SA’s youth don’t fancy their country’s prospects – global survey

I wasn’t sure whether to feel depressed or hopeful upon reading the results of the new global survey of young people’s attitudes and feelings, specifically the finding that South Africa’s youth has a lowest net approval of their country in the world (besides South Koreans). Depressed, because at the very time when youngsters should be thinking the world is their oyster (and perhaps travelling to compare it with pearls elsewhere), they’re actually the most pessimistic about their mother country. Hopeful, because if they choose to stay, they might vote in sufficient numbers to change things for the better. We’re talking Generation Z here (born between 1995 and 2001), ‘born-free,’ unencumbered by any direct life experience of “the struggle”. While no strangers to teargas and rubber bullets (as in campus disruptions such as #FeesMustFall, or service delivery protests), they’re unsullied by township body counts, weekend mass funerals and the whispers, intrigue and violence of the underground. Yet a full 19% think South Africa is a bad place to live. It would be interesting to compare the results had the same poll been available to Generation X (1966-76), commonly defined as truly sceptical and adjudged as being the least likely to vote. Or even Generation Y (born 1977 – 1994), at that time, globally, the most racially and ethnically diverse cohort. Our current South African youth don’t have the luxury of a lifespan that can say, ‘different government, same nonsense’. This is all they know – and it’s no longer pretty. – Chris Bateman

From Varkey Foundation:

Nearly half of young people in South Africa (48%) think overall that the world is becoming a worse place, while only 15% think it is becoming better, according to a new 20-country global survey. 35% of young South Africans polled thought the world was becoming neither better nor worse.

These findings are among those published by the Varkey Foundation, based on in-depth opinion polling by Populus. Generation Z: Global Citizenship Survey – What the world’s young people think and feel is the most comprehensive up-to-date global survey of the views of Generation Z – today’s teenagers and young adults who were born around the turn of the millennium.

Vikas Pota, Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation, said:

“At a time of nationalist and populist movements that focus on the differences between people, the evidence shows that young people – whatever their nationality or religion – share a strikingly similar view of the world. Teenagers in Nigeria, New Delhi and New York share many of same priorities, fears, ambitions and opinions. There is far more unity among young people than a glance at the headlines would suggest.

“Young people are passionate believers in the right to live the life that you choose, whatever your background, free of prejudice of all kinds. However, they are a generation that is deeply pessimistic about the future of the world. They are not strongly influenced by politicians and think that their governments are doing far too little to solve the refugee crisis – one of the greatest challenges of our age.

“Many assumptions are made about this first generation of ‘digital natives’. The survey allows us to challenge our assumptions with hard evidence. It is the most comprehensive recent attempt to understand the lives of Generation Z – the first group born who may conceivably live to see the 22nd century.  The Generation Z Global Citizenship Survey will be an invaluable insight into the world-view of the young people who will shape the world in the coming decades.”

The same questions were asked of members of Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2001) in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the UK and the US. This is the first time that there has been an international comparative study of the attitudes of young people on this scale.

Only 32% of young people polled in South Africa think that their country is a good place in which to live, while 19% said it was a bad place to live. This is a lower net approval than any other country polled apart from South Korea.  Nearly half –  49% –  thought that Nigeria was neither a good place nor a bad place to live.

A large majority of South African young people (68%) think their government is doing too little to solve the global refugee crisis – a larger proportion than any other country apart from Brazil. This compares to just 5% of young South Africans who think the government is doing too much to solve the global refugee crisis. 9% thought the current level of government response was about right, while 16% said they didn’t know and 2% declined to answer.

The survey also examined the trends in the world that make young people fearful of the future. It found that more than eight in ten young people (83%) cited terrorism and extremism as what makes them fearful for the future. A similar proportion (81%) were worried about the possibility of conflict and war – more than were concerned about other factors such as climate change (66%), the increased gap between rich and poor (69%), the risk of a global pandemic (62%) and the pace of technological change (30%).

The survey also found that young people overall are pessimistic about the future. 37% of young people think the world is becoming worse compared to just 20% who think it is becoming better. 39% think it is becoming neither better nor worse. The countries with the highest proportion of young people who think the world is becoming worse – (53%) – are France, Italy and Turkey, while the highest proportions of young people who think that the world is becoming better are found in China (53%) and India (49%).

The survey also showed that most young people around the world support liberal values of tolerance, equality and progress – from legality of same-sex marriage (63%) to equal treatment for men and women (89%) and equal rights for transgender people (74%) – even in some cases where these values run contrary to the laws or norms of their country.    

