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German Youth Have Feet Firmly on the Ground

A new study shows that German youth are highly motivated and pragmatic about the future despite the country's economic recession. But all those positive feelings evaporate when it comes to voting and politics.


Young, ambitious, smart and can't be bothered with politics

Young people in Germany are responding to raised expectations and societal challenges with optimism and the eagerness to prove themselves. At the same time their interest in politics is plummeting.

Those are the conclusions reached by the 14th Shell study released in Berlin on Monday. The study has been carried out every two years since 1952 by the energy concern Shell, which contracts leading research institutes to document youth perspectives and attitudes.

This time more than 2,500 young people between the ages of 12 and 25 were questioned about their living situations, values and attitudes about politics.

This is about me and my life

The Bielefeld sociologist Klaus Hurrelmann (photo), one of the experts who carried out the study, said that today's younger generation has completed a fundamental change in values that began in the 1990s.

Professor Dr. Klaus Hurrelmann - Shell Jugendstudie

Klaus Hurrelmann

The motto for the future is "rising up instead of giving up". Career and power, family and security, creativity and performance have now become more important for youth, he said.

"The "me" association" of this generation "is very pronounced", he said.

Family affairs minister welcomes values of youth

The federal minister for family affairs Christine Bergmann of the Social Democratic Party praised the pragmatism and readiness to perform of today’s youth.

"Ideology is out, taking action is in", she said and pointed towards the huge number of young people who have turned out to help in the ongoing flood catastrophes in Germany.

The study also concludes that young women are especially ambitious today and want to reconcile career, children and a family. Bergmann said that was proof that traditional role models have changed.

Who cares about politics

But despite the good news that Germany’s youth is a dynamic lot at a time when the economy is down in the dumps, their level of political apathy as shown by the study has alarmed experts.

Only slightly more than a third of those interviewed described themselves as "interested in politics" and only about 35 percent are sure that they want to participate in the elections. Despite the fact that a large majority said that they consider democracy a good governing system, many are critical of the system.

Of particular note, said Hurrelmann, is the fact that several east German youth surveyed expressed criticism of today's lifestyles and the lack of personal opportunities.

The study also points out that though trust in political parties is at an all-time low, the majority of young people would choose a big political party if it came to that.

For instance, trust in the Green Party, the present governing coalition partner – once one that attracted young people to its ranks – has continually fallen when contrasted with level of young support in the 1980s and 90s.

What can I get out of it?

But despite the low political interest, young people are politically active when it comes to youth-related interests or organisation of hobbies.

The authors of the study have concluded that the decisive factor is whether the political involvement is linked with personal gains.

That’s the reason why clubs, study organisations or self-organised groups enjoy popularity among young people as opposed to citizens’ initiatives and organisations such as Greenpeace or Amnesty International.

Either too diffident or too agressive

Almost half the youth surveyed have not managed to cope with demands at school and in their professions.

The study divided youth into four types when it comes to rising to challenges: "confident doers", "pragmatic idealists", "hesitant inconspicuous kinds" and "robust materialists".

Hurrelmann says that the "hesitant and inconspicuous types" react to undesirable personal situations with resignation and apathy. They are widely found in the east and weak social groups.

In contrast to that group, Hurrelmann describes the "materialists," who predominantly consist of males, as demonstrating frightening strength. "They want power, a high standard of living and hedonism, but they don’t want to do anything for it" he says in the study.

This is where violence, hostility towards foreigners and extremism is most likely to take root, he said.

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