UK: Generation regret: over a third of millennials who went to university regret doing so as they struggle with debts and squeezed finances

More than one in three (37%) British millennials regret going to university because of the level of debt they are now in.

  • University is a costly regret for 37% of ex-students, while 49% believe they could have got to where they are now without it
  • Majority of millennials (63%) are relying on a one-off event to help them financially in the future, rising to 72% who went to university
  • With just £156 to spare each month after essential living costs, 18% are depending on family inheritance and one in six (17%) have said they are hopeful of winning the lottery
  • Over one in three (35%) millennials agree their generation is priced out of the property market  
  • EU referendum compounds money concerns of 18-35s as the proportion worried about their future finances leaps 23 percentage points since the vote

Britain’s millennials (18-35s) are fast becoming a generation of regret, as more than one in three (37%) who went to university regret doing so given the amount of debt they now have. As they struggle to pay back tuition fees, meet daily living costs and save for the future, nearly half (49%) of millennials who went to university believe they could have got to where they are now if they hadn’t gone, Aviva’s latest Family Finances Report reveals.

Older millennials aged 25-35 are just as likely to regret going to university (38%) as those aged 18-24 (37%), despite having had longer to experience the benefits of having a degree.

With almost half of eligible 17-30 year olds going to university1, the cost of doing so plays a major factor in many millennials’ finances. Millennials estimate it will take them 11 years to pay off their student debt (rising to 12 years for 18-24s), although one in five (22%) admit they do not know how much they have left to pay off. 

University fees have risen steadily in recent years (tripling from £3,000 in 2006 to £9,000 six years later2): a third (33%) of millennials feel they have to carry more of a financial burden for higher education than older generations.

Reliance on a windfall or one-off event

Aviva’s findings also suggest that millennials – who have just £156* to spare at the end of each month after essential living costs and face repaying hefty student loans – are not confident about their ability to shape their financial future and are instead looking to external sources for help.

Almost two in three (63%) millennials aged 18-35 are relying on a one-off event to help them financially at some point in the future. This is particularly common among those who went to university (72%, compared to 48% of those who did not attend university).

Although over a third (36%) are hoping for a new job that will increase their salary, a similar proportion (30%) are relying on being given money – either in the form of a family inheritance (18%) or some other financial gift (12%) – to help them in the future.

The odds of winning a National Lottery jackpot stand at 45 million to one3, yet one in six (17%) millennials have said they are depending on winning the lottery, rising to a quarter (26%) of those who consider themselves short-term spenders rather than long-term savers. 

Almost one in five (18%) millennials who went to university are hoping their student debt will be wiped out completely in future.

Meanwhile, more than one in ten (12%) millennials who own their home with a mortgage are relying on the value of their property increasing to enable them to move up the property ladder, while 8% in private rental accommodation are hoping for the housing market to collapse – presumably as a remedy to rising house prices and high rents. Recent research found that millennials will pay as much as £53,000 in rent before their 30th birthday4.

Table 1: Top events millennials are relying on to help financially in the future



Short-term spender

Long-term saver

A new job or promotion that will increase my salary




A family inheritance




Winning the lottery




A financial gift




Student debt being wiped out




Value of property increasing




Reliance higher amongst short-term spenders

As well as those who attended university, millennials who class themselves as short-term spenders (prioritising immediate spending over long-term saving) are more likely to be relying on some kind of event to help them in the future (72% vs. 65% of long-term savers). A third (33%) of millennials overall classify themselves as short-term spenders and 49% as long-term savers.

The most common reason for prioritising long-term saving is being willing to sacrifice spending now to achieve long-term goals (37%). A quarter (24%) of long-term savers say goals like buying a home are more important to them than spending on daily life.

In contrast, those who prioritise short-term spending are most likely to do so because they only have enough to survive on so can’t plan beyond this (44%). Almost one in five (19%) say big assets like buying a property are so far out of reach, they don’t see the point in even attempting to save for them. Nearly one in seven (14%) concentrate on spending for the here and now because they want to make the most of their youth and spend money on having fun.

