It’s a familiar cry for the younger generation: mum and dad earned more when houses were still affordable.

But now that generation is growing up with the opposite – falling wages and rising house prices.

Today it’s emerged that one in five people aged 16 to 25 have sofa surfed in the past year because they had nowhere else to go.

So just how much more expensive has it become for the younger generation growing up in the 21st century?

FactCheck’s done the bills.

Wages and income

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) collects figures on wages in their Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

In 2000, in cash terms, gross weekly earnings for all employed 16-29-year-olds were £244.70. At 2013 prices, that’s about £359.40.

In 2014, gross weekly earnings for all 16-29-year-olds was £218.20.

Which would suggest that on average, the median gross weekly wage fell by a massive 39 per cent for this age group.

The reason for the fall?

Well, much of it is explained by the type of work younger people do. If we were to compare the same figures for just full-time employees in 2000 to 2014, we’d see wages fall from £419.47 to £400.10, which is only a fall of five percentage points.

In other words, it’s the wages for part-time workers which have seen the greatest drop in real terms, and that seems to be where much of the younger workforce has ended up.

Cost of goods

Again, it’s the ONS which can help us here, using their Family Spending statistics.

Rounded up, this is what the average weekly shopping bill of a person under 30 might look like in 2013 (their last available figures):

Food and non alcoholic drinks: £44.30
Alcoholic drinks and narcotics, including tobacco: £8.90
Clothes and shoes: £21.40
Household goods and services: £25
Health: £3.20
Transport: £50.90
Communication: £14.90
Fuel: £20.40
Recreation and culture, including holidays abroad: £36.40
Restaurants and hotels: £38.60
Miscellaenous (eg. haircare, toilet paper, insurance, professional fees): £30.70

Total: £294.70

In 2000-2001, this is what the same bill might have looked at, at 2013 prices (cash prices in brackets):

Food and non-alcoholic drinks: £80.78 (£55)
Alcoholic drinks: £27.46 (£18.70)
Tobacco: £11.01 (£7.50)
Clothes and shoes: £36.71 (£25)
Household goods: £41.41 (£28.20)
Household services: £30.54 (£20.80)
Personal goods and services, including health: £23.94 (£16.30)
Motoring: £76.37 (£52)
Fares and travel: £17.62 (£12)
Leisure goods: £27.61 (£18.80)
Leisure services, including holidays abroad: £56.25 (£38.30)
Miscellaneous: £0.91 (£0.60)
Fuel: £14.54 (£9.90)

Total: £445.15 (£303.10)

So, younger people find themselves with smaller bills for food, fags and booze, though fuel costs more, along with travel.


The cost of housing for younger people has been a major political football in recent years, though many would argue that most parties have been afraid to even take a run-up, let alone hit the back of the net.

Let’s look at how the cost of housing has changed.

Again, the ONS’s Family Spending survey tells us about rental costs for under-30s.

In 2000-2001, the total cost of housing was £78.70, which would be £115.58, at 2013 prices. This includes: net rent, mortgage payments, water charges, council tax, repairs, maintenance and decorations. It’s after housing benefits, rebates or allowances have been discounted.

In 2014, the way the figures are collected had changed, so council tax and mortgage payments were counted separately. Taking like for like, this is how it’s broken down for this year:

Housing: mortgage interest payments, council tax etc: £44
Housing (net), including second dwelling rent, maintenance and repairs, water: £101.10
Total: £144.10

So, the cost of housing has gone up by about 25 per cent.


Our earnings total did take into account benefits, but it’s worth looking at how the under-30s are becoming more reliant on social security benefits.

In 2000-1, about 84 per cent of income was dependent on wages and salaries, with about seven per cent on social security benefits. Other sources accounted for three per cent.

By 2014, 78 per cent of income was from wages and salaries, with 11 per cent from social security benefits and seven per cent from other sources, according to the ONS.


In 2012-13, universities were allowed to charge students significantly higher tuition fees.

They don’t have to pay them upfront: they can take out a loan repayable on or after graduation, which is the same system as before.

Now, however, loan amounts charged are much higher than before.

The threshold at which students must repay loans has also gone up from £15,795 in 2012 to £21,000 at 2016 prices. Graduates repay the loan for up to 30 years. After that time, if it hasn’t all been paid off, it’s written off.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says that about half of students would have repaid the debt in full by the age of 40 under the old system, but only about five per cent will achieve that under the new system. About three quarters of students, the IFS says, will be left with a debt of about £30,000 to be written off.

Under the new system, lower earners actually pay less than previously, according to the IFS. The lowest 10 per cent of earning graduates would pay £6,120 at today’s prices under the old system, compared with £3,879 under the new system.

Higher earners will pay more: the top 10 per cent would have paid £25,564 under the old system, rising to £60,601 now.

The IFS adds that most graduates will repay slightly less per year up to their mid-30s under the new system. Annual repayments for those aged 22 to 30 would be £609 now – a reduction of £198 per year from the old system. It’s when they get to their 40s and 50s that the cost will begin to bite.

So, what’s the damage?

That the under-30s are going to end up thinner and with a shakier roof over their heads.

The younger generation are spending less now on food, less on booze and less on smoking than about 15 years ago, and even tuition fees aren’t likely to end up being the belly-blow they threatened to become.

Housing, on the other hand, now eats up two thirds of weekly earnings for the under-30s, compared with about a third at the turn of the century.

The sofa may not look so bad after all.


Since we’ve published, the ONS has got back to us to say that they gave us an incorrect figure.

Gross weekly earnings for all employed 16-29-year-olds in 2014 were £318, not £218 as they had initially said.

Which means that in real terms, earnings for this group have fallen by about 12 per cent over the last 14 or 15 years, not 39 per cent as was initially thought.

A drop nevertheless, albeit not as steep.