How do young people see the world differently?
From a report by UNICEF
We are living through an era of rapid and far-reaching transformation. As the world has changed — becoming more digital, more globalized, and more diverse — childhood is changing with it.
The Changing Childhood Project — a collaboration of UNICEF and Gallup — was created to explore these shifts, and to better understand what it means to be a child in the 21st century. The project seeks to answer two questions: What is it like growing up today? And how do young people see the world differently?
Comparing the experiences and views of young versus older people offers a powerful lens to explore how childhood is changing, and where generations diverge or converge.
A survey was conducted between January and June 2021, in 21 countries across the globe. In each country, 1,000+ people, of two age cohorts: young people (aged 15–24) and those aged 40+, were surveyed.
The results reveal gaps and agreements between the generations in terms of how the young identify with the world around them, their outlook, and in some areas, their values. A summary is below:
Optimism. In the face of unfolding crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, and despite rising inequality and struggles with mental health, young people are more likely to believe that the world – and childhood itself – is getting better with each generation. Born into a more digital, interconnected, and diverse reality, young people see a world that is largely a better place for children than the one their parents grew up in – a safer and more abundant world that offers children better education, opportunities, and hope for the future. Young people in at least 15 of 21 countries surveyed are more likely than older people to say conditions have improved in terms of physical safety, quality of education and health care, opportunities to play, and access to clean water and healthy food.
Lack of trust. At the same time, young people are not complacent. Amid a sea of mis- and disinformation, they report low levels of trust in the information sources they use most. Among all sources the survey cites, young people express the greatest trust in information from doctors and health care workers. Young people do not report high levels of trust in social media as an information source; an average of just 17% say they trust information on these platforms “a lot”.
An online world. A generational gap exists not only in the use of digital technologies, but also in perspectives about its benefits for, and risks to, children. Overall, 77% of young people across 21 countries surveyed say they use the internet daily, versus just 52% of older people. Young people rely far more on online platforms than on traditional sources for news and information. Young internet users express less concern about privacy online than older internet users.
Mental health. While young people point to improvements in most aspects of childhood, enthusiasm is muted in one area: mental well-being. These results are largely driven by sentiment in high-income countries, where results indicate that children today face greater pressure to succeed than they did when their parents were growing up. Today’s 15- to 24-year-olds are more likely to self-report often feeling anxiety and depression compared with adults in the 40 and older age group. On average, more than one in three (36 %) young people across the 21 countries say they often feel anxious, worried, or nervous, compared with 30% per cent of older people. One in five young people (19%) on average say they often feel depressed or have little interest in doing things, versus 15% of older people.
Age of empowerment. An average of 58% of 15- to 24-year-olds and 53% of those aged 40 and older share the view that it is very important for political leaders in their countries to listen to children’s voices when making decisions. The survey’s findings reveal a desire for children in developing countries to hold off on pursuing work until close to adulthood. The reported ideal age for when a person should be able to start paid work sees the ideal as at least 17 years of age or older. Young and old alike would prefer an older legal marriage age for both males and females than the prevailing one. In certain countries, a significant proportion of both young and older people propose a minimum voting age below the current legal age in their country. This preference is especially evident in high-income countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom.
Economic progress. Today’s 15- to 24-year-olds in developing countries tend to think that when children in their countries grow up, they will be better off economically than their parents are now. But in high-income countries, there is little faith in economic progress. Young people there are twice as likely to think children will be worse off than their parents (59% on average) as they are to think they will be better off (31% on average).
Global outlook. Young people are far more likely than members of older generations to embrace global citizenship. Young people are almost twice as likