Personal Finance

One Year On: The Impact of COVID-19 on Young Adults and Students in the UK

Young adults and higher education students have been uniquely affected by COVID-19. From disrupted education to relationship delays to poor job prospects at the beginning of a career, COVID-19 is really throwing a wrench into the lives of young adults. In this data study we look at the impact of COVID-19 on young adults and students, covering mental health issues, school experience satisfaction, the job market and more.

COVID-19 and the associated lock downs have affected each age group in different ways. While older adults have faced higher death and illness rates as well as financial worries, young adults and students have dealt with more mental health and wellness issues. Plus they are faced with entering the job market at a particularly challenging time.

We've analysed data from the Student Covid-19 Insights Survey (SCIS) and the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (COVID-19 module) to learn more. Note: the Student Covid-19 Insights Survey results are classed as 'experimental statistics' by the Office for National Statistics.

The Impacts of COVID-19 on Young Adults

Anxiety and happiness

Young adults are more anxious and less happy and satisfied than other age groups. According to the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (COVID-19 module), conducted 3 to 7 March 2021, young adults aged 16 to 29 have the worst overall well-being metrics. They score highest on negative feelings (anxiety) and lowest on positive feelings (life satisfaction, worthwhile life and happiness).

Well-being survey (scale of 0 = "not at all" to 10 = "completely")Aged 16 to 29Aged 30 to 49Aged 50 to 69Aged 70+All persons total
How satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
Do you feel that the things you do in your life are worthwhile?6.477.57.97.2
How happy did you feel yesterday?6.46.677.66.8
How anxious did you feel yesterday?
Chart comparing how different age groups feel - anxious or happy - during Covid times


Why are young adults so anxious? Well, they're very worried about the effect COVID-19 is having on their lives. Young adulthood is typically a time of great discovery, freedom and change—and experiences that start you off in life. From disrupted education to delays in finding that special someone to poor job prospects at the beginning of a career, COVID-19 is really throwing a wrench in the lives of young adults. The table below shows responses to the question: 'How worried or unworried are you about the effect that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is having on your life right now?'

Percentage of people worried about effect of COVID-19 on their livesAged 16 to 29Aged 30 to 49Aged 50 to 69Aged 70+All persons total
Very worried18%14%12%9%13%
Somewhat worried53%52%52%51%52%
Neither worried nor unworried14%17%20%26%19%
Somewhat unworried4%9%6%5%7%
Not at all worried8%6%9%9%8%

Very or somewhat worried71%66%64%60%65%
Not at all or somewhat worried12%15%15%14%15%
Chart showing how worried people are during Covid times

Specific life impacts of COVID-19

Survey respondents were also asked which ways the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is affecting their lives. Three out of four young adults feel the lack of freedom and independence, and nearly as many have experienced a negative impact on their well-being. Boredom, loneliness, anxiety and stress are much more common among 16 - 29 year olds when compared to all adults, with experience rates of 71% vs. 53%, respectively.

There's also a 16 percentage point difference in how young people feel relationships are affected, when compared to all people. Nearly half (44%) of adults aged 16 to 29 have experienced a negative impact on relationships, compared to roughly a quarter (28%) of all adults. The table below shows responses to the question: 'In which ways is the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak affecting your life?'

Ways COVID-19 affects your lifeAged 16 to 29All persons totalPercentage point difference
Schools, colleges and universities are being affected43%24%19%
My well-being is being affected (e.g., boredom, loneliness, anxiety and stress)71%53%18%
My relationships are being affected44%28%16%
Lack of freedom and independence73%67%6%
My exercise routine is being affected39%33%6%
Transport is being affected13%9%4%
My work is being affected33%30%3%
My health is being affected18%16%2%
Life events are being affected (e.g., weddings and funerals)44%45%-1%
Access to healthcare and treatment for non-coronavirus related issues is affected15%16%-1%
My household finances are being affected16%18%-2%
I am unable to make plans52%56%-4%
Personal travel plans are being affected (e.g., holidays and gap year)52%57%-5%
Access to groceries, medication and essentials is affected (e.g., not able to shop as often)11%16%-5%
Chart showing Covid is impacting the lives of young people in the UK

Social interactions

In the seven days ending 7 March 2021, 48% of young adults had met indoors with people outside of work or education. Of those, 28% of the interactions were with people in different bubbles. That means that around 13% of young adults (approx. 1 in 7) met with people outside of their bubble, work or school.

However, this figure is actually not very different from the general population—overall, 12% of adults met with someone indoors with someone outside their household, support or childcare bubble in those 7 days. SO while the perception may be that it's young adults breaking the rules, they aren't doing so more than older adults.

What's different is who young adults were meeting when they went outside of their bubble—mostly friends and partners. In comparison, most other adults met with a family member they don't live with. The table below shows responses to the question: 'Who did you meet with indoors that was outside your household, support, or childcare bubble?'

Who people met outside of their bubbleAged 16 to 29All persons total
A friend45%24%
A partner, including boyfriend or girlfriend who I do not live with24%9%
A family member who I do not live with29%49%
Chart showing who people meet outside of their Covid bubble

Understanding lockdown measures

Perhaps surprisingly, younger adults have found it slightly more difficult to understand the lockdown measures in their local area than older adults. Perhaps younger adults have a smaller local network of friends to discuss this with, as they may have just moved to an area recently. Older adults who are well established in an area might have more access to the local community, and therefore information. Here are responses to the question: 'How easy or difficult is it to understand the current lockdown measures where you live?'

