- European millennials, who are now in their early 20s and mid-30s, have come of age in a troubled economic climate that shows little signs of improvement.
- Millennials are confident, however, that one day they will have it all—a meaningful job, time off to travel, and the ability to retire at 65.
- Millennials will profit from the arrival of smart homes and technology-savvy healthcare systems.
The economic downturn has generally blunted millennials’ progression towards financial freedom. According to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, one in five millennials in the euro zone are unemployed, and roughly half of this generation were still living at home in 20141. Among those who do have jobs, their workplace experience is dominated by internships that are low-paid or unpaid and by part-time work that barely covers their rent, says Johanna Nyman, 27-year-old president of the European Youth Forum (EYF), a platform of non-governmental youth organisations across Europe. “Millennials feel like they are being robbed of the foundation for their future.”
The long and the short of it
Their inability to obtain well-paid, full-time jobs is not just affecting their short-term finances. In a presentation to the House of Lords EU Committee on EU actions to tackle youth unemployment, Kari Hadjivassiliou, principal research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), a UK-based independent research centre, argued that these delays will have long-term financial and social implications for this generation. “Basically, a young person’s protracted detachment from the labour market results in poor employment prospects. There is also a link to a greater likelihood of precarious employment and wage penalties in terms of lifetime earnings,” she said2.
Unlike previous generations, who regarded finding good jobs, buying homes and planning for retirement as natural rites of passage, this generation takes none of these things for granted. “We as a generation have had to struggle so much more,” Ms Nyman says. “We have to be more careful about what we do in the early years if we want those things.”
You only live once – #YOLO
However, it’s not all gloom and doom. Despite the prevailing economic conditions, this generation is surprisingly optimistic about the future. Most European millennials are satisfied with their own lives, according to data from the Pew Research Centre, a non-profit research organisation based in Washington, DC3. When asked to place themselves on a ladder where ten represents the best possible life and zero the worst, 56% placed themselves between the seventh and the tenth rung, suggesting that their view of life satisfaction is not tied to their bank statement or annual salary. This generation, more than any other, aspires to a greater work-life balance throughout their careers. According to Millennial Careers: 2020 Vision, a report published by ManpowerGroup, an American multinational human resource consultancy, up to 40% of millennials surveyed from 25 countries worldwide plan to take significant breaks for relaxation, travel and raising children4. They are also relatively optimistic about their ability to one day retire—only about 10% anticipate having “to work until they die”, and more than half expect to retire at 65. This compares greatly with 37% of Japanese millennials who think that they will never be able to retire.
Conversely, Mara Swan, executive vice president of ManpowerGroup, worries that the optimism among European millennials may be less about work ethic and more to do with unrealistic expectations. “They have been shaped by their parents’ employment legacy, and they expect the same experiences,” she says. Even if today’s millennial is in full-time employment, a typical 25-year-old will need to contribute roughly £800 (over US$1,000) a month to their pension system over 40 years in order to retire at 65—and this is with a modest income, according to the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investments, the London-based global professional body for the financial and investment industry5. The longer they wait to start contributing, the higher the contributions will need to be.
Smart cities for a smart generation
However, one of the benefits of following on the heels of the baby-boomer generation are the huge investments that are currently being made by public- and private-sector organisations to support Europe’s ageing population. Advances in technology and healthcare monitoring are already under way and will enable millennials to age in a way that no previous generation could have imagined. These include healthcare monitoring devices and service robots that will provide care and assistance at home. In addition, the building of smart housing communities and connected cities will better support, protect and engage Europe’s ageing populations, which should reduce healthcare costs and improve the quality of life in later years.
Switzerland and Germany already rank among the top five countries in the world in which to grow old, according to the Global Age Watch Index 2015, published by HelpAge International, a London-based non-governmental organisation (NGO). This is thanks to their strong public transport systems, social connectedness, high rates of employment among older people and strong healthcare systems6. Ongoing smart city projects are creating a foundation for a safer, friendlier environment for millennials in which to grow old.
While millennials may face an uphill battle to gain economic autonomy, these technological advances, coupled with millennials’ enduring optimism, suggest that their long-term future will be brighter than many people think. This generation has a clear vision of what they want—meaningful jobs and ample time off to enjoy the fruits of their labour—and they are poised to benefit from a world that is being reconfigured to support them in their later years. Although they may be years behind their parents in terms of buying homes and starting families, they are confident that the time spent as unpaid interns and living in overcrowded apartments or their parents’ basements will ultimately pay off. “We are the most well-educated generation ever. We have great skills and we are great communicators,” Ms Nyman says. “Our strengths will shape our future.”