Shell's sixteenth study on the outlook of German youth shows a surprising rise in optimism for the future. But the findings also imply a growing gap between the social classes.
Young people are looking up, despite the economic crisis
Fifty-nine percent of German youth said they were optimistic about their own future, compared with 50 percent in 2006 when the last Shell Youth Study was conducted. Thirty-three percent said they were undecided and seven percent said their future was poor.
The first such study took place in 1953 and since then has been regularly updated at three or four year intervals.
The researchers based their findings on surveys and in-depth interviews with more than 2,500 Germans aged between 12 and 25. Respondents were broken down by age sub-groups, gender and socioeconomic status.
The current generation of youth faces greater uncertainty surrounding economic success and the value of a university degree, said Dr. Matthias Albert, a professor of political science at Bielefeld University who was involved in compiling the study. Yet despite that uncertainty and "the mounting pressure on young people in society, they have not only retained their optimism, but it has increased significantly."
A university degree is less of an assurance of economic success than previously thought
The seemingly paradoxical increase in optimism is based on a mix of traditional, more conservative values and modern, progressive values that are more self-centered.
"They have put a stronger emphasis on closer social ties," Albert said. "They value family to an extraordinary degree. And this gives them the foundation, so to speak, and the confidence from which they can try to face the challenges before them."
But while the overall optimism of youth has risen, the study also found that the difference between the outlook of privileged and underprivileged youths is widening.
A third of youths from socially disadvantaged families say their future looks positive - lower than in 2006 - and 40 percent say they are satisfied with their lives. Middle- and upper-class youth are almost twice as likely to express that same satisfaction.
"Despite specific measures being taken, we see no evidence whatsoever that this rift is somehow closing," Albert said. "And that's the biggest concern, that despite belonging to a generation which is doing rather well, we are somehow losing a small but significant part of it."
Youth's interest in politics has increased slightly - 37 percent from 35 percent in 2006 - but it remains much lower than levels in the 1970s and 80s. However when filtered for age group, political interest declined among youths aged 18 and older and increased significantly for the younger generation.
Internet access among young people has become nearly universal
In the past eight years, the percentage of 12 to 14 year-olds who express interest in politics has nearly doubled to 21 percent, while the the figure for 15- to 17-year-olds rose from 20 to 33 percent.
Beyond that, younger Germans are also more likely to say they would engage in political activities like signature campaigns or demonstrations, which Albert said is one of the most significant findings of the study.
"The increased political interest among the young, together with their willingness to become politically active suggest to us that we are witnessing the beginning of a new political generation," he said.
Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Susan Houlton