Youth Barometer 2022: Is meritocracy a myth?
Articles & stories

Youth Barometer 2022: Is meritocracy a myth?

Regardless of where you come from, your skin color, your gender, or your social status: Those who put in enough effort and work hard get recognized and make it all the way to the top. This is the promise of our modern meritocratic society. Meritocracy, which originated during the Enlightenment, has been "trending" since the 1980s. The idea that financial and social status is no longer inherited but earned has had great social appeal for a long time.

In recent years, however, there has been growing discussion about the flip side of the modern performance society and people are increasingly dismissing the hype surrounding meritocracy. Is meritocracy really a myth? What's more: What do young people even think of the idea of a meritocracy today? Is it still as cool as it was in 1980 or has it long since lost its appeal?

Social and financial recognition

When you ask young people in 2022 whether they value financial or social recognition more, there is a very slight preference toward financial recognition. For young Swiss people, however, social recognition is now almost as important as financial recognition. This is according to the results of the Credit Suisse Youth Barometer, a representative survey of young people between the ages of 16 and 25 in Switzerland, the US, Brazil, and Singapore.

Among the countries surveyed, the highest proportion of young people in Brazil and the United States responded that financial recognition is more important than social recognition. However, all countries are relatively close to the average and value financial recognition only slightly higher than social recognition.

It is obvious that the coronavirus pandemic has brought greater awareness of social recognition. For example, the pandemic made many people realize that systemically relevant professions are often poorly paid. Those who have done incredible things, especially in the nursing and healthcare professions, have received praise, appreciation, and thanks, but not necessarily financial compensation.

Confidence and personal responsibility in pension provision

Young people are confident that they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement. This is the view of the majority of young people in all the countries surveyed. This confidence is strongest among young Brazilians (64%) and lowest among young Swiss (54%). However, confidence in being able to live comfortably after retirement is also increasing among Swiss young people again. One in three young people in Switzerland is extremely or quite confident; in 2020, only one in four shared this optimism.

Most young Swiss people believe that they will have to fall back on personal savings and investments when they retire, followed by the state pension (AHV). In all the countries surveyed, personal savings are seen as the most important source of income in old age. Everyone is therefore responsible for making their own provision for retirement, which young people are very well aware of. In Switzerland, 60% of young people believe that individuals should assume more or much more responsibility for their own retirement provision. This figure is 73% in the US, 82% in Singapore, and as high as 83% in Brazil.


Saving is a big thing

Almost 70% of young Swiss people are able to live comfortably with the money they have at their disposal. If you were to give young people in Switzerland CHF 10,000 in cash, they would put a good 25% of it in their savings account and save a further CHF 1,000 for a rainy day. They would also put aside money for a mortgage, starting a family, or retirement. Saving is popular among young people: One in two young persons in Switzerland puts money aside every month. A further 22% are able to add to their savings at least in some months. In contrast, for the first time, a majority of young people in the US say that they struggle to make ends meet with the money available in their budget every month. As a result, young Americans have the least money left over at the end of the month. One in three Americans is able to save every month. An additional 25% are able to put aside some of their earnings in some months.

Prosperity as a means to enjoying a good life

When asked what is more important to them personally, prosperity or freedom, all young people interviewed answered freedom. The trend towards a higher weighting of freedom among young people is strongest in the US, and weakest among young people in Brazil.

If you ask young people in Switzerland about their future plans, they will say that what is most important to them is trying out many ideas/things. In addition, young Swiss people consider it important to have a clear idea of their lives. These are all things that are also top of young people's wish lists for their future in the US, Brazil, and Singapore. Compared to 2020, the desire to work in order to be able to finance longer career breaks has declined slightly in Switzerland. But young Swiss people still attribute the same importance to being able to live a happy, good life, just like their parents.

Pursuing a career ranks only 14th in the above-mentioned list of young Swiss people's future plans. By way of comparison, in the US, pursuing a career still ranks fourth, whereas it ranks seventh for young people in Singapore and 11th in Brazil. Young people in Switzerland strive for freedom and flexibility in their lives. Being financially secure is a means to achieving their dreams and life plans.

Statements on success and achievement

Politicians should ensure greater equality

Although 77% of young people in Switzerland believe that they can achieve things in life through hard work and full commitment, they are aware that not everyone has the same start in life. Young Swiss people believe that politicians should do more to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities in life. Young people in the US, Brazil, and Singapore also feel that politicians need to create greater equality.

Although young people are fully conscious of the social inequalities underlying meritocracy, the awareness that everyone is the master of their own destiny – especially when it comes to financial security in retirement or owning your own home – is deeply anchored among young people in Switzerland. Meritocracy is no longer idealized, but young people do still believe in it.