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Focus on Youth (2002)

Since 1952, the Shell Oil Company has published regular scientific studies on the changing values of young people in Germany. The young people interviewed for this Shell Youth Study (Number 14 from 2002) expressed little trust in politics but a great willingness to work hard on the job. The “zero interest” attitude of earlier generations no longer predominates. The report makes reference to “go-getters and idealists” but notes that there are also young people who feel overwhelmed by life and who respond with either apathy or a dog-eat-dog mentality.

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Climbing the Ranks Instead of Dropping out: Young People are Pragmatic and Goal-Oriented in Shaping their Future

The youth of today are pragmatic. They mix what they find appropriate into a cocktail of values: industriousness and power, family and security, creativity and standard of living – everything is possible at the same time. The up-and-coming generation rises to social and personal challenges and wants to solve its own problems. Young people do not put much trust in the ability of politics and political parties to solve problems. These are the conclusions drawn by the 14th Shell Youth Study. The study was drafted by Bielefeld social scientists Professor Klaus Hurrelmann, Ph.D., and Professor Mathias Albert, Ph.D., and a team from the Munich Infratest Social Research Institute. On behalf of the German branch of Shell Corporation, the researchers asked more than 2,500 young people between the ages of twelve and twenty-five about their living situation, their values, and their attitude toward politics.

When compared to previous studies, the 14th Shell Youth Study shows that one trend has grown noticeably stronger: Young people’s general interest in politics is continuing to decline. Only 34 percent of adolescents describe themselves as interested in politics. In 1991, that figure was still 57 percent. Age and level of education play an important role: It is mostly older, well-educated young people who are interested in or active in politics. Younger adolescents, as part of the course of their development to maturity, are (still) primarily concerned with themselves. All in all, only 35 percent said they would definitely vote in elections; another 37 percent would only “probably” do so. The younger the respondent, the lower the willingness to vote in a Bundestag election. “We cannot take it for granted that young people will be interested in elections. We have to spark these young voters’ interest in democracy,” said project leader Klaus Hurrelmann.

Little Confidence in Parties

Although the vast majority of young people consider democracy a good form of governance, as many as 52 percent of respondents in the new federal states [i.e., the former GDR] and 27 percent in the old federal states [i.e., the former FRG] are critical of the democratic process in Germany. This is how youth in the new federal states, especially, express their criticism of living conditions and the lack of personal opportunities. The authors determined that young people have little confidence in political parties and moderate confidence in the federal government, churches, trade unions, and citizens’ initiatives. In contrast, they view nonpartisan state institutions such as the justice system or the police, as well as human rights and environmental groups as especially trustworthy.

What hasn’t changed at first glance is their political self-positioning. In contrast to the general population, young adults continue to align themselves slightly left of center. They clearly reject political extremism. In the old federal states, in particular, there is an ever greater number of young people (33 percent) who cannot or will not place themselves on the traditional right-left scale. Whereas the majority of respondents are aligned with one of the two large mainstream parties [i.e. the SPD and the CDU], young people’s affinity toward the Green Party, so the study suggests, has continually declined as compared to the 1980s and 1990s. Overall, nineteen percent of young people failed to respond to the question of which party could best solve Germany’s problems; 37 percent thought that no party had that ability.

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