Reliance on borrowing for every-day living

It is unsurprising that millennials are worried about being able to afford milestone purchases in the future when they are struggling with the cost of everyday living with low levels of disposable income (£156 per month) and average debts of £6,233.

Despite this, nearly a third (32%) are not actively managing their finances, although this may be due to a lack of knowledge: over a quarter (28%) admit they have never learnt how to manage their money properly.

Many are also relying on borrowing money or using financial help from parents to meet essential living costs. Among those who borrow money, 15% do so to cover basic weekly food shopping (rising to 22% of short-term spenders) while 13% use this to cover rent payments. This is particularly common among 18-24s (18%).

Just under half (48%) of millennials receive financial help from their parents.

Amongst those that do, the most common form of support is money for the weekly food shop (24%). Meanwhile, nearly a fifth (18%) of those who receive money from their parents use this to help with their rent.

Table 2: Snapshot of millennials’ finances





Typical disposable monthly income




Average debt




% who have started a pension




% who never learnt to manage their money




% not actively managing their finances




% who borrow money to cover basic food shopping




% who receive financial help from parents




One in three millennials say generation has been priced out of the property market

As well as shouldering higher education costs, millennials feel many of their financial experiences are more negative compared to those of older generations. In particular, over a third (35%) say their generation has been priced out of the property market. This proportion rises sharply among those 18-35s living in private rental accommodation (40%) or with family members (52%).

In the past ten years, house prices have risen by more than a quarter (27%) from £166,606 in 2006 to £211,2305. In the face of rocketing property prices, one in four millennials (24%) say not being able to afford to buy a house or flat is their single biggest financial worry for the next five years.

Millennials less confident about their financial futures post-Brexit

Millennials’ concerns over their ability to fulfil their lifetime goals have been compounded by the result of the EU referendum.

The proportion of millennials concerned about the future of their finances has risen from 25% before the EU referendum to 48% post-Brexit: a leap of 23 percentage points and the biggest increase among any age group in the UK.

Louise Colley, Customer Propositions Director, Aviva said:

“Millennials are plagued with uncertainty about the outlook for their financial futures, an issue which has not been helped by the uncertainty of today’s economic and political climate. The financial hangover from university has also led many in this age group to question whether in hindsight they made the right decision and how much value it has brought to their current position.

“With relatively low disposable incomes and significant debt to tackle, millennials don’t have it easy when managing their finances. The majority admit to relying on some sort of one-off event or windfall to help them in the future, and while advantageous if it comes to fruition, many could be relying on help that may never materialise.

“While millennials may have to wait a few years to see the benefit of their degree, there are steps they can take to improve their financial situation in the here and now. Learning how to manage their money effectively and prioritising saving where possible – even if it is just small amounts – can help people to feel more confident and in control of their future prospects. Industry and government must also take steps to reduce the gap in financial confidence between young and older people with policies that help those struggling to achieve their goals.”

- Ends –

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* This average is a median.

1 Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, ‘Participation rates in higher education’, 2nd Sep,


3Dr John Haigh, emeritus reader in mathematics at the University of Sussex,

4 Resolution Foundation, 16th July 2016,

5 UK House Price Index, average UK prices for May 2006 and May 2016 (

Over 2,000 people aged 18-55 who live as part of one six family groups were interviewed to produce the report’s latest tracker findings for Q2 2016, with additional interviews among 18-35s taking the total in this age group to 1,073 for the spotlight on millennials.

A further poll of 2,000 UK adults, including 527 aged 18-34, was carried out one week after the UK’s referendum decision on its EU membership to see how confidence in people’s financial futures was affected by the vote to leave.

This data was combined with additional information from external sources cited within the main report listed below and used to form the basis of the Aviva Family Finances Report. All statistics refer to figures from the latest wave of research unless stated otherwise.


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