I turned 28 this week and have begun to find that my life and those of my peers seems to have come to a fork in the road. The ones who live in the general area I’m calling “not London” have taken one fork in the path, while those of us in the “London” camp are voyaging down a different route. Every now and again I get a reminder from the people on the other track that things are diverging even quicker than I thought.
I moved to London four years ago, primarily for my career – I’m a web developer with an interest in working for media organisations, and both of those industries tend to align themselves to capital cities. Likewise, my partner Maddy: she’s worked for a succession of charities who also tend to base themselves in major cities like London.
I have a bunch of friends here in London and a similarly-sized group back in Nottingham where I grew up. While both groups consist of people (mostly in couples these days) aged in their mid-to-late 20s, the differences are becoming more and more striking.
Almost all of the “serious” couples I know back home in Nottingham are already homeowners, or at least, well on the way to becoming one. Quite a few are married, and a few weeks ago, one of my closest friends revealed that he and his fiancee are expecting a child. This is the first of my best friends to enter this phase of the relationship (end?)game and won’t be the last. I can’t begin to imagine the same things happening in my London circle.
In London, my friends of my own age are almost exclusively renting, paying over the odds for small, random flatshares in a variety of areas. One or two somehow own places (I’ve always assumed this is down to improbable good fortune or simply support from their parents), but everybody else is in the same position I am: stuck in the 12 month rental contract cycle. As for pregnancy: nobody. Or at least, nobody I can think of in that mid-to-late 20s group.
Maybe that’s normal: living and working in a city like London is likely to mean that you’re more career-minded than someone living somewhere more provincial, and thus starting a family is probably lower on your agenda. But if Maddy and I decided tomorrow that we were ready to have kids, I’d still be completely unprepared to make it happen: we’re renting a flat where the landlord could boot us out on a month’s notice, and by August 2015 we’ll be out whether or not we want to be (assuming the landlord raises the rent to an unaffordable level, as has happened almost everywhere else we’ve lived in the capital). What kind of environment is that to bring up a child in?
It’s worth pointing out here that I do have a bunch of slightly older friends in London who hover around the mid-to-late 30s/early 40s mark. Quite a few of these have kids and own their own places. Here I can only conclude that they managed to do so when the housing climate in London wasn’t nearly as insane as it is in 2014, and the majority live outside London (or further out than zone 3) which tends to reduces the cost of living on its own.
The divergence between these two groups was made clear to me when my friends revealed their pregnancy: I literally can’t imagine it happening to us, or to any of our couple friends. I know there’s a cliché of “there’s never a good time to have kids” and I’m sure it’s true. But as much as I love London, I can’t see how it will figure in my future. I’m being priced out of a city I love and even if I did have a spare £40k lying around for a deposit (or the mental energy to save that much up), I’d feel morally opposed to blowing it all on a one bed flat in a shitty part of town you’d never look twice at if it didn’t have a 30 minute connection to Kings Cross.
What’s the answer? Clearly people can and do bring up children in London and buy homes and I’m fortunate enough to be better off than many of the people struggling to do just that. But while I’m feeling smug about London’s cultural heritage and career opportunities compared to other UK cities, my homebody friends back in the north are settling down and starting families while I feel like my development on that front is on pause as long as I live here. I have no idea what I’m going to do next.