Youth Barometer 2020: Equality, sustainability and social media
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Youth Barometer 2020: Equality, sustainability and social media

More and more young people are becoming politically engaged on the issues that matter most to them – in particular equality and the environment. They are using social media as a catalyst for change, although this brings its own problems.

Attending a political demonstration became fashionable in 2020. After many years in which it was widely believed that young people have little interest in politics and are even less committed when it comes to campaigning, more and more young people are now becoming engaged on political and social issues – and that also goes down well with their friends.

Getting involved in politics is fashionable among young people in Switzerland in particular, with 22% saying they have actively participated in a demonstration or would like to do so. A further 36% believe this type of event is increasingly "in," but so far have not attended one themselves and do not have any plans to do so in future either.

This is the highest degree of political involvement we have seen since the Credit Suisse Youth Barometer was first conducted a decade ago. The representative survey of young people between the ages of 16 and 25 in Switzerland, the US, Brazil, and Singapore also reveals striking country differences and provides insight into the benefits and risks of social media.

Growing commitment to gender equality

Equality is growing in importance

One key topic that young people from all countries are engaging with politically is gender equality. There are differences from country to country, however: While a narrow majority of respondents in the US have put this topic toward the top of their agenda for years, the high level of importance assigned to the issue by young people in Switzerland and Singapore is new. Around half of those surveyed – corresponding to a rise of almost 20 percentage points compared with 2015 – stated that they intended to campaign for gender equality and that this is fashionable among their circle of friends. Among young people in Brazil, the consensus is even greater: Over 70% of them believe equality is a central priority and want to campaign on this issue. This points to a global trend – and puts equality between men and women in the top spot as a political issue.

The respondents expressed their desire for equality not only on the political front but also in terms of their day-to-day lives and their employer: While a good salary, creative employer, and modern environment were seen as slightly less important factors compared with previous years, the belief that women should have the same opportunities for a successful career as men was rated as increasingly important – as was the opportunity to work from home, a highly topical issue in this pandemic year. Although women remain stronger advocates on this issue, the figures for both genders are actually very similar: 88% of all women (average across all four countries in the survey) think it is important for women to have good career opportunities in a company, as against a figure of 86% for men.

Equality between men and women will continue to be a political hot potato in the future, and young people around the world seem to be agreed on the need to eliminate inequalities.

Committed to environmental issues

The subject of the environment is another key concern: In all countries, it is widely felt that campaigning on these issues is "in" – with the figures reaching their highest levels yet in the case of Switzerland, the US, and Singapore. More than half of young people in Switzerland say they actively campaign for sustainability and also identify it as a trend. Nearly half the respondents said they felt at least a partial allegiance to the climate movement.

In all likelihood, environmental protection and climate change look set to remain at the top of the agenda for this generation in the years ahead. The topic plays an important role in their personal as well as professional lives. Although political views often change during a person's life, the values and principles that are important to them during their adolescence, as well as the experiences and events of that period, often play a role throughout their lives.

Social media simplifies political action

Two catalysts are contributing to this politicization of young adults globally. First, hugely popular apps such as WhatsApp and Instagram make it easier for like-minded individuals to exchange views. This makes it possible to show quickly and easily who campaigns for what – and whether it goes down well with their friends. Second, young people see a need for political action on major social challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, financial crises, as well as geopolitical and social problems.

Although social media play a crucial role for worldwide social movements, they also bring challenges: To an ever increasing extent, they not only provide entertainment but also serve as a source of news and are increasingly replacing traditional media such as newspapers, radio, and television. The flipside of this development – that each and every one of us can create and share content with the world – makes it extremely difficult to rectify fake news and avoid filter bubbles.

In this respect, social media is a double-edged sword: On the one hand, it makes political discussion easier and galvanizes political engagement; on the other hand, triggers for political action can also be based on half-truths or fake stories. This problem is also recognized by the young people polled: In all four countries, fake news ranked among the top concerns of 16- to 25-year-olds. Our politicized youth therefore seem to have a nuanced view of their own media and tools.