Safer, drier, more friendly…we’re not as wayward as everyone thinks, here on the island.
Recent stats measuring anti-social behaviour show the UK is becoming a better place on nearly every count.
Boozing, fighting, swearing…it’s something of a stereotype, reinforced by endless media hype. But according to a report out this week from The Office of National Statistics, more than a quarter of Britons in their teens and twenties are now teetotal, 40 per cent up over the past ten years. The comparable figure among over-65s, meanwhile, has risen a measly one per cent, to 28 per cent.
Binge drinking is out of style too. The proportion of youngsters regularly sinking more than eight units in a day (or six, for women) is now just 18 per cent, from 29 per cent a decade ago.
Only one in five has ever smoked a cigarette (56 per cent in 1984).
Reasons for the decline in drinking include public campaigns to lower grog consumption, tighter cash conditions after the recession, and the draw of staying in to chat to friends online and to connect on social media.
Social media is a place where young people can meet and share with one another but it’s also a place to smear and shame. And although users don’t mind tagging others in embarrassing pictures, they don’t like getting tagged themselves. “It’s like playing a life-long game of It,” says Anju Bramwell of UK Youth. “Permanent shared images – no-one wants to get tagged looking bad. Powerful medicine. You mind how you go.”
All in all, the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of yesteryear is losing its lustre for the new youth and getting chucked into the delete bin.
The trend follows a reduction in levels of anti-social activity around the western world. Violence is decreasing, alcohol use is down, crime rates are down. No one fully knows why.
It’s exactly opposite to the findings you’d expect if the constant media picture of our awful daily life was true. And there is no end of pundits trying to explain what is going on.
“These days, parents are spending more time with their children than they used to,” explains Professor Gardner from Oxford University, an expert on parenting and society. “Kids think their parents have better expectations of them than they used to do.” This softens the edges of childish aggression and helps them to develop warmer relationships.
“It’s better policing,” reckons Max Chambers, Head of Crime and Justice at Policy Exchange. “Sensible policies that balance enforcement and prevention are having an impact.” Plus, there’s CCTV coverage, victim support programs, and a more efficient court system.
“It’s evolution!” claims Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist. Modern society and modern ways of getting our needs met encourage us to become less aggressive – a trait accelerated by the dulling effects of smartphones and television.
Another leftfield theory, accepted increasingly by the mainstream, blames the use of heavy metals, especially lead. The timeline of violence and crime rates matches exactly the introduction of lead-free paint and petrol, argues Professor Jonathan Shepherd, Director of the Violence and Society Research Group at Cardiff University. The last two decades of tumbling felony rates and alcoholism follow decade-on-decade rises throughout most of the twentieth century, precisely the period during which lead house paint and petrol were most in use at home and in the street.
The logic goes: lead is a powerful neurotoxin which affects the brain’s impulse-control and executive functions – thinking and planning. Lead poisoning leads to bad decisions which lead to more crime, aggression, and violence. It’s a cycle exactly reversed when lead was removed from the system, given the ten to twenty years it takes for the metal to fully leave the body. And so now we are experiencing the rewards of lead-free legislature.
Either which way, rock ‘n’ roll troublemaking is under bombardment from all sides. In the UK, it’s a statistical curiosity that these various trends are at their extreme in London. We are changing our ways much faster compared to all other parts of the country.
At the current rate of travel, by 2025 London will be a city where nobody drinks except tourists visiting traditional English pubs. And locals over 60, who are most likely the ones to get into fights and swear and steal things, probably from the tourists. As ever, a strong cup of tea is the answer.
– August 2015
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