Part of why people go into banking vs. any typical "finance analyst" role is the lifestyle. However realistically, what is the point of having an amazing apartment, if you never spend any time in it. I mean I'm not going to rent a 5000/month penthouse if I come home every night and pass out on my bed.
How often do people have time to go to clubs and get tables, when you are working 80-100 hour weeks. From the time I spend as a summer analyst, most departments are not filled with the craziest party animals, many are quite nerdy/shy and/or int'l. (And after working in banking , your only friends will be bankers!). I know that a few groups have a much more "fratty" culture where people tend to be more social after hours, but the majority of groups are rather diverse, in all regards. One fellow intern tried alcohol for the first time at our company party, even after being in college for three years.
As far as I'm concerned, analysts and associates pretty much work the same hours, associates probably have a lighter load on the weekends, but any busy group, will have associates staying till midnight or later on a nightly basis. The only real lifestyle change probably happens at the VP level when your job role shifts towards bringing business in, weekends drop off, but in that case, you start traveling like crazy during the week.
...People talk about doing banking just until going to "buy-side", with less hours and equivalent pay, but unfortunately not everyone gets an opportunity to go to buy-side. For example, out of the twelve analysts in a group I interned with, only four got "legit" exit opps in PE/HF, 2 stayed on for a third year and are incredibly depressed, and the other six picked up general finance roles at typical companies taking a huge paycut, one guy went be a worker at Training the Street. Remind you that these guys had great deal flow and went to top schools! Even when you get to PE/HF, hours may be much less, but stress levels/responsibilities are sky high. Finnaly most places kick you out after two years, until you get an mba. FYI- getting into a top mba school is not easy!! Finally getting a PE/HF job after b-school is even harder because they are making a long term commitment to you, and the competition within each b-school is cut throat.
As far as prestige goes, first lets say that bankers will never have the prestige of doctors, firefighters, scientists, judges (not lawyers lol), and some politicians and other doing-good for humanity professions. Second, I don't think the general public has any idea the difference between banking and general financial analyst roles, girls certainly don't know the difference Most don't understand the difference between retail and investment banks, they think you work the same place where people deposit their weekly paychecks. not to mention the difference between back and front office, operations vs. IB, most think its all the same. ....And if you put prestige aside, then you can earn a great salary running a small business, for example- my 26 year old cousin owns two verizon franchise stores (running a cell phone store isn't rocket science) and makes 350K a year, hired store managers and now is working only 20-30 hours a week, real estate investing on the side just for fun because he doesn't know what else to do with all his extra cash, while his job is not dealmaking, he is happy and living the life, he has time to go out at night, and go out to dinner, have friends, hamptons in the summer, miami breaks in winter, int'l vacations, and when he goes to work everyday he is the boss. nobody to answer to.
My question is now that the "prestige" of banking is no longer there, the bonuses sure ain't what they used to be, and exit opps are harder and harder to get, ibanking decreases your chances at b-school due to the overabundance of ibanking applicants, and the lifestyle kills your social/relationship life.....is banking worth it? 9/10 of people are in it for the money, prestige, and so-called lifestyle, not because they like sitting in a cubicle staring at an excel spreadsheet.