Every four years the Sinus Youth Study examines what makes young people tick in Germany. In this interview co-publisher, Silke Borgstedt, talks about a generation between pragmatism, openness and the desire to belonging.
Mrs. Borgstedt, refugees and asylum have been ongoing issues for quite some time. The current Sinus Youth Study also focuses on this topic. What do 14- to 17-year-olds think about this?
There is a basic consensus – we live in a safe country and anybody in need of help, has to be helped. At the same time, young people are asking themselves what the taking in of refugees means for their own lives. It is above all those young people whose living situations are insecure, who partly feel they are losers when it comes to education – they are the ones who have the feeling they cannot keep up with the rest, that they cannot achieve what is required. For them, immigration most certainly also represents competition, but usually most of them have an open attitude towards it.
Is this openness based on certain values?
The current group of 14- to 17-year-olds is looking for stability and a feeling of belonging in an ever more complex world. This principle of sticking together is more pronounced than any efforts to distance oneself from others. Alongside sticking together and reliability, values such as fairness and courtesy have become much more important, as was also the case in the last study four years ago. These are still combined with the typical values of youth, i.e. having fun and testing themselves and their limits.
How important is religion to the youth of today?
For young people it is not so important who believes in which God, and they condemn religiously motivated conflicts. Regardless of the social milieu they come from, they all agree that diversity is part of life, even if there are sometimes conflicts. The young people have grown up with the feeling of living in a country of immigration. That is why a growing number of people with an immigrant background is one of the realities of life for them.
Political activists who emphasize nationality and nation are growing stronger in Germany. To what extent does this play a role for young people?
Dr. Silke Borgstedt, Sinus Institute | Photo (detail): © Jochen Resch
The majority of them see themselves as Europeans and are not anxious to emphasize the idea of being German and to see it as something special. Relating to one's own nation and nationality is rather old-fashioned, something maybe their parents are into. This post-national understanding, however, does not mean that there are no hostile attitudes towards foreigners. These, however, do not lead to the idea of one’s own nation being exalted, but more, for example, to the question whether society is composed the right way and whether there is enough to go round for everybody. This is where existential fears come into play – is my job safe or will I still get housing benefit if more people come into the country?
How do young people see their future?
This depends strongly on the particular walk of life they come from. In general, they are aware that you need certain resources to make it in life. If I were to judge young people as a whole, I would say they were pragmatic about the future. However, there is one area where we have encountered restraint with regard to the future – digitalisation.
In what sense?
We've observed a kind of digital saturation. It is probably the first generation of young people, for whom digitalisation is not so much a tempting promise, but more a demanding task. They also connect it with surveillance and control. It bothers them that their employer knows what they have been doing and when, that their data is not deletable and how their private sphere is protected. When it comes to adolescents with a higher level of education, the loss of analogous skills also plays a role. They are apprehensive about the fact that we are heavily dependent on the new technologies and consider what could happen if these technologies were not available.
Does this critical attitude also apply to the social networks?
Digital saturation does not mean rejecting everything. The social networks are important to them, anybody who is not on them is already a real outsider. Nobody can afford to spend a week without a smartphone. They are, however, also increasingly concerned about making more moderate use of these devices, i.e. to be able to switch them off theoretically. Digitalisation has completely lost all its drama. Internet euphoria is something for the elderly.
That all sounds like a very sober view of the problems and challenges. The young people seem to have adopted a pragmatic and goal-oriented approach.
That’s right. They are all trying to find their own way and are not so much in search of a great movement. The length of time they belong to a social group has been greatly reduced, for example, when it comes to getting involved in social or political projects. For these young people political parties are too full of busybodies and too cliquey. Instead, they get involved on a short term basis, for example, using a hashtag. Such movements come and go much faster. The question of whether a big youth movement is an option is often asked, but what would be the basis for such a movement? We have gone through a long period of permanent individualisation and heeded its accompanying performance imperatives. All their lives young people have been told that they need to ensure they make it in life themselves and they are aware that they will hardly or probably not benefit from the fruits of the so-called “mutually supportive community”, for example, with a view to their pensions.
Every four years, since 2008, the Sinus Youth Study has been examining the way young people aged between 14 and 17 live in Germany – their milieus. For the 2016 study, the Sinus Institute conducted 72 qualitative interviews with young people on their values and attitudes regarding the digital media, national identity or refugees and asylum. Based on the level of education and the basic orientation of the interviewees, a total of seven milieus were established, which, compared to the study from the year 2012, have changed only slightly.
Bibliography: Calmbach, Marc; Borgstedt, Silke; Borchard, Inga; Thomas, Peter Martin; Flaig, Berthold Bodo: Wie ticken Jugendliche 2016? Lebenswelten von Jugendlichen im Alter von 14 bis 17 Jahren in Deutschland. Berlin 2016: Springer Verlags GmbH.