'More options…less time' in the 'hustle culture' of 'generation sensible': Individualization and drinking decline among twenty-first century young adults.
There has been a dramatic decline in alcohol consumption among younger people, including an increase of conscious moderation and abstinence. Change has a generational character, with different cohorts' drinking changing over time from the heavy, embedded pattern among post-war 'boomers' to the more selective habits initiated by 'millennials'. This is a surprising development in historical terms and has been cast as indicating the emergence of a moderating 'generation sensible'. It is also coincident with more negative trends, such as young adults worsening mental health. Informed by the perspective of individualization, we consider the decline in youth drinking in the context of generational changes in the lifecourse. We focus upon how recent generations of young people experience greater choice, pressure and a prolonged adolescence, characterized by more limited autonomy. Explored with conscious young moderators through a survey (N = 517) and focus groups (N = 13), these themes resonated with our sample who appear a self-conscious generation with significant and open-ended focus upon maintaining their wellbeing and control. Further, they appear more disembedded from pressure to conform but under greater pressure to perform. The same forces of individualization encouraging moderate drinking may also weigh down upon young people who feel under pressure not only to transform their own lives but feel a burden of responsibility for a damaged, unjust world. The article's originality lies in applying individualization to both generational change and consumption, suggesting this can be usefully done through a focus upon freedom/choice and pressure/performance. It also considers what is regarded as the positive trend of drinking decline alongside, and as related to, negative trends such as greater loneliness and less autonomy among young adults.