Last week, news leaked that smoking in Britain will be banned by 2030.
Statistics suggest this will be of little concern to future generations: as a nation, we’re smoking less and less, with interest in cigarettes declining fastest in young people aged 18-24.
Similarly, today’s young people are drinking less: in 2015, almost one-third of 16-to-24-year-olds reported never drinking alcohol. That’s a 30% high, vs. 18% in 2005.
A growing body of research has demonstrated the steadily shifting values of young people over recent decades, from an era when smoking, drinking and nights out were the undisputed favored pastime of the young, to an age where twenty-somethings are more likely to be found studying or building online businesses in their bedrooms than down the pub or out on the tiles.
From studies on the shifting values of Generation Z to last year’s debate surrounding a youth loneliness epidemic, the data all points to the same overarching insights.
Today’s young people increasingly spend time alone rather than socializing; and, what’s more, they are highly industrious, working harder and thinking longer-term than their millennial, Generation X or baby-boomer counterparts.
The shifting values of university students
At Fika, we recently conducted some research of our own to identify the top goals and values of U.K. university students.
Today’s university students think long-term, our study showed, placing academic achievement and long-term career goals significantly higher in their list of values than they do their social lives.
They spend their three or more years of study significantly more preoccupied with preparing for life after university, getting the right job and getting the right class of degree, than thinking about making new friends, starting a relationship or feeling like they fit in with their peers.
Other key goals to top the list for students included “managing my time more effectively,” “feeling more confident in my own abilities,” “dealing with my uni workload” and “getting better at dealing with pressure,” almost completely obscuring goals related to their social lives or relationships.
“Making new friends” does make an appearance in fifth place for first-year students, but by the second and third year, new friendships do not even feature in students’ top ten goals, which are almost exclusively focused on academic performance, managing time and workload and planning for life after university.
A paradigm shift, then, from the children of the 1980s, whose antics during their time at university are credited with Britain reportedly reaching “Peak Booze” in 2004.
Hard skills valued over soft skills, but at what cost?
Like the 2030 smoking ban, perhaps this will come as little surprise to those of us who are tracking the vast behavioral shifts taking place across society from generation to generation.
But what does it all mean for future generations, and for the future of this most diligent of generations to date?
While it’s impressive to note the ambition and focus of today’s university students, universities need to help students find balance.
Because it’s this balance that will be key to their long-term success.
There is a growing body of evidence directly linking happiness with success, and single-mindedly pursuing achievement over balance is unlikely to lead to happiness.
Similarly, so-called “soft” skills like empathy, good interpersonal and communication skills, confidence and teamwork are increasingly important for student employability, with LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner citing these as far more valuable to tomorrow’s employers than “hard” skills like coding and engineering.
Why is this a university responsibility?
Going to university represents an important moment in young people’s maturation. It’s where many of us spend some of our most formative years, adopting and establishing habits which will stay with us for life.
So universities have a responsibility, if not a duty, to create an environment where students can develop and sustain positive mental health, enabling more students to flourish and preventing them from languishing.
This includes instilling students with that most important of life skills: developing and maintaining balance.
In amongst the celebrations about young people’s declining alcohol and tobacco consumption, let’s not forget that health and well-being must be assessed as a holistic whole.
Let’s make sure students’ social lives and ability to build meaningful relationships do not become casualties of our increasingly driven and health-conscious society or, ironically, it could be their careers that suffer.