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Is The Quarter-Life Crisis A Real Epidemic?

11/05/2011 12:19 | Updated 22 May 2015

It came as no surprise to me to hear that increasing numbers of today's twenty-somethings are suffering from a 'quarter-life crisis'.

As melodramatic as the term may sound, the fact that almost three quarters of people aged between 26 and 30 said in a recent poll that they were feeling dissatisfied and frustrated with their lives, is only to be expected.

I can speak with authority, having recently turned 26, and although I am by no means having a 'quarter life crisis', this is the age that friends are starting to take a step back, after five years or so in the work place, and wonder if they have made the right choices.

Children of the 80s are constantly being told by our elders and the media that we missed out and the baby boom generation got it all: the free education, easy access to the property market and pensions.

What do we get in comparison? Nothing, it seems.

Behavioural psychologist, Dr Donna Dawson, commenting on the study, said: "On the whole, young people are much more stressed than previous generations were.

"They leave university saddled with debt, life is more expensive, and it's harder to get on the property ladder. That is why we are seeing this epidemic."

She added: "Young people feel under so much pressure to prove themselves, and the constant struggle to keep up a certain image means you can end up with a sense of failure and emptiness.

"It's the notion that what you own is who you are which causes problems for today's young people."

I couldn't agree more. We are the generation that have been constantly examined, from the age of 11 in school until our A-levels. For many of us, the assessment continued into university. We then jumped into our careers, hell-bent on earning some decent money to afford rent, pay back our escalating student loans and afford the lifestyle we believe we deserve.

At the start of this week yet another study exposed the unrealistic financial aims of the younger generation. A poll conducted by the Royal Bank of Scotland found that the average teenager expects to be earning £61,700 a year by the their mid-30s - when actually the average thirty-something earns £24,333 in the UK.

These young people expect their first starting salary to be around £16,600, rising to £35,400 by their mid-20s. The reality couldn't be more different - with typical 18-21-year-old earns just £8,595, climbing to £18,705 in their 20s.

This generation will have it even worse than the current twenty-somethings as they will be saddled with at least £27,000 a debt instantly upon leaving university, as most higher education institutions continue to raise their tuition fees to £9,000 a year.

What this new study reveals is our unhealthy obsession with earning money and more poignantly, the chasm between the expectations of our generation, and the one below, of the rewards working life can bring, and the reality. We want to do really well and do it really quickly. We have no patience when it comes to earning enough to live well. This imbalance between expection and reality is what leads to these so-called 'quarter-life crises'.

Five years into working life is like no-man's land for many people. You are neither really senior nor really junior anymore. And for those, like me, who have pursued careers in very competitive and over-subscribed worlds – which aren't financially rewarded 'like it once was', according to all the older fat cats around me - you can start to wonder whether it is all worth it.

My advice? Get some hobbies, zoom out and look at the bigger picture. What does it matter if you don't own a home just yet? You might die tomorrow and you spent all of your time worrying about sprinting the up the ladder of life, rather than enjoying the view on the way up.

It's difficult to do – but turn off the Blackberry once you have left work for the evening and really start focusing on compartmentalising work from life. Your improved state of mind could also improve your professional performance so much that you just might be able to afford a Porsche by the time you should be having a middle-life crisis.

Emma Barnett is the Digital Media Editor of The Daily Telegraph. She writes about media, culture, technology and social issues and has a monthly column in The Sunday Telegraph. Emma is also a broadcaster, regularly contributing to BBC Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, BBC World Service, Sky News, ABC, CNN and LBC. Additionally she has written for The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire Magazine, TimeOut London, The Stage Newspaper and Media Week. She can be found tweeting via @emmabarnett.

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