Being twenty-something in the twenties is realizing that however much the world has progressed, it is overwhelmingly likely that in my life I will get less than what my parents got. I will work for a longer portion of my life and I will work more hours per week for less money.
On the subject of houses, I will never be able to buy one. This isn’t me wallowing in self-pity; it’s just the reality. House prices in Britain have more than doubled (53 percent) in the last decade, and the average deposit needed for first-time buyers in London currently stands at $140,000. If you can scrape that together, you’ll have to be quick before the Russians or Qataris buy up the whole development anyway. My only realistic chance of buying a home is through shared ownership schemes, moving to the ass-end of a provincial town or selling pictures of my feet to pervy old men online.
The French are waking up to the fact that anybody under the age of forty is stuck in this depressing predicament. And they are, in typical French style, rioting over it. This time the subject of their wrath is pensions after French President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to raise France’s retirement age from sixty-two to sixty-four. Thousands have gathered at places such as Place d’Italie, setting trash cans on fire and burning an effigy of Macron while chanting “Macron, resign!” This is all happening amid the putrid stench of decomposing food after sanitation workers went on strike at the start of the year. And these aren’t just small collections of garbage; these are bags piled so high in the streets that they have transformed into their own tourist attractions.
While France may have a fairly low retirement age compared to Britain (sixty-six, but this is going up) or America (sixty-seven), the two-year increase is directly at odds with the whole French sense of identity. While Americans live to work, the French work to live. If you’ve been to the country during the months of July and August, you’ll have noticed that most of the place is closed — “en vacances” signs are stuck on doors of shops for weeks at a time. They are busy living life, and good for them. Our generation is the first to feel the effects of a labor-obsessed culture and now we have concluded that working hard doesn’t amount to a better standard of life. Like the rest of us, the French housing crisis has seen to the fact that they will never buy, so why would they bother working like dogs?
It isn’t just houses, although I am of the opinion that working forty hours a week should allow you to own a property — a wild, entitled thought, I know. The diminishing standard of living affects just about everything. Will I ever have a child? Probably not if I stay in Britain thanks to the criminal costs of childcare and the fact that I spend 70 percent of my wage paying somebody else’s mortgage. Fertility isn’t something the French have a problem with. When they aren’t rioting and smoking Gitanes, they have enough sex that they’ve been crowned the baby-making champions of Europe (although this has been dropping off in recent years).
The truth is we should all be rioting. Universally standards have dropped, while we’re told only that we should shut up and get used to it. If I’m harangued once more by a baby boomer to just cancel my Netflix subscription or cut down on my avocado-toast brunches, I’ll spend my entire salary on avocados that I can lob at their windows. Just kidding. Brits are far too placid to do anything about anything. I wouldn’t really know a good protest if a pissed-off prole punched me in the gut.
In Britain, the government has proposed raising the retirement age to sixty-seven between 2026 and 2028, and to age sixty-eight between 2044 and 2046. I worked out that if this doesn’t further increase, I’ll retire in 2066. But let’s be honest: I won’t. While I go to the pub and complain about this with other twenty-somethings, the French riot in the streets. And good for them for having the guts to ask, “Is this it?”