Politics, Values and Society
In some cases, young people's ideas about politics, society, and values differ significantly in the US, Brazil, Singapore, and Switzerland. Unemployment, corruption, an aging population, and foreigners – these are just some of the issues that concern young people.
The young people surveyed for the Credit Suisse Youth Barometer – born between 1990 and 1999 – are optimistic about the future. In Switzerland, confidence has grown, year by year, since 2010. Today 64 percent of respondents believe that they have a bright future – a higher percentage than in any of the other countries. Brazilians have traditionally been very hopeful, but the difficult years of the recent past, coupled with dismal forecasts for the economy, have reduced the share of optimists to 58 percent (–15 percentage points since 2012). In the United States and Singapore, however, 16- to 25-year-olds are more confident about the future today than they were in any of the past three years.
Proportion of young people who are "reasonably confident" about their future
The fact that Brazilian respondents express more pessimism is closely related to the country's problems: Three out of four young people believe that there is too much corruption. This is the only question that elicits such unanimity, and only in Brazil. Unemployment, too, is once again causing heightened concern in Brazil – understandable, given that the unemployment rate is on the rise, following a steady decline until 2014.
Unemployment is a major issue in Singapore and the United States as well, although the situation has eased somewhat. In the US, the recent recovery has been helpful; in Singapore, the unemployment rate dropped between 2009 and 2014 despite a slowdown in the country's economic growth.
Unemployment is not an issue in Switzerland. However, in both Switzerland and Singapore there are signs that demographic change may be leading to generational conflict. Indeed, the aging of the Singaporean population, coupled with a low birthrate, is regarded as that country's most pressing problem; retirement provision ranks second in Switzerland. Asked directly whether they see an increasing percentage of older people as a problem, more and more respondents in Switzerland and Singapore are responding in the affirmative. There is no correlation between the results and the median age of the population. Switzerland is the country with the oldest population (50 percent are over the age of 42), but the United States ranks second (50 percent over 38), and only then comes Singapore (50 percent over 34). Brazil's population is youngest (50 percent over 31). Perhaps the salient factor is country size: In the two small countries, where people live closer together, the composition of the population is more apparent.
While most young people consider political parties to be "out", there is no indication that they are generally disillusioned with politics.
Bolstering this theory are two observations: In Switzerland, concern about foreigners in general and refugees in particular has steadily increased over the past five years (for more on the challenges and problems facing Swiss youth, see the interview with Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann in Expertise & Dialogue). And Singapore is, as yet, the only country in which a majority considers an increasing number of foreigners to be a somewhat big or very big problem.
Are the problems that young people identify motivating them to enter politics and try to bring about change in their countries? While they consider political parties to be "out", there is no indication that they are generally disillusioned with politics. Especially when things are not going well, the young want to become actively involved. In Brazil, 35 percent of respondents describe themselves as politically engaged, four percent more than in the previous year.
The bottom line: Are young people lazy, spoiled and constantly distracted? Hardly! Today's 16- to 25-year-olds are thoughtful and realistic. Perhaps they spend too much time playing with their various electronic devices, but that's always been one of youth's privileges: having something of their own that their parents know nothing about.