If you are reading this and you are under 30, you probably don’t feel terribly rosy about the future, according to a new piece of research by the pollster Ipsos MORI. Their survey examined how people across a range of countries feel members of their generation will do in life compared to their parents’ generation – and the results suggest that young people in Britain are especially pessimistic compared to their counterparts in other countries.
The online survey, which asked the opinions of a total of 16,000 adults across 20 different countries, was structured around three specific questions. The results broke down as follows:
1. To what extent do you feel today’s youth will have had a better or worse life than their parents’ generation, or will it be about the same?
In Britain, 54% of the people surveyed thought that today’s youth will have a worse life than their parents’ generation, compared with only 20% who thought it would be better.
Interestingly, several other developed countries – including the US, Sweden and France – recorded a higher overall share of respondents who said they thought life would be worse for today’s younger generation. There was a clear divide within the results between industrialised countries, where the survey respondents tended to be more pessimistic than average, and a group of emerging countries led by China, India and Brazil in which people seem to have great hopes that the next generation will be able to enjoy a better life.
2. To what extent do you feel today’s youth will have had a better or worse life than their parents’ generation, or will it be about the same? (Under-30s only)
MORI also asked the first question to a group of respondents in each country where everyone was under the age of 30. Strikingly, they found that just 22% of British respondents in this age group thought that their lives would be better, and the gap between them and the general population was the biggest seen in any of the countries where people took part.
This paints a worrying picture of a generation of young people who not only feel that they have been condemned to a less prosperous future than their parents were able to enjoy, but which also suffers from problems that are not widely understood by older members within society.
Again, it was developing economies where young people were the most optimistic, although with one interesting exception – under-30s in Japan had the fifth-highest level of optimism that they will enjoy a better life than their parents did, despite their ageing population and the prolonged economic slump which the country has endured, although this could be because there are a few signs that growth is finally starting to arrive.
3. Should older people be expected to make sacrifices to improve the life chances of the young?
Unsurprisingly given the controversial nature of this question, a majority of the respondents in half the countries where MORI undertook this survey were against the idea of older people being expected to make sacrifices. This included Britain, where only 23% were in favour compared with 52% against (although there was no age-breakdown of how people responded).
Despite its ageing population, Germany was the country where levels of opposition were highest (only 9% were in favour there); curiously, Turkey was the country with the highest levels of support, at 70%.
Overall, it’s virtually impossible to really answer this question without possessing some knowledge of how much the welfare state already redistributes in favour of older people in each country. For example, several of the countries don’t have formal pension systems, so asking an older person in a country like that to make sacrifices for the young would sound very different compared to asking the same question in a social democracy like Britain.
Summarising the findings, the managing director of Ipsos MORI, Bobby Duffy, offered the following view: “The findings represent a continuing significant shift in global optimism. The assumption of an automatically better future for the next generation is gone in much of the West – and this could have far-reaching implications for how we engage with national and international politics and economics.”