Next Generation Germany: Satisfied, but angsty about the future

, by Marie Menke

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Next Generation Germany: Satisfied, but angsty about the future
The British Council’s study paints the portrait of a young generation. Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash.

For its Next Generation study series, the British Council interviewed a representative sample of 18- to 30-year-olds in Germany about their everyday lives, their fears and their wishes. The result is a picture of a generation that is quite content with what they have now, but looks anxiously into the future. This article takes a look at its results.

German youth think that they are doing well, according to the overall result of the study. The respondents expressed pride in the German education system, which provides high-quality education that is also free of charge. They spoke of relatively low income inequality and a strong and supportive social system. The results sound like a mixture of modest awareness of the advantages of a youth in Germany, pride in the system in which they participants grew up in and the resulting comfort. So far, so good.

However, a look into the future turns the tide: On the one hand, the interviewees were worried about whether or not Germany is prepared for the future. In their view, typical German skills such as diligence and care as well as characteristics such as accuracy and stability will be less in demand in the future. Creativity and speed, for example, would have to take their place: According to the interviewees both are not necessarily typically German characteristics. On the other hand, the respondents were also concerned about their own future plans: Even if they rated the education system positively, they feared, for example, that it was not innovative enough and that it could not prepare them for a digital working world.

Politics: Sure, but differently

For politicians, the study is a slap in the face: only half of men and just over a third of women felt “somewhat” or “very” politically involved. Only a third found the political system effective, less than a quarter had confidence in the government, and for more than 70 percent the government stood for “none” or only “some” of the things that were important to them. In short, 18 to 30-year-olds still feel far from being politically represented.

The solution: According to the study, young people would like to be more involved in politics, if political topics, language and formats were closer to their personal life realities. A majority was not averse to the idea of getting involved in politics, but did not know how and where to start. On top of that, there was a fair amount of frustration: from rising house prices to a lack of integration possibilities for people who have not been in Germany for long, to technical innovations - the list of things that respondents felt the German government did not have a handle on was long.

Europe and the World: between European Identity and British Clichés

Furthermore, especially in comparison to the results of the same study in the United Kingdom, the identities of young Germans proved to be much more diverse: some identified with their regions within Germany, others identified as European, and 77 percent identified strongly with their city. Germany as a nation state seemed to play a subordinate role. Beyond national borders, however, many felt uncomfortable with the role that Germany plays globally: they saw German foreign policy as too cautious and consensus-oriented. Some argue that this was because both Germany’s self-perception and its external perception were primarily associated with the Second World War.

At the same time, strong clichés emerged. The interviewees mainly associated three things with the United Kingdom: Brexit, the Queen and drink – primarily tea and beer. Brexit was a topic of conversation for almost all respondents, but was seen primarily as a disappointment and a mistake on the part of the United Kingdom. 82 percent believed that Brexit would also have consequences for Germany, of which 62 percent believed that these consequences would be negative. However, Brexit did not affect the confidence of young Germans in the EU.

Gender justice: differences are opening up

Regional differences could hardly be observed in the study - neither between North and South, nor between West and East. On the other hand, a different boundary opened up: Among men, almost one-sixth more than among women described themselves as “somewhat” or “very” politically involved. Women more often stated that they felt the effects of violence, racism and financial inequality. Moreover, far more women had been victims of violence themselves.

The study only surveys the self-perception of young people: However, other studies confirm that these are largely in line with reality. In addition, however, the British Council study shows that these have long since influenced the way young women perceive their everyday lives and the world beyond. The study thus clearly shows that there is a lack of gender equality for 18 to 30-year-olds in Germany.

We need courage to try something new

In many places, the study is a point to follow up on: it provides countless figures that show how young people in Germany feel. What exactly these concerns and desires trigger requires further research. Similarly interesting for subsequent research could be solutions proposed by the age group itself, for example, for the often-criticised problem of lack of housing.

All in all, the results are a wake-up call: they portray a generation that is doing well in the present, but is increasingly critical of the system around them. The largely conservative education system, a lack of courage to innovate and a lack of state support to achieve financial security and a stable housing situation are just three points that make the generation look increasingly pessimistic into the future. In addition, they are significantly lacking the knowledge, skills and opportunities necessary to make themselves heard at the political level and to represent their interests there. One thing is therefore clear: the results of the study call not only for political education work to enable young people to demand their needs, but also for courageous steps to challenge the future.

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