Free speech

Young people were, however, divided on the right to free speech. Only around half believe people should have the right to this even when it is offensive to a religion (56%) or minority groups (49%). Support for free speech even when offensive to a religion is highest in Turkey (78%) and Argentina (70%), and lowest in Nigeria (35%).   

They were also split on religion – which plays little part in the lives of most young people in Europe, but remains a strong influence on young people in Africa and the Americas. Less than half (42%) of young people say religious faith is an important part of their lives, and two-fifths (39%) claim religion is of no significance to them at all. However, nearly eight in ten young people in Africa (77%) say religious faith is important in their life.

Most young people are tolerant and know people from other religions. Just under two-thirds (64%) have close friends who belong to religions different to their own and only around one in six (17%) say a person’s religion is an important factor when deciding whether or not to be friends with someone. However, in Nigeria, a much higher proportion -43%- think religion is important in deciding on friendships.

In 14 out of 20 countries, young people are overall in favour of making it easier for migrants to live and work legally in their country. Indians are the most likely to say that their government should make it easier for immigrants to live and work legally in their country; South Koreans are the least likely. However, young people across the survey overall think that their governments are doing too little to solve the global refugee crisis: 43% thought they are doing too little, compared to just 12% who thought they are doing too much.

Elsewhere in the survey, less than a fifth (17%) of young people feel that they get enough sleep, exercise, rest and time for reflection. The highest percentages that feel they do are in Nigeria (41%), India (24%), Indonesia (22%), Germany (21%) and Italy (21%).  The lowest are in Israel (8%) and South Korea (11%).

Despite common perceptions, very few young people see the prospect of ‘celebrity status and fame’ (3% across all markets) to be the most important factor when thinking about their future career – apart from in Nigeria, where more than one in ten (11%) do.

Key Findings – International:

Wellbeing, Hopes and Ambitions

  1. More than two-thirds of young people across the survey describe themselves as happy with their life (68%). Emerging economies such as Indonesia (90%), Nigeria, (78%) and India (72%) tend to show higher levels of happiness than in advanced economies such as the US (63%), Canada (60%), France (57%), Australia (56%) and the UK (57%). Happiness levels decrease as young people move through to early adulthood. Young men are more likely to say they are happy than young women (62% vs. 56%).
  2. Money is the most common source of personal anxiety for young people – with half (51%) naming money-related issues as one of their top sources of anxiety. Just 10 per cent across the survey name social media as one of their greatest sources of anxiety.
  3. Less than a fifth (17%) of young people across the survey feel they get enough sleep, exercise regularly and devote enough time to rest and reflection. The highest percentages that feel they do are in Nigeria (41%), India (24%), Indonesia (22%), Germany (21%) and Italy (21%).
  4. For nearly half of young people (46%), school is one of their top sources of anxiety. The highest proportions of young people feeling pressured are in South Korea (70%) and Canada (63%) – both in the Top 10 OECD PISA rankings for maths and reading.
  5. Less than a third of young people (30%) have good overall emotional wellbeing, measured as not thinking about their problems too much, and not feeling anxious, bullied, unloved or lonely. Indonesia (40%), China (36%), Germany (36%), Israel (38%),and Nigeria (34%) scored the highest on the emotional wellbeing scale. Young people in Brazil (16%) and Argentina (18%) scored the lowest.
  6. Two-thirds of young people across the survey feel that they have good relationships with their parents and a strong relationship with friends (67%). The highest proportions with these strong relationships are in India, Indonesia and China.
  7. When asked to think about priorities for their future, young people across the survey chose family as the most important (47%); more so than their friends (5%), their health (21%), their future career (12%), and money (9%).

Personal, Community & Religious Values:

  1. Very few young people see the prospect of ‘celebrity status and fame’ (3% across all markets) as the most important factor in their future career.
  2. Less than half (42%) of young people say religious faith is an important part of their lives, and two-fifths (39%) claim religion is of no significance to them at all. Young people in Africa are the most likely to say religious faith is important in their life (77%). The least religious regions are Europe, Australia and Japan. Very few young people across the survey (5%) think that an increased role for faith and religion could be the greatest factor in uniting people.
  3. Most young people are tolerant and know people from other religions. Just under two-thirds (64%) have close friends who belong to religions different to their own and only around one in six (17%) say a person’s religion is an important factor when deciding whether or not to be friends with someone. However, in Nigeria, a much higher proportion -43%- think religion is important in deciding on friendships.
  4. Three-quarters (74%) of young people globally believe that transgender people should have the same rights as non-transgender people. Support for equal rights is higher in India (79%) than it is in France (71%). The highest support is found in Canada (83%), New Zealand (80%), Argentina (80%) and the UK (80%).
  5. Nearly two-thirds of young people (63%) believe that same-sex marriage should be legal, though women are far more likely to be in favour than men (70% vs. 54%). In India (53%) and South Korea (47%) around a half of young people support same-sex marriage despite the fact that it is currently illegal in those countries. Support is highest in Germany (82%) and lowest in Nigeria (16%).
  6. Two-thirds of young people (66%) believe that safe abortion should be available legally to women that need it. The figure is lower in countries where abortion is heavily restricted or illegal such as Nigeria (24%), Brazil (45%) and Argentina (50%). The strongest support for safe abortion is found in France (84%).
  7. Nine in ten (89%) young people believe men and women should be treated equally. China and Canada were the countries most committed to gender equality (94%), Nigeria (68%) and Japan (74%) the least.
  8. Young people are divided on the issue of free speech. Only around half believe people   should have the right to this even when it is offensive to a religion (56%) or offensive to minority groups (49%). Support for free speech even if offensive to a religion is highest in Turkey (78%) and Argentina (70%) and lowest in Nigeria (35%) and China (39%).
  9. Parents are the most significant influencing factor on young people’s values (89% said they had influenced their values a little or a lot). This compares to 70% who said that teachers influenced their values. Only 30% of young people overall think celebrities influence their values – with the largest percentage in Nigeria and China and the smallest in Argentina and Turkey. In comparison, only one-sixth of young people (17%) said that politicians had influenced their values at all.
  10. More than half of young people (60%) think their country is a good place in which to live. “It is a free country where I have the freedom to live the way I want to’ is the main reason given for this. Young people in Canada (87%) and Nigeria (87%) are the most likely to think their country is a good place in which to live. South Korea is the only country in which, on balance, young people think that it is a bad place to live.
  11. Across most countries, young people most often cite family as the factor that increases their sense of belonging to their community. This was especially pronounced in China (55%) and France (39%). Young people in the UK (29%), Germany (43%), Canada (29%), Australia (30%), New Zealand (28%) and Israel (32%), however, most often cited friends as increasing their sense of community belonging.

Global Citizenship:

  1. Extremism and global terrorism (83%) and conflict and war (81%) were the most commonly chosen factors in making young people fearful about the future. Young people are less fearful of climate change (66%) and the increasing divide between rich and poor than these factors. Overwhelmingly, they had faith in technology: 84% said that technical advancement is the factor that makes them hopeful for the future – a higher proportion than any other factor.
  2. Young people are, on balance, pessimistic about the future. Across the survey most respondents had a negative outlook on the future of the world and believed that the world is becoming a worse place to live in.  Overall, 37 per cent of young people think the world is getting worse, compared to 20% who think it is getting better and 39% who think that it is becoming neither better nor worse. However, there is a large variation between countries. The countries with the highest proportion of young people who think the world is becoming worse were France (53%), Italy (53%) and Turkey (53%). The most optimistic, where the highest proportions of young people think that the world is becoming a better place, are the emerging economies of China (53%), India (49%) and Nigeria (37%).
  3. In 14 out of 20 countries, young people are in favour of making it easier for migrants to live and work in their country. Indians are the most likely to say that their government should make it easier for immigrants to live and work legally in their country; South Koreans are the least likely. Young people across the survey think that their governments are doing too little to solve the global refugee crisis: 43% thought they were doing too little compared to just 12% who thought they were doing too much.
  4. Over two-thirds of young people (69%) across the survey are fearful for the future because of the continued lack of access to education for some children. Young people in India believe access to good quality teaching and education is the measure that would do the most to unite people across the world.
  5. Over two-thirds of young people (67%) think that making a wider contribution to society (beyond looking after oneself and one’s family) is important. A quarter of young people (26%) thought that more knowledge about how to get involved would help them most to make that contribution; 19% said greater skills.
  6. Across most countries (14 out of 20 polled) young people most often chose “a total end to prejudice on the grounds of race, religion, and gender” as the factor that would contribute most to uniting people – as opposed to other factors including more cooperation between countries, more economic equality and access to better education.
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