Youth Barometer 2020: the new Coronavirus unsettles young people worldwide
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Youth Barometer 2020: the new Coronavirus unsettles young people worldwide

Although few young people fall into the COVID-19 risk group, they are still very worried about the situation. However, the impact the pandemic is having on their lives varies greatly from country to country – especially with regard to their list of top concerns, trust in government, the future of e-commerce, and solidarity with their fellow citizens.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. The coronavirus – and the way it is being handled – dominates the headlines; it is bringing massive change to people's day-to-day lives and unsettling young people too, despite the fact that very few of them fall into the high-risk category. The Credit Suisse Youth Barometer 2020 surveyed young people between the ages of 16 and 25 in Brazil, Singapore, Switzerland, and the US on how the coronavirus is being tackled and what impact it is having on their lives. The survey provides a timely insight into the top concerns at national level, the relationship between young people and their own government, the future of online trading, and solidarity with their fellow citizens.

Although the pandemic has had a devastating effect in all countries, it was cited as the biggest problem by young people in only two of the four countries surveyed: In the US and Singapore, it was described as the biggest concern by over 40% of respondents – ahead of public safety in the US, and fake news in Singapore. In Switzerland, on the other hand, nearly half the respondents stated that reform of the pension system was the most pressing problem, while in Brazil it was unemployment – ahead of coronavirus. Despite the shared concern about the new type of virus, these differences in the countries surveyed illustrate that domestic problems can in some instances outstrip a global pandemic in terms of perceived urgency.

The reality, however, is that existing national problems are likely to be exacerbated by the pandemic. Based on the results for Switzerland, for example, the Credit Suisse Youth Barometer highlights the interplay between these perceptions. In Switzerland, retirement provision comes top of the list of concerns: At present, around half the young Swiss respondents doubt whether they will have enough money to lead a comfortable life when they retire. That perception has now been amplified by COVID-19, with a majority of 16- to 25-year-olds believing there is an increasingly urgent need for action on pension reform as a result of the pandemic.

Was junge Leute aus der COVID-19-Pandemie folgern

Success leads to greater trust

COVID-19 has become widespread in all countries included in the survey, although governments in individual countries have taken different measures to counter the virus ‒ with varying degrees of success: Whereas rapidly introduced restrictions in Switzerland and Singapore initially led to a temporary leveling out of case numbers, the number of coronavirus cases in Brazil and the US continue to skyrocket. Young people's trust in their government also varies in line with the success of these measures.

Four out of five young people in Singapore and three out of four in Switzerland have confidence in the measures taken by their governments to combat the virus. Generally speaking, the restrictions are seen as appropriate. Although young people in Brazil and the US likewise agree with the measures introduced, the degree of trust they have in their government is significantly lower. Slightly over half have confidence in what the government in Brazil has done, and just two out of five in the US. Young people's support for the approach taken by their government clearly falls if case numbers go on rising.

Major life changes

The pandemic has led to restrictions on everyday life in all of the countries surveyed – if to varying degrees. Despite reduced social contact, a deteriorating financial situation, compulsory face masks, and national lockdowns, the young people polled broadly agree that they have also learned some positive things about themselves – for instance with regard to their purchasing behavior, or how they plan their leisure time.

First, 70% agreed with the statement that you can still live comfortably if you consume less, particularly in Switzerland and Singapore, with around two-thirds of young people indicating that they have bought and consumed less in recent months. In Brazil and the US, around half the respondents said they had spent less. In addition, only in Switzerland do young people feel the urge to do their shopping in conventional stores again now that the lockdown is over. Young people in all other countries plan to do more of their shopping online in the future too. This is a fascinating finding, bearing in mind that the SARS epidemic in China in 2002 and 2003 led to a very significant increase in the spread of e-commerce and online shopping. It remains to be seen whether the current pandemic will now have a similar effect at a global level.

Second, the young people surveyed enjoyed the fact that there was basically less going on: Because of the pandemic and the measures and restrictions imposed, they did not have to decide when to go out and where – and therefore had no fear of missing out on something. To that extent, the forced rest and relaxation also had positive effects on young people and their well-being. The exception here is young people in Brazil, who state that because of the crisis they often have to take care of their parents and grandparents.

More solidarity in Switzerland

Although there is a lot of uncertainty in connection with COVID-19, we do know that groups such as older people and those with existing conditions are at considerably greater risk than healthy, younger people – most of whom suffer mild symptoms if they become ill. This raises the question: How important is it to the younger generation to show solidarity and protect high-risk groups? All in all, the Youth Barometer reveals that the coronavirus crisis has led young people to show greater solidarity with their fellow citizens.

More than half the young people in Switzerland and Brazil, and as many as two-thirds in Singapore, believe the crisis has brought society closer together in their own country. They agree that the spread of the virus will only be halted by people working together. Furthermore, two out of three young people in Switzerland, and almost three out of four in Brazil and Singapore, agree that solidarity between the generations had been strengthened as a result of coronavirus.

Conversely, high-risk groups are also asked to show a degree of solidarity toward the rest of the population: In all countries, the respondents feel that those individuals who are at particular risk should stay at home so that the majority's activities are not restricted by the needs of the few. In this sense, young people demonstrate solidarity and want to tackle the crisis together with older generations, but they want restrictions to be targeted and allow for a more or less normal life wherever possible.

The notion of solidarity is somewhat less pronounced among young people in the US than in the three other countries included in the survey. Only around half believe the pandemic has brought society closer together in the US. This finding is probably a reflection of the generally high degree of polarization within the country, reflected not least by the differing extent to which socioeconomic groups have been affected by coronavirus as well as by the current Black Lives Matter protests.