Youth in Germany between contentment and fear of the future


War in Ukraine, climate change, Corona – hardly any generation has to experience so many crises in a short time. With what consequences? The Friedrich Ebert Foundation asked.

For fear of the consequences of climate change, young people, like here in Berlin, regularly take to the streets

How do young people between the ages of 16 and 30 assess their own lives and their position in society in the face of multiple crises? What expectations do you have of politics and parties? References can be found in a large-scale study by the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation (FES), which is close to the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).

“Alarmed, but not resigned”

More than 4,000 young voters took part in the representative telephone and online survey and in in-depth discussions. “We met young voters who radiate surprising maturity and who are alarmed by the current situation, but are far from resigned,” writes the seven-strong team of authors, which includes political and social scientists as well as opinion pollsters and trend researchers .

One of the most important results is that the respondents are mostly satisfied with their lives, but feel very unsettled by the various crises. Financial and social security are very important, but also non-material values ​​- especially family and friends.

“You want to lead a good, normal life”

In addition to the ever-present climate crisis, the topics of old-age security and housing are right at the top of the agenda for young people. “They look at the world and their own lives with a very realistic view of what to expect,” the analysis said. And: “They want to lead a good, normal life.”

Since young people are growing up in an age of upheaval and uncertainty, the question is no longer whether they will one day be better off than their parents, “but whether their generation can prevent a major crash”. This is why young people in Germany are apparently even less confident about the future than the entire German electorate. 

Only a fifth is confident

Three quarters (74 percent) of those under 30 are concerned, only one fifth (19 percent) are positive about the current situation in Germany. In view of the current situation, 69 percent of all those entitled to vote are concerned, almost a quarter (24 percent) are optimistic.

According to the study, the frequently expressed concern about a young generation that is particularly skeptical about democracy is obviously unfounded. Satisfaction with the political system among the under-30s roughly corresponds to the level of the voting population as a whole. However, the team of authors emphasizes that about half of the respondents are “little or not at all satisfied” with the functioning of democracy.

Parties should be more interested in young people

This seems to be mainly due to the lack of attractiveness of parties and their mostly older staff. Seven out of ten respondents criticize what they perceive as a lack of openness on the part of the parties to the ideas of young people. Only a fifth thinks that politicians take their concerns seriously. And almost 40 percent find the language of politicians incomprehensible.

Nevertheless, the majority of young people in Germany attest that politics is of great importance for their own lives. However, 45 percent do not feel they can change anything in their environment and on issues that are important to them.

Blessings and curses of social media

< p>80 percent of 16 to 30 year olds come into contact with politics through their everyday media consumption. Social networks play an important role, but also personal conversations with friends and family, at school or at work. Channels like Instagram and TikTok have an ambivalent reputation.

The short and easy-to-understand summary of the topics is seen as an advantage. Above all, young people rate the algorithms used in social media and the role of influencers negatively. They see the danger of being unintentionally drawn into an opinion bubble and being influenced one-sidedly.

Distrust of algorithms and fake news

Overall, however, the young people in the study are attested that “themselves with a healthy distrust of algorithms and “fake news” in the digital space. In order to form their own opinions, they looked for objective formats that offered a neutral overview of party-political positions.

Why is TikTok addictive?

The study team therefore recommends that the parties communicate where young people are out and about: on social networks. It is primarily about authenticity. On the one hand, MPs are expected to have expertise, but at the same time they should not appear aloof, appear as naturally as possible and use understandable language.

“Young people are interested in political issues”

That demands Martin Schulz, who lost the Bundestag elections in 2017 as SPD candidate for chancellor against the then incumbent Angela Merkel. The 68-year-old now heads the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, on whose behalf the youth study was carried out. His conclusion: “Young people are interested in political issues and participation. That's a good sign.”

At the same time, it's becoming clear that the younger generation doesn't feel heard enough by political parties. You have to take that seriously, because: “The acceptance of political decisions is of existential importance for democracy.”