Living in London can hit 20-somethings right in the wallet, but what effect does it have on them kick-starting their “adult” life? Is it harder to hold down a job, maintain a long-term relationship and start a family when you’re living in the capital rather than north of the M25?
I grew up in the green lands of North Wales with nine “best friends 4 lyf”. We all came from a pretty similar background: same school, similar interests, hung out on the weekend. Fast forward to 2018: out of this group, it’s only me who isn’t engaged, hitched, popping out a sprog and buying a house. The only difference between me and them: I moved to the Big Smoke.
Sarah, who’s 27 and is an education officer from North Wales, lives in a house she owns with her husband and two-year-old: “I’ve been able to get a house in my 20s,” she told me. “But North Wales doesn’t provide many great opportunities to progress professionally; you are usually given the ultimatum to pack up and move further afield or stay put in a job that doesn’t satisfy you.”
It’s not just the countryside where millennials are more settled either. I spent my early 20s living in Liverpool. Unlike me, none of my Liverpool friends are single, sharing the bathroom with strange Mary and eating savers beans in a failed attempt to stretch that ‘living-wage’. They’ve managed to buy city centre houses with spare bedrooms, green spaces and small animals.
Under the bright lights of the big city, Londoners are spoilt for choice. There is always another job, another Mr or Mrs right and another Mary from Spare Room if they feel like the current one isn’t quite up to scratch. Maybe it’s all this choice which stops Londoners settling down as quickly as their Northern neighbours. They don’t work through problems because they don’t have to; they can jump ship and go back to square one, putting life progression on hold.
Even though I know a whole bunch of singletons in London, this isn’t to say London couples are doomed, but to save a few quid lots of them do prematurely move in together, and the strain of sharing a room so small even Harry Potter would laugh, can’t be overlooked. In 2016, my ex-boyfriend moved into my house share; being in such close proximity 24/7 certainly highlighted our incompatibility early on, but even if it had been roses in the park, with rising rent and my career changes, we wouldn’t have been able to afford to live on our own, let alone save for a wedding or find space for little ones.
This may all seem a bit grey cloud with no silver lining, so why live in London at all? Well, its greatest weaknesses can also be its greatest strengths. According to the Office of National Statistics, men and women in the UK are living longer than ever before, so maybe there is no rush to get “adult life” on the road, and when Londoners do find themselves as a CEO, a homeowner and knee-deep in nappies, they won’t be left thinking “what if?” because they’ve explored and exhausted all the other options.
In terms of renting, there is the beautiful freedom from the responsibility of owning a home; if the boiler breaks it’s Lenny the landlord’s problem, if the neighbours are noisy you can find another part of town and if the commute to work is too long you can swap zones. Getting on the property ladder? Well, maybe they’re just pretending it doesn’t exist or hoping one day they can just take the stairs.
So even if millennial Londoners’ grass-is-greener-itius is putting them in the slow lane, maybe once they do kick-start their adult life they won’t be looking back over their shoulder to see if something better is in the right-hand lane, because like they say, slow and steady wins the race.
*Names have been changed for confidentiality