My generation has been confined to the status of “Generation Rent” — those of us who don’t own a home and either live with our parents or are forced to pay exorbitant rents.
In his novel A Tale of Two Cities, set during and after the French Revolution, Charles Dickens wrote of deception and how everything may not be as it seemed.
Right now, Ireland’s story is A Tale of Two Economies: where Irish GDP has skyrocketed, reaching sixth in the world per capita, but the prospect of owning a home for young adults has plummeted.
In her maiden speech to the Dáil, on securing the position as Social Democrats leader, Holly Cairns spoke for millennials and my generation — Gen Z — when she said: “I’m a member of the first ever generation who will be worse off than my parents.”
The 33-year-old spoke of “a fairer Ireland where it’s easier for people to get by” and “where keeping a roof over your head… isn’t such a struggle for so many people”.
Following her speech, support for the Social Democrats skyrocketed with the party reaching 9pc in the Sunday Independent/Ireland Thinks opinion poll, up five percentage points from the previous month, while Cairns’s approval rating was 43pc, the second highest of any leader, behind only Micheál Martin.
Some were quick to dismiss the Social Democrats’ rise with the usual excuse that the emotions of young people were eclipsing their rationality; that voters are somehow more enthralled with her youthful, idealistic demeanour than specific policies. There may be some truth to this; my mother recently remarked: “Holly Cairns is very cute, isn’t she?”
While that youthful energy is certainly a pull factor, it would be naive to dismiss this surge as mere short-term popularity based on Cairns’s zeal for millennial justice.
The point is she touched on an aspiration that many in my generation are longing for: a place to call our own.
But does this mean I’m worse off than my parents?
I remember stories my mother told of her having to speak to friends on the dial telephone fixed to the wall of the living room with all the gossip and her “private” conversations made within earshot of the household’s inhabitants — a nightmare for any Snapchat or Instagram user.
Yet despite the dearth of social media then, she was able to achieve social mobility by moving out at the tender age of 22 and starting a family before the age of 30 — a pipe dream for those of us born at or near the turn of the millennium. Our generation is left with a Dickensian “epoch of incredulity” wondering when the recovery will actually arrive for us.
In 1993, two-thirds of 25- to 34-year-olds owned a home, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO). By 2016 this figure had plummeted to less than a third.
More than half of 25- to 34-year-olds are forced to rent, compared to only 15pc in the 1990s.
Generation Rent is the first to pay such a high stipend for accommodation that we don’t even own.
These stark figures contextualise recent analysis which suggests more than 70pc of young people in Ireland are contemplating emigration.
Friends of mine have already absconded, and I know many others who are planning on fleeing the country once they’ve obtained a degree. To be quite honest, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for this writer.
Not only is this precarious dilemma impacting my generation’s purse strings, but it is also affecting our ability to achieve long-lasting relationships. How are those in their prime marriage years — late 20s or early 30s — expected to wed when locked out of the property market?
In the 1990s the average age of marriage remained below 30, only reaching that age by 1996. In 2021, the average age reached 38 for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
There is a direct link between home ownership and marriage.
In the opening of A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens writes: “We had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”
The Cairns generation knows all too well how that feels.
Theo McDonald is a journalism student working as a freelance and is an ‘Irish Times’ debating finalist