Gen Zers and millennials are ditching big cities for the country. We asked them why

By Abby Amoakuh

Updated Jan 5, 2024 at 03:23 PM

Reading time: 5 minutes

I don’t know about you, but ever since I was old enough to watch rom-coms I dreamed of moving to the city in my 20s. Of course, it’s not just the magic of film and TV shows that try to sell us on the adventurous and vibrant metropolitan life. There is a whole collection of art, music, and literature that romanticise big cities and it goes as far back as 1777 when English writer Samuel Johnson mused: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Such quotes reflect the enduring dream of chasing one’s success and fortune in metropolises and it captured Boswell’s generation as much as it still captures ours today.

@kellyxlung

10 more days of living in 13 years old me biggest and wildest dream🥹🥹🥹 #londonlife #london #londontiktok #movingabroad #livingabroad

♬ sonido original - yo

Yet, surprisingly, a growing number of young urbanites are abandoning the city lifestyle for the calm and tranquillity of the countryside. Shocked? Well, we at SCREENSHOT took it upon ourselves to investigate this phenomenon and find out what’s behind it.

Currently, 20 per cent of inner London’s population falls within the 20 to 29 age bracket, and the influx of young people into the capital has reached such high levels that it’s adversely affecting economic growth in other regions, such as the north of England. London is the nation’s youth capital.

However, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ 2021 UK Economic Outlook found that “COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we view cities.” In a surprising turn, the organisation predicted a decline in London’s population for the first time in the 21st century and attributed it to more people relocating. This was put down to the rise of remote work that made employees and companies more flexible in location, among other factors of course.

On top of this, a Bankrate.com survey revealed that 31 per cent of gen Zers relocated either permanently or for an extended period during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s compared with a contrast of 16 per cent of adults overall. The primary motivation for relocation, cited by 31 per cent of respondents, was the desire to be closer to friends and family. Following closely, 27 per cent prioritised affordable living, while 21 per cent listed “relocating for a job.” Additionally, 18 per cent sought opportunities for more space and 17 per cent desired different climates.

Then there’s the cost of living crisis, of course. Sigh… Rents are rising at the highest rates since 2016 and living in the city is slowly but surely becoming completely unaffordable for young people.

Combine all of this and you have what has been hailed as the great ‘London Exodus’. Gen Zers and millennials alike are flocking to the country in hoards, fuelled by the desire for a more affordable, scenic, and simpler life.

@sammynicksruns

My new silly little life in the English countryside 🤍 #moving #movingcities #london #englishcountryside #bathuk

♬ Little Life - Cordelia
@rosieatthecottage

Cottage life 💖 . . . #cottagelife #cottageliving #cottagecore #cottagecoreaesthetic #englishvillage #villagelife #country #countryside #countryliving #countrysidelife #countrysideliving #cottagecorebaking #cottagecorevibes #grandmacore #visitengland #englishcountryside #cottagebloggers #countrysideblog #uktravel #visituk #foryou #foryoupage #cottageinteriors #interiors #fyp

♬ Rose Petals - Peder B. Helland

To gain a better insight into what has been driving the exodus, I spoke to three different leavers. This includes Ana, who left London in 2023 and is currently using her city break to travel through Mexico.

“The cost of living was the main reason behind my decision, especially considering that things seem to be getting worse each day. People think London salaries are higher, but they are most definitely not aligned with the cost of living. Travel expenses, for example, keep going up and I used to pay £7.60 to go to the office every single day,” Ana told me.

“Other reasons behind my decisions were friendships and lifestyle. In my opinion, London can be quite lonely and I was struggling to find my people and a sense of community. People in London are so focused on their career and the general vibe is ‘live to work’, which really doesn’t sit well with me. But in all honesty, that’s kind of who I became too, always looking for side hustles and more opportunities to be able to live a normal lifestyle rather than paycheck to paycheck. So I knew it was time to change something,” she explained.

@anasavu

@Worldpackers to the rescue 🛟 #leavinglondon #leavingtheuk #worldpackers #londoncrisis #londonrentalcrisis #goingtomexico

♬ original sound - Ana / Solo Travel

Her concerns around rent and the cost of living were shared by Meryl, who also decided to leave the big city behind once the rental crisis hit:

“As soon as the rental crisis hit, which increased my rent in London to nearly £1,000 pcm for a small double bedroom in a shared house with 4 others, my boyfriend and I decided we weren’t gaining enough by staying in London anymore,” Meryl shared.

She continued: “We also grew tired of the fast-paced FOMO lifestyle in London. Don’t get me wrong, I adore London and I do miss the coffee shops, restaurants, bars and buzz—but there’s something so great about a slower lifestyle, fresh air and not feeling trapped in the city. I totally get why people stay there for life and I do miss it, however, I’ve noticed myself to be a lot less stressed, more generally present in my everyday life and I have really enjoyed seeing my family a lot more!”

Just like many others in her generation, Meryl got overtaken by country fever and left London for a much greener, quieter and obviously less expensive scenery: “We moved to a small village on the Cotswolds fringe–there are only about 300 people who live in the village, yet we’re a 15 minutes car journey to the nearest station that takes only 55 minutes into London, which is a bonus. We chose this village simply by luck—it was the only rental available at the time and we needed to move quickly due to my boyfriend’s new job so we snapped it up. Now we pay around £975 pcm for a 2 bed, 2 bath cottage with a garden!” No, I’m not jealous, you’re jealous.

@milked.oats

London it’s been REAL but it’s bye for now 👋 #cotswolds #london #leavinglondon #countrysidelife

♬ Alone Again (Naturally) - Gilbert O'Sullivan

Our last interviewee, Melanie, who decided to swap London for a quiet area in Bristol, seemed to have a similar experience:

“The main reason I relocated was because London wasn’t enjoyable anymore. I have  lived in London since university and truly think the difference between being a student and a working adult in London is night and day. London has always been expensive but somehow when you are a student it doesn’t feel as stark because everyone around you is dealing with something similar and you have help.”

When asked about her new life in Bristol, Melanie replied: “Now that I’ve moved down south near Bristol with my boyfriend, we are both so much happier. We both decided to move in together and have a loft-style apartment with high ceilings and massive windows—it’s a stunning school that was converted into flats—my dream open plan kitchen and bathroom, we have a laundry room, two bedrooms and an office for £1,450 a month.”

“To be honest I wouldn’t say I’m all the way in the country but it feels that way because it’s so much slower than London and not as busy. I love everything about it. I am a Black woman so it’s taken a little while to find other people with the same background as me but other than that no issues,’ Melanie noted. “No TFL commutes, no rushing everyday  to be somewhere, no overthinking about my appearance. I have more money and time to nurture the things that are important to me. I go to London now once every few months and it’s so much better—I go to my favourite  food spots and go to meetings and then I’m back on the train to my safe place.”

@melanieworldx

Mobing out of london #uk #bristol #londonlife #londontiktok #recession #layoffs #costoflivingcrisis #foryoupage #fypシ゚viral

♬ Golden Hour: Piano Version - Andy Morris

The recurring theme between these statements is obviously that city life is fun at first but can quickly take its toll on you. Caught between soaring living costs and a hustle culture, more and more young people feel the need to tap out and focus on themselves and their financial stability instead. And honestly, I get it. These are factors my 14-year-old self didn’t think about when she dreamed of finding fame and fortune in the big city.

Still, while some are using the opportunity to immerse themselves in different lifestyles, others will be more saddened to let go of all that London has to offer as the city becomes more difficult to survive in. But as rents continue to rise and solutions stay out of reach, it’s clear that countless young people will have to move elsewhere to secure their financial futures.

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