this research

Transition milestones and life satisfaction at ages 25/26 among cohorts born in 1970 and 1989–90 by T. Gagné, A. Sacker, and I. Schoon was published in Advances in Life Course Research in 2022.