‘Milestone anxiety’ on the rise among millennials and Gen Z

The traditional looms large but Brits want different life milestones to be recognised

Millennials and Gen Z are experiencing more pressure to reach traditional 'life milestones' like having children, getting married and buying a house with their partner than previous generations ever did. Relate, the largest provider of relationship support in England and Wales, polled 2,022 people to mark Relationships Week 2022 (5 to 11 September). The charity says that this 'milestone anxiety' is also coming up increasingly in therapy sessions.

Milestone anxiety 

The nationally representative poll covered 2,022 UK adults. It found that 77% of millennials (25-39 year-olds) and 83% of Gen Z (16-24 year-olds) are currently feeling pressure to reach life milestones, compared to 66% of over-75s and 70% of baby boomers who felt this way when they were younger. Of all those feeling the pressure, 39% said this is coming from themselves, followed by from society generally (22%) and from their parents (21%). Gen Z were the most likely to say this pressure was coming from social media and the media (23%). 

Looking across all age groups, male respondents appear to feel more pressure than female respondents to reach life milestones with 69% currently feeling pressure compared to 60% of females. While 64% of heterosexual respondents across all age groups feel under pressure to reach life milestones this rises to 70% for bisexual respondents and 73% for gay and lesbian respondents. 

Pressure to have children increases while the importance of marriage decreases

Having children is the number one milestone that millennials feel pressure to reach: more than a third (35%) currently feel or have ever felt under pressure to have kids compared to just 17% of baby boomers (55-74 year-olds) and 13% of over-75s who said they felt pressure to have children when they were younger.

Interestingly, while Brits feel marriage is the top life milestone that society has, followed by having children, retirement, buying a house with your partner and going to university, only 38% say marriage is important to them personally. Gen Z were the least likely to say marriage was important to them (27%) compared to 38% of millennials and 60% of over-75s. Despite this, getting married and having children were still the top two milestones Gen Z felt under pressure to achieve overall.

Confidence crisis

The top reason Brits cited for not yet reaching life milestones was lack of confidence in their own ability (12%), putting others first (12%) and mental health issues like anxiety and depression (12%). For Gen Z this crisis of confidence appears more pronounced with fear of failure being the top reason (20%) followed by lack of confidence (18%) and lack of motivation generally (18%). As a general theme, finances also came through strongly as a reason people weren't meeting life milestones. 

The research found that while the majority of over-75s (60%) and baby boomers (57%) agree society is now more accepting of people choosing their own life path than 10 years ago, Gen Z (44%) and millennials (48%) were less likely to agree with this statement.

I see a lot of clients in their 20s and 30s who're feeling under immense pressure to reach milestones like getting married, having children and buying a house with their partner by a certain age. The early 30s seem to be a real crunch point and people can judge themselves unfairly when they haven't done things they think they 'should have' . The truth is that people do things at different points, not always in the same order and some take a different path entirely. That's absolutely valid and to be celebrated. It's all about creating a life that's authentic to you.
Natasha Silverman, Relate Counsellor

It's not just about the traditional

The poll showed that a third of Gen Z (33%) and millennials (34%) felt traditional life milestones were outdated all together. Millennial and Gen Z respondents were also much more likely to say there are certain life milestones that society should better recognise: 95% of Gen Z and 88% of millennials felt this compared to just 43% of over-75s and 55% of baby boomers.  The top milestones people felt should be better recognised by society were adopting, leaving an unhealthy relationship and leaving a job to do something you love. For Gen Z, leaving an unhealthy relationship was top of the list.

The top 10 life milestones Brits felt should be better recognised

  1. Adopting - 24.98%
  2. Leaving an unhealthy relationship - 23.44%
  3. Leaving your job to do something you love - 21.12%
  4. Coming out as LGBTQ+ - 17.75%
  5. Deciding not to have children - 16.82%
  6. Completing a physical challenge such as running a marathon - 15.73%
  7. Buying a house with friends/ family - 15.18%
  8. Deciding to stay single - 14.69%
  9. Seeking therapy - 13.40%
  10. Clearing your student debt - 12.76%
Gen Z is known for passion and action in driving change – it makes complete sense that this applies to relationships too. They want different milestones to be celebrated – like leaving an unhealthy relationship – and Relate’s here to support that reappraisal of what matters all the way. The shape of relationships is changing and so is Relate: this week we’ve launched our refreshed brand and website to help reach more people and transform even more relationships. From romance to roommates, from colleagues to co-parents – we can Relate.
Aidan Jones, Chief Executive at Relate

As part of Relationships Week, Relate wants to recognise different milestones and encourage others to do the same. There will be a range of articles and self-help tools at Relate.org.uk on topics including choosing whether to have children, talking to your child about gender identity and ‘MOT’ing your relationships. 
Aidan Jones, Chief Executive at Relate has also written an open letter to the new Prime Minister calling on the new government to support relationships, wellbeing and mental health as part of the response to the coming hard winter and beyond.


For all media enquiries including interviews with Relate Counsellor, Natasha Silverman contact Sarah Osmik on 020 7554 2895 or sarah.osmik@relate.org.uk. For urgent out-of-hours enquiries call 07875 049415.

Notes to editors

  • Relate is the largest provider of relationship support In England and Wales.
  • We’re here for every relationship – from romance to roommates, from colleagues to co-parents.
  • Our services include relationship counselling, family counselling, sex therapy, mediation and online self-help. You can access many of our services together or as an individual via webcam, phone, email or face-to-face.
  • We’re an inclusive organisation and actively welcome people of all ages, backgrounds, relationship styles, faiths, religions, sexual orientations and genders, including anyone with health conditions or impairments.
  • Relate is a registered charity number 207314.
  • Millions of people every year access information, support and counselling from Relate but many more could benefit.
  • For more information visit: Relate.org.uk.


This report was conducted by Censuswide between 9-11 August, 2022. It was commissioned by Relate and surveyed 2022 Nationally Representative consumers in the UK. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.

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