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The Demographic Shift - 11

Generation X is depressed. I've been reading about it and apparently it is much worse for women, according to the research. This explains quite a lot, writes Gordon MacMillan.

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The report into how things had turned out for Generation X, now we have crashed into 30-something (im)maturity, was of interest for obvious reasons, running out of 18- to 34-year-old road as I am.

The study ("Young people's changing routes to independence") was kind of like a school report. We did quite well in places. More than double the numbers of Generation X got degrees (still just 22% though) compared with the previous generation and we're better off as a result. On the downside, despite all of this extra cash we're depressed, which is not so good.

At least one of the stories I read was illustrated by a picture of a Raleigh Chopper, which was the must-have bike to ride around on in the 1970s (despite the propensity to send the rider over the handlebars with alarming regularity). With a Chopper (red) in the garage and a Scalextric in the house, you needed little more back then. Things are, of course, a little more complicated in the future -- we have mortgages and a vast array of financial commitments.

Unfortunately, like most reports, it doesn't go into details as to why Generation X is depressed exactly, but you can fill in the blanks for yourself. All the facts are there.

One fact, for example, was that 47% of women aged 33 have not had children. This fact, in particular, the researchers called "staggering" -- well, in the story in the Daily Mail they did (my mother, keen Mail reader that she is, will certainly be staggered). Of course, the Daily Mail is convinced also that all of those women who are not producing children are too busy binge drinking (which obviously involves some staggering, so that's correlation for you) and engaging in casual sex ("Has the world gone mad?").

What it seemed to come down to was that, armed with the university education and the high-paying (well, paying at least) job, the single lifestyle for some has just gone on for longer than anyone could have anticipated. I've checked this with Susan, who is my barometer on all things such as this. Except on the binge drinking aspect. Susan took to yoga in a big way and never looked back. I was convinced it would be fad, but not so (which is a shame). It's made her all spiritual, healthy and non-boozy. A night out with Susan entails a single bottle of Becks ("just a treat") and endless amounts of Evian (which as everyone knows spells naïve backwards).

"You don't think I'm being boring do you?"

"No."

"You're lying."

"I know. Sorry, but a night out with you is like being at an AA meeting and having you as my sponsor."

"I'd make a good sponsor. I'd introduce people to yoga."

"No need to worry about me, I have Yoda."

"But he's only four foot high, made out of cardboard, and you got him from WH Smith, which is just sad."

"My flatmate got him," I correct her.

"Like I said, sad."

I digress. I was going to say that Susan is as shocked as anyone else that she is single and almost 33. Susan, however, finds the new research comforting ("I like to know that I'm not on my own"). Like I've said, I worry about Susan, but she isn't depressed. Sure, she admits to the pressure of work combined with what she insists is the general poor quality general uselessness of the male stock, but she isn't depressed.

"Susan, when you say that you don't mean me, do you? I just want to be clear. As I'm sure these are the kind of comments that push people over the edge and lead them to cross 'very depressed' on survey forms."

"You fool. Of course, I mean you. You are one of the ringleaders, having shown a lack of commitment at every single opportunity. You're a bad influence on everyone you know."

That's harsh. Actually, I think I caught Susan at a bad moment. Things have been progressing in her life at a rapid pace leading to a calamitous family climax, but that is another story which I'll have to come back to.

I was actually calling Susan to share with her some good news. Well, I say good news. It's really good news bad news and, again, takes us back to the whole depressed and mixed-up Generation X.

What can I say? The wedding that was going to be the pride of Hertfordshire is off. My sister has dumped her perfect boyfriend for the most baffling reasons. She, for one, I know would definitely being ticking the ("Are you depressed?" "Mmm, kind of") box.

My sister, of course, sent me a text message telling me that the wedding was off ("you're spared finding someone to bring to the wedding -- it's off). Text messages do not do justice to such news, but calling just proved to be more baffling.

"My God, what happened?"

"I called it off."

"But why?"

"Because I didn't want to get married."

"But you only just said yes."

"I know and I didn't want to get married then either."

"But..."

"I thought marriage would be a precursor to breaking up. I know it sounds strange, but it made sense. Surely you've heard about marriage being the road to divorce? It's depressing I'll have to start again."

Of course, I've heard of the road (like I've heard of the A10). I thought that was a joke, though, made by couples who were about to take the plunge but were nervous (as opposed to totally unwilling). It's a strange world, what can you say? Maybe this is what the researchers mean when they say that despite our relative wealth, there is a "feeling in the background that their lives are not getting sorted out".

Who knows, answers on a postcard. Next week, it's the trip to visit the friends who live in the middle of nowhere ("but the schools are great!").

The Demographic Shift is a new regular column on Brand Republic as Gordon MacMillan charts his own demographic timebomb.

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