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Focus on Youth (2002)

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Optimism Is the Order of the Day

In the present societal situation, adolescents face higher expectations and higher risks than twenty years ago. This pertains to possible failure in school or their careers, to the labor market situation, but also to their personal security in a world of open borders. Nevertheless, the younger generation is optimistic about their future. “Young people have adjusted their value orientation to these new conditions,” explained Hurrelmann.

The study shows that the attitudes of Germany’s youth can be traced back to a fundamental shift in values that had already started to become apparent in the 1990s. “The ideologically informed protest- and “zero interest”-attitude of earlier generations, which was, at the time, cultivated mostly by college students and high school graduates, is outdated,” says Hurrelmann. On the whole, the mindset of young people has shifted away from being socially critical and toward the center of society.

Climbing the Ranks Instead of Dropping Out

Most young people react to the new social agenda by thinking positively and exhibiting a greater willingness to work hard. “Climbing the ranks instead of dropping out” is their motto for shaping their future. Adolescents develop their own prospects and practice active “environmental monitoring.” They attentively examine their social environment for opportunities and risks, wanting to utilize opportunities and minimize risks. Overarching social goals are not central. “The goal instead is to succeed in an achievement-oriented society,” says Hurrelmann.

Achievement, security, and influence have become more important to young people. This is confirmed by a comparison with another scientific study on values from the second half of the 1980s: Back then, only 62 percent of adolescents regarded “industriousness and ambition” as important; today, the figure today is already 75 percent. “Seeking security” (rose from 69 to 79 percent) and “power and influence” (from 27 to 36 percent) also place very high in the values ranking in the present study. Commenting on the study’s findings, Hurrelmann said, “Young people have cleaned the ‘dust’ off these ‘established bourgeois’ principles and are developing a new, unbiased relationship toward them. Security, order, and industriousness are linked in a new synergy with modern values such as creativity, tolerance, and enjoyment.”

“Yes” to Career and Family

This shift in values among youth is driven, in particular, by female adolescents. Girls and young women today are more ambitious, but also more self-assured. “Professional success,” “starting a business,” and “assuming responsibility” are just as important to them as to boys and young men. Around half of all schoolchildren today aspire to complete the university qualification exam [Abitur] or to acquire subject-specific university qualifications. It is striking that more girls than boys hope to acquire higher education. In terms of level of education, girls have even surpassed boys by now.

At the same time, family is considered to be very important. Seventy-five percent of female respondents and 65 percent of male respondents think that they need a family “to be happy.” More than two-thirds of young people want to have their own children in the future. “For most young people today, career and family are no longer mutually exclusive. Instead they are two central objectives of equal importance,” according to Hurrelmann.

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