Shell Youth Study reveals young Germans are more worried and yet optimistic

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The majority of the young generation is tolerant, environmentally conscious and has a positive outlook on the future. On the other hand, the new Shell Youth Study also shows an affinity to right-wing populism and traditional family values.

Young people in Germany continue to be pragmatic and tolerant to a large extent and worry more about the environment and the climate than in previous years. These results of the Shell Youth Study 2019 are not particularly surprising. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that just as many still look to the future with confidence as in the last survey four years ago (58 percent) – even though fears have increased at the same time.

More fear of xenophobia than of immigration

While in 2015 young people were still the most afraid of terrorism, fear of environmental destruction is now in first place (71 percent), followed by terrorist attacks (66 percent) and climate change (65 percent). Also noteworthy: fear of immigration is at the bottom of the list of fears surveyed (33 percent), while fears of xenophobia (52 percent) and growing hostility between people with different opinions (56 percent) are more significant.

Nevertheless, many are also open to populist ideas. According to the study, nine percent of young people agree with almost all populist statements and a further 24 percent have an affinity for populism, i.e. they agree with at least one series of individual populist statements. “That’s a lot,” says Federal Family and Youth Minister Franziska Giffey. She therefore stresses the importance of political education in schools and in extracurricular youth work.

Are young people becoming increasingly political?

Does the “Fridays for Future” movement indicate that the younger generation is becoming increasingly politicised? The answer is mixed. The political interest of 12- to 25-year-olds remains stable at 41 percent in 2019 and is thus at a significantly higher level than in 2002 (30 percent). What is increasing, however, is the importance of political commitment. In 2019, the proportion of young people who find it important to get personally involved in politics is 34 percent (2010: 23 percent).

“There is a politicization, but this means that those who have already been politically interested in the past will become even more involved and committed to politics,” sums up Mathias Albert, head of the Shell Youth Study. It does not mean, however, that interest in politics is increasing overall.

Trust in democracy – but not in politicians

The good news is that 77 percent of the young generation is satisfied with democracy in Germany. In 2006, this was only 59 percent. An increase that can also be observed among young people in eastern Germany, albeit at a slightly lower level. At the same time, there is a high degree of disenchantment with politics. 71 percent do not believe that “politicians care about what people like me think”.

“This is a finding that should give us cause for concern,” says Family and Youth Minister Franziska Giffey. The “paradox” that “young people have a high degree of trust in democracy”, but not in “the people and institutions that play a decisive role in shaping this democracy, the politicians”. The minister, who sees this as a call for more participation and consideration, therefore calls for the voting age to be lowered to 16 years, amongst other things.

Rather idealistic, post-materialistic attitudes

Good friends (97 per cent), a trusting partnership (94 per cent) and a good family life (90 per cent) are still very popular among young people in terms of their personal values. Here, too, environmental awareness is gaining in importance, while a high standard of living and the realisation of one’s own needs are becoming less important. There is therefore a trend towards more idealistic, post-materialist attitudes.

A good two thirds of young people want to have children. What is very surprising for the researchers here is that they have a rather traditional idea of family values. A narrow majority (54 percent) would like to see a model in which the man is the sole or main breadwinner in a later partnership with a child. Female and male adolescents see this in a very similar light, but in eastern Germany they tend to adopt a model of equal distribution much more frequently.

Differences are most evident in social background

The researchers explain this above all by the fact that young people often imitate what they have experienced in their own homes. This thesis is reinforced by the finding that 92 percent get on well with their parents and a large majority of 74 percent say that they want to raise their own children the way their parents did. Education researcher Klaus Hurrelmann, however, assumes that this is an interim finding. “Young women have scored points in education, they are self-confident, very concentrated, they are becoming politically active,” he says and assumes that these changes will soon also be reflected in ideas about family roles.

Differences in the results of the studies can be seen in all subject areas, including age, gender, East and West origin or migration background. However, none of these differences is as important as the connection between social origin and educational level, according to the researchers.

Every three to five years since 1953, young people have been asked about their attitudes for the Shell Youth Study. In the current survey, 2572 young people aged twelve to 25 were interviewed.

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