Understanding lockdown measuresAged 16 to 29All persons total
Very easy30%37%
Neither easy nor difficult15%15%
Very difficult2%2%

Similarly, only 54% of younger adults feel like they have enough information about government plans to manage the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, compared to 71% of the general adult population.

Understanding lockdown measuresAged 16 to 29All persons total
Not sure15%11%

The Impacts of COVID-19 on Students

As noted above, young adults in higher education have absolutely been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 situation. Let's dive into some stats about higher education students in particular. Here are some takeaways from the Student Covid Insights Survey, carried out from 19 February to 1 March 2021.

Changes in student wellbeing and mental health

Unfortunately, students aren't feeling any better now compared to the start of this academic year. In fact, most feel worse. 63% of students feel 'slighty/much worse now'. And if you look at students who have changed address since the start of the autumn 2020 term, this figure jumps to 71%.

Changes in student wellbeing from Autumn 2020All students totalAddress has changed since the start of the Autumn 2020 term
Much better now5%5%
Slightly better now10%10%
No difference20%12%
Slighty/much worse now63%71%
Chart showing change in student wellbeing during COVID-19

Student loneliness

Students have suffered quite badly in the loneliness department compared to most adults. One third (33%) of students aged 16 to 29 years old often or always feel lonely. Compare this to 12% of all adults in the same age bracket, and 8% of the general population. That means students are around 4X as likely to always or often feel lonely compared to most adults.

And only 11% of students 'never' or 'hardly ever' feels lonely. This is quite a small percentage, and much less than the figures for all adults aged 16-29 (29%) and the general population (47%).

Comparing how often students feel lonelyStudents aged 16-29 years oldAdults aged 16-29 year old (OPN)General population in great Britain (OPN)
Often or always33%12%8%
Some of the time37%30%20%
Hardly ever8%21%29%

In-person teaching

Only 23% of students are studying a subject that allows in-person teaching. And of that group, 77% of students had 0 hours of face-to-face teaching. That essentially means only 5% of students had any in-person teaching in the 11 days ending March 1 2021.

Satisfaction with the academic experience

When asked how satisfied they are with their academic experience this school year, 44% report feeling 'very satisfied' or 'satisfied' with aspects of their education such as learning experience or academic support.

Returning undergraduates have a worse view of the situation than first year undergraduates. Perhaps this is because first year students can't compare their experience to a 'normal' experience, whereas returning students have a base of comparison.

Satisfaction with academic and social experienceAll students totalFirst year undergraduate studentsOther undergraduate students
Very satisfied14%16%12%
Neither satisfied or dissatisfied22%21%20%
Very dissatisfied12%10%14%

Of those 'dissatisfied' or 'very dissatisfied', 83% are unhappy with learning delivery, 72% with the quality of learning and 55% with academic support. 9% are missing opportunities to study abroad.

Satisfaction with the social experience

Uni is a social experience as much as an academic one. And some of the strongest friendships are formed during uni days.

COVID-19 has left higher education students very dissatisfied with their social experiences, with 57% reporting feeling 'dissatisfied' or 'very dissatisfied' with their social experience since they started in the autumn term 2020.

Satisfaction with your social experienceAll students total
Very satisfied4%
Neither satisfied or dissatisfied27%
Very dissatisfied31%
Chart showing social experience satisfaction of students during COVID-19

Job Vacancies

Recent grads, young people just starting their careers and students graduating this year are facing a challenging job market. The number of job vacancies has plummeted 26% in the UK by Nov-Jan 2021 when compared to a year earlier, pre-coronavirus. There were 809,000 job vacancies in Nov-Jan 2020; this figure dropped to 343,000 by Apr-Jun 2020 (a drop of 58% in that six months); by Nov-Jan 2021 the number had recovered somewhat to 599,000 vacancies.

The first chart below shows how job vacancies have changed across a number of industries where many young adults seek employment, whether to earn extra money while in school or at the beginning of a professional career: manufacturing, accommodation & food service, information & communication, financial & insurance activities, professional scientific & technical activities, public admin & defence and compulsory social security, education, human health & social work activities, arts, entertainment & recreation and finally, retail.

Chart showing job vacancies since COVID-19

And even when recent grads are hired, many jobs are currently 'work-from-home' jobs. While working from home comes with many pros (e.g. no commuting and working in your slippers) there are many cons, which can especially hit young people hard (e.g. less opportunities for networking or mentorship; loneliness and isolation, especially for those living alone).

To get a sense of how the drop in job vacancies compares, the chart below looks back to before the 2008 financial crisis. As you can see, the impact of COVID-19 was significantly sharper and more pronounced than the financial crisis.

Chart showing social experience satisfaction of students during COVID-19
Erin Yurday

Erin Yurday is the Founder and Editor of NimbleFins. Prior to NimbleFins, she worked as an investment professional and as the finance expert in Stanford University's Graduate School of Business case writing team. Read more on LinkedIn.


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