Contemporary research on young people and politics portrays their political engagement as: individualised not collectivist; issue-driven not ideology-driven and postmaterialist instead of materialist. This shift towards 'lifestyle politics' is assumed to be universal among young people, rather than shaped by traditional social cleavages and structures. This paper investigates these assumptions and asks whether young people's experience of national economic austerity and increasing material inequality shapes the everyday political issues they identify with, and how they understand inequality and the distribution of resources in their societies. The analysis is based on responses to an open-ended question on key political issues of importance, in surveys of representative samples of 1200 young people aged 16–29 in 3 countries: Australia, the UK and the USA. Afterwards, we conducted online discussion groups with 107 young people, in which they were asked to discuss changes in the nature of equality in their societies. The findings show that there is a complex interdependence between individualised, everyday understandings of economic change and an identity-based politics of equal rights. However, there are nuanced differences in understanding inequality, dependent on young people's national location and socioeconomic background. The implications these findings have for young people's future political engagement are discussed.