Early Friday morning, the United Kingdom shocked the world by voting to exit the European Union, leaving many with one question on their minds: How did Brexit come about? Early polls originally predicted that the vote would be close, but the U.K. would ultimately stay in the EU; even Nigel Farange, leader of the Independence Party and a strong proponent of breaking with the EU, thought that the U.K. would vote to remain. In the end, however, nearly 52 percent of voters chose to leave the EU, and although nobody is quite sure how the exit will proceed, the decision is clear.
The results of the polls may present a united front, but in reality, Brexit (a portmanteau of "Britain" and "exit") divided the U.K. on a number of levels. Gender, region, and party loyalties all influenced voting choices, but according to BuzzFeed, the clearest divide was between generations, particularly millennials and baby boomers: 75 percent of people between 18 and 24 years old voted to remain, while nearly two-thirds of those over 60 years old voted to leave the EU. These numbers reflect a staggering difference in thought along generational lines, but the following chart created by BuzzFeed drives home just how deeply the division ran.
Many young residents of the U.K. voiced their disagreement with the decision on Twitter, often pointing out that they have decades of their lives ahead of them, while older generations are unlikely to experience the long-term consequences of leaving the EU. According to these users, older people are making decisions for the future of the young when they won't have to live with the fallout.
Unfortunately, their concerns aren't unwarranted. Britain entered the EU in 1973, so young people today have never lived in a fully independent United Kingdom. As The Guardian points out, membership of the EU allows residents to work, study, and travel freely between its 28 countries. This allows for a wider range of jobs to choose from, without the hassle of obtaining special visas or worrying about citizenship. Now that the U.K. has voted to leave, it's likely that there will be fewer jobs for new graduates to choose from, forcing them to compete in a smaller pool of employment options — and with a larger group of workers fighting for a smaller number of jobs.
Furthermore, the university system itself may lose money. According to Sputnik News, U.K. universities receive a significant chunk of their funding as a result of membership in the EU, and some worry that Brexit will put this money in jeopardy. Even if U.K. university funding remains untouched, the ensuing restrictions on travel will most likely affect students' ability to study in other countries.
Finally, young adults are usually the first to suffer in recessions, and a number of economists have predicted that the UK's economy (among others) will suffer when it exits the EU. House prices are already expected to take a short-term hit at the very least, and The Independent predicts that younger millennials may experience their second recession before they're 30. Unfortunately, an exit from the EU will make it much harder to find employment outside the country — and these are just predictions for the next decade or so. Considering no country has ever fully left the EU, there's no telling what the long-term effects will be; all we know is that millennials — most of whom voted to remain — are the ones who are going to be most impacted by those long-term effects.
In the hours since the results were announced, Brexit has had major consequences: U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Friday morning that he would step down, and the pound crashed to record lows in the wake of the decision. Furthermore, many have speculated that the decision will affect U.K. immigration patterns, the economies of other countries, and perhaps even set the stage for the EU to dissolve entirely.
That being said, the move to exit the EU is unprecedented, and it may take months or years for the U.K. to actually leave. However, it's clear that the move will influence the world for years to come in ways that remain to be seen.