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The various economic and social shocks of the past decade and a half – most recently the COVID-19 pandemic – have ongoing consequences for the living standards and prospects of Europeans, and sometimes these outcomes have been uneven across age groups. Social policies – such as those in the areas of social protection and housing – in some cases have benefited certain age groups over others. The upshot both of crises and of policies is that inequalities between the generations have widened in important areas.

This policy brief examines some of the intergenerational social trends that either were persistent or changed considerably over the last decade and a half, sometimes contrary to expectations. It focuses on significant developments that have received somewhat less attention in policy planning in the areas of income, housing, work and employment, and health. The intention is to develop a clearer sense of the direction of social change and bring medium- and long-term perspectives into policy thinking.

Key messages

  • There are intergenerational social trends that have changed significantly over the last 15 years. However, others have remained stable, with several unexpected findings at EU level such as the unchanged percentage of young people living with parents; or, despite the recent cost of living crisis, the percentage of people with difficulty making ends meet remaining considerably lower than a decade ago.
  • New data highlight how income trends among the older population are influenced by effective social protection over the life course, while those among younger groups are mostly driven by employment. As these trends are likely to persist in an ageing European society, it will be critical for policymakers to focus on improving the labour market participation of young people over the long term to strengthen their income security.
  • The housing tenure people obtain when they start living independently is changing, and renting accommodation has become more common among younger age groups, increasing especially among those aged 30–39, rising from 38% to 45% between 2010 and 2019. To tackle high housing costs and ensure quality accommodation, it will be crucial for policymakers to address the regulatory set-up and policies for renting, as well as reviewing housing services and increasing housing supply.
  • Two trends have emerged regarding the health of Europeans. One is that more people across all age groups feel and say their health is good However, the second is that the proportion of people reporting a chronic illness is now higher , even among young people, where the prevalence of mental health issues among young Europeans is also a concern.
  • New data revealing sources of resilience across age groups in the EU – such as better self-reported health, rising mental health awareness, a strong labour market, a lower proportion of people having difficulty making ends meet compared with a decade ago, and the increasing employment and incomes of women – are central to shaping policies that can strengthen the EU’s social dimension, highlighting the importance of continued monitoring and tackling of inequalities.

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