They are often said to be the best years of your life, but how different is it to be in your 20s now, than 10 or 20 years ago?
Thomas Tozer is 25 and lives in London. His twin brother also lives in the city. They meet up every week but he would not consider him one of his closest friends.
And Thomas is not alone.
A new index which looks at people’s wellbeing has found that 20 to 29-year-olds today are feeling more distant from their family and close friends than 20-somethings were in the previous two decades.
They are also less likely to feel a sense of belonging in their community and wider society.
Originally from Devon, Thomas says his closest friends now are ones he’s met in the last five years.
He lives with one of them and another he’s in touch with every day via Whatsapp.
“Unless social media is backed up by seeing each other, it kind of peters out and starts to feel a bit hollow,” the York graduate said.
Young adults in 2015 were 80% less likely to say one of their three closest friends was a relative than those in 1995. This was used by the index to measure the quality of family relationships.
“If I had a problem, or was upset, I wouldn’t go to my parents, I’d speak to my friends,” Thomas said.
Thomas’s mother, Caroline Montague, has a different experience.
“My father was definitely my best friend. He was always there,” the 64-year-old said, thinking back to her 20s.
Caroline spent her 20s living in Bristol, before moving to Bath. At 20, she had got a job as a trainee travel clerk and lived above the travel agents – about two miles from her father’s house.
“My life was basically work,” she said. “I had a mortgage but worked seven days a week to pay for it – with a bar job at the weekend. I had a lot of responsibility from the word go. I got myself from the bottom to management.”
Place and family were crucial to her sense of belonging at that time.
“I loved where I lived and definitely felt I belonged. For me, I never properly left home until I was in my 30s,” she said.
For Thomas, belonging comes from his practice of Buddhism.
“It’s an important part of my life and identity. It defines a lot of who I am,” he said. “Without that I wouldn’t feel explicitly connected to London or home (Devon).”
So-called “belonging wellbeing” declined by 32% between 2005 and 2015.
The index puts this down to falls in volunteering, being part of a religion and an interest in politics, which the foundation says are activities associated with a sense of belonging.
How do you measure wellbeing?
The Intergenerational Foundation – an independent think tank focused on fairness between generations – has used data from large panel surveys to create an Index of Wellbeing.
Five different wellbeing areas were taken into account – relationships, economics, health, personal environment and belonging – at three different snap-shots in time: 1995, 2005 and 2015 for people aged 20 to 29 at each of these points.
More than 1,500 people in each wave were then scored on their wellbeing.
The index also found close friendships declined between the 2005 and 2015 cohorts of 20-somethings – falling 6% in 10 years, despite rises in social media in the same period.
This was measured by asking how often people are in touch with their three closest friends.
Angus Hanton, co-founder of the Intergenerational Foundation, said the cracks appearing in this generation’s closest relationships and sense of belonging should be of concern to everyone.
But the index doesn’t tell everyone’s story.