Do life's milestones matter? See how you compare

6 August 2019

I have the sense of the milestones in my parents’ lives slowly drifting past me, and the gnawing feeling that I am well behind won’t go away. But am I really so off track?


The Office for National Statistics (ONS) produces a handy guide to milestones each year; I highly recommend having a look at it and seeing how you compare.

I turned 30 this year. It feels like a big step in one’s life, to finish your roaring 20s and enter your serious 30s. I’m a real-life grown-up now – better start behaving like it.

My parents both lived in London at one time or another. My dad spent a summer in the 70s as a tour guide. My mum, a Venezuelan-Italian by birth and a South African by formative years and education, immigrated in the early 80s to represent South African wine firms in London. Property was so cheap then that she could afford to live by Oxford Circus.

My parents met one fortuitous day when my dad was looking for information about South Africa for a trip. My mum’s colleague at the tourism office was off sick so she stepped in. Mum and dad were married within eight months, at age 27 and 28, respectively.

They were only slightly behind their peers. The average age when people got married in 1982 was 26 for men and 24 for women, according to the ONS.

The current average is now 33 for men and 31 for women. So, I’ve still got three years!

They did, however, wait a while before having a bouncing baby boy (me). My mum was 35 when I was born. The ONS says the average age of first-time mothers is now 29, having risen from 27 in 1998. My folks were miles behind!

I grew up happily in a small cottage in the countryside outside Northampton. I remember running loose in the garden with our small pack of dogs (four Labradors and a beagle to keep them in check) as a boy. In the neighbouring farm, dairy cows mooed and sniffed peaceably. It was idyllic.

By contrast, I think of where I live now. A four-bed house with three other guys in bustlingly urban Brixton. No dog – the landlord won’t allow it.

We’ve got a small garden, but it isn’t well loved – who would put in the effort in a house that isn’t much more than dorm space?

I yearn to recreate what my parents gave me: a space of our own surrounded by green fields. Such is the pang that I’ve taken to flicking through properties in places like Norfolk on Zoopla. My girlfriend coos over them approvingly because she grew up in similar surroundings and has an equal yearning to get outside the M25.

The ONS says the average age for partners to move in together is 27, so I’m far behind on this as we don’t live together.

For those of you now thinking, “why are you whining? Just get on with it and leave London,” yes, that is a fair point. But the big stumbling block is my career.

My dad was a trained barrister and while he worked between market towns and Midlands cities, Northamptonshire was always a suitable base. And my mum moved through various jobs locally.

When I was 18 she helped me find my first job; gluing badges onto fridge doors in a factory in Peterborough. I beat the average age of 19 for getting a full-time job, then. I did also have a stopover at university (that’s a picture of my mum and me at my graduation in 2012).

In pursuit of a career as a journalist, I anchored my ship in the capital.

Commuting in isn’t an option because the train fares are far more than I am willing or able to afford.

Another big milestone the ONS lists is owning your own home. This is the biggie.

Back in 1997, half of young people owned their own home by age 26. Today the average is 34.

Living in London, owning property is pie-in-the-sky thinking. But in the town my dad lives in, comfortable two-bed terraces go for less than £200,000 – eminently more affordable than the average £600,000 cost of a one-bed flat in Brixton.

Curiously, my parents bought their first house aged 51 and 52. I have never enquired as to why they waited to put a foot on the ladder.

My dad retired at 64 and lives quietly in the modest townhouse they bought in 2005. My mum passed away five years ago. Fortunately for my dad and unfortunately for my mum, both were ahead of the curve on those milestones. But that’s a long way off for me for now.

Go to ONS milestones to see the list in full.