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The Decline of the 'Gap Yah'

Mocking ‘the gap yah’ is a beloved national sport, uniting people of all ages and tax brackets. There’s something about money and pseudo-originality that Brits seem to collectively despise. 

I can certainly understand this distaste; affected spirituality, drawling ‘mockney’ accents, and body odour are no winning combination. They are indicative of insecurity and genuine pretentiousness. Growing up in bohemian Brighton, I observed countless instances where ‘enlightenment’ masqueraded for tyrannical, anti-social behaviour — the iconic Janice ‘Parvati’ Soprano epitomises this insufferable disposition. That being said, I maintain that ‘gap yahs’ get a bad press. Most are far less extravagant than we imagine. For all their faults, they are symptomatic of a prosperous, confident society, and their decline spells trouble.


UCAS figures show that university deferrals have fallen to a 7-year low. Students are ditching the year backpacking across Thailand, or working in the local cafe, to jump straight into university life. I very much doubt this shift is organic. That age-old desire to ‘see the world’ is in no danger of vanishing. Neither is the urge to ‘take some time to figure things out.’ Rather, as the middle class shrinks and our nation’s economic prospects darken, students feel compelled to chase money instead of nirvana, speeding down the treadmill of employment. Part of this is because the Bank of Mum and Dad is running low on reserves — but I believe the problem is more fundamental. There is a growing perception that young adulthood is a frivolity which can no longer be afforded. The long shadow of sixties freedom is well and truly dead.


In the past, the young enjoyed the privilege of loftily condemning the rat race and suburbia — before turning thirty, and quietly switching sides. Our generation is entitled to no such hypocrisy. If we are at all interested in attaining basic economic security, we must chase high salaries with a Protestant work ethic on steroids. 

And this isn’t just my fourth-year paranoia talking! By so many metrics, our generation’s collective prospects are bleaker than those of our parents. Take property ownership. In 1995, the average London home cost £90,000. By 2022, its price had exceeded a mind-boggling £500,000 — 13.9 times the typical household income! Add that to stagnating wages, a dysfunctional NHS, and a collapsing justice system. The truth is that the UK, and much of the developed world, is going to the dogs. Except for the true beau monde, a period of bumming about finding one’s ‘identity’ is no longer possible. We are officially entering an era of downward mobility.


While I’d much rather spend a week sizzling by a pool than a whole year slumming it out in sweaty hostels, I lament the fall of the ‘gap yah’. Many of the criticisms levelled at it are unjustified. As much as I squirm at defending the self-indulgent spectacle of voluntourism, it isn’t quite as awful as it seems. Although there’s no doubt that the money these volunteers pay to ‘make a difference’ could be spent far more effectively, I question how many of us who avoid such escapades make a similar donation (be that as it may, the moral superiority of these discount Mother Teresas is stomach-churning.) I should also stress that many spend their gap years working to save for university. Others simply take a well-earned break from studying. Not every gap year is a ‘gap yah’. However, all of them, whether they are practical or epicurean, are in decline.


Ultimately, the drop-off in students taking time out demonstrates how genuine freedom is in short supply. It should be no surprise that it coincides with a sharp fall in young people pursuing creative careers. As James Marriott has argued, we are steamrolling towards a great misallocation of talents, where ‘free spirits’, as jarring as that phrase is, will be locked into corporate jobs to which they are ill-suited. 

While the UK nosedives into irrelevance, we are losing the ability to make mistakes and waste time. Seemingly trivial, this liberty is crucial to the cultivation of a happy society.

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