“A Pragmatic Generation under Pressure”
Mister Hurrelmann, would you like to be young again today?
I would think well about it first.
A person who is young has the whole of his life ahead of him. That may be exciting, but being young also means taking on a large portion of responsibility for oneself. We are living in an open society with a great many complex opportunities. Having such choices is a good thing if you know how to handle them. For those who don’t, however, being young is very, very strenuous and stressful.
69 per cent of the young people in Germany are afraid of losing their job or of not finding adequate employment, according to the new Shell Jugendstudie (i.e., study on youth commissioned by Shell). Young people are much more pessimistic than four years ago during your last study.
That is because the situation on the apprenticeship and job market has deteriorated even further. Hence the worry stems from economic reasons that cannot be ignored. Many expect that they will have to find their way through life under more difficult conditions. And in this respect education is a key factor: 57 per cent of the Gymnasiasten (i.e. pupils at a secondary school who take the Abitur exam qualifying them for university) but only 38 per cent of the Hauptschüler (i.e., pupils at a general secondary school who leave school at roughly 16) tend to look forward with confidence to the future.
What conclusions do the young people draw from the growing insecurity about the future?
Educated young people tend to take a pragmatic attitude. Achievement, security and influence are important to them. The values hard work and ambition are becoming more important. Young people do not want to change society; they want to apply themselves to concrete problems that are linked to personal opportunities. Unfortunately there is also a group of young people who have given themselves up and are not investing in the future anymore. Usually they’re young men without a school leaving certificate who have the feeling that there is no place in society for them.
In the Shell Study you speak of the young people of 2006 as “a pragmatic generation under pressure”. How do young people deal with that pressure?
Approximately 10 to 15 per cent of young people feel themselves heavily under pressure and this pressure tries to find a vent. Anyone who does not manage to meet the challenge may well become psychologically ill, begin to take drugs or become violent. In the east of Germany 57 per cent of the young people say they are not happy with the way democracy is functioning. That’s a warning. It is the task of politicians to prove to the younger generation that they can be relied upon and to create room in which young people can express their wishes and needs.
At the end of 2005 in France there were serious riots by disadvantaged young people in the suburbs. Night after night cars were set on fire. Can we expect something similar in Germany?
The situation is not yet that dramatic. Here young immigrants – those who were primarily responsible for the protests in France – are not at such a disadvantage as far as living space and jobs are concerned. Even in the general statistics on youth unemployment, Germany is still in the better third in comparison to the rest of Europe. That explains why hundreds of thousands of pupils and students are not going on the streets to demonstrate against reforms in the employment market as was seen in France in March 2006.
Is it simply that there are no young rebels here anymore? You once called the young people of Germany “easy democrats”.
Young people in Germany keep far away from parliaments and political parties. Although they support democratic structures, they don’t want to participate in them. Through our system of education in Germany which lasts a particularly long time we have a special form of pacification of rebellious young spirits. However we could actually well use a rebellion in the sense that the young people become restless and impatient. They must force their voice to be heard in the public domain and demand that problems – such as that of the job market – are dealt with.
Does this protest not take place, in your opinion?
That has something to do with the fact that the leeway necessary to disassociate oneself from one’s parents has diminished. 90 per cent of young people get on well with their parents. Three-quarters of them still live at home between the ages of 18 and 21. 71 per cent would bring up their own children in the same way as their parents had done. In times of economic insecurity the family provides security, social backing and emotional support. In the first instance that can be seen as a positive achievement. However it becomes critical when young people are so comfortable at “Mum’s Hotel” that they stay too long and the essential break with their parents’ home does not come about.
20 per cent of young people in Germany have an immigrant background. What is their relationship to young “German” people? Is there tension between young people who come from different cultures, or is background of no consequence for the younger generation?
The young members of the local population have a great many less prejudices against immigrants than the older members – but they do have some. For example, in comparison to the last Shell Study in 2002 the proportion of those who said they were against further immigration into Germany has increased considerably. The reason is clearly the deterioration in education and job perspectives. And that shows where the political challenge lies!
View of the imminent ageing of society, politicians of all parties have discovered a new topic, namely the family. Will this young generation, which apparently lays such great value on the family, have more children themselves?
Precisely the opposite will be the case! Even though 72 per cent are convinced that one needs a family if one is to lead a happy life, economic constraints and anxiety about the future prevent many from taking the first step to starting their own family. This is also influenced by the fact that girls have overtaken boys when it comes to education. Most young women would like to have children but they know that it is difficult to combine a family with professional achievement. What’s more, usually they don’t have a partner who is willing to share the workload. If young people are to be prepared for the challenges of the future then it is necessary to promote boys in a specific way that conveys a more flexible male image.
It doesn’t matter if they are researchers, members of the advertising industry or interested citizens – anyone who wants to know more about the younger generation in Germany can’t ignore the Shell Study on Youth. Every four years since as early as 1953 the mineral oil company has been commissioning independent researchers to examine the living situation and attitudes of young people in Germany. The research team around the social scientist Professor Klaus Hurrelmann conducted a survey of more than 2,500 young people between the ages of 12 and 25 years at the beginning of 2006.
In 2006 the young people are not viewing the future so optimistically as the young people of 2002: 69 per cent are afraid of unemployment; four years earlier it was only 55 per cent. In times that are seen as insecure the family gains in importance. Trust in politicians and the German government remain low. One the other hand at least, 39 per cent are interested in politics, against only 34 per cent in 2002 – lower than ever before.The focal point of the current survey is the topic “Youth in an ageing society”. In it the young people express great respect for the achievements of the older generation. “We see a generation which fulfils all the expectations of society as regards responsibility, achievement and family values,” according to the analysis of the authors of the study. “In relationship to that, the wishes expressed as regards better social framework conditions for education, for training and job opportunities and for starting a family appear very moderate.”
For the first time the attitude of young people to religion and the church was examined more closely. Only 30 per cent apparently believe in a personal god. Whereas hardly any young people in the New German States have a relationship to religion, the young people in the western part of Germany usually belong to a specific confession. However often they construct their own “religion light” from religious and pseudo-religious props. With the group of young immigrants it’s different though: here you definitely find more “true religion” – for instance 52 per cent believe in a personal god. As far as the further inflow of immigrants to Germany is concerned, a negative attitude now dominates with most of the young people. 58 per cent of the young people in comparison to 46 per cent in 2002 advocate accepting fewer immigrants than previously in Germany if possible. This more reserved position has reached all classes in the mean time. In comparison to 58 per cent in 2002, two thrids of foreign citizens – or 63 percent – maintain that he or she has been discriminated against in his or her everyday life “from time to time” because of the nationality.
works as an editor and a freelance journalist in Hamburg and Hanover.
Translation: Moira Davidson-Seger
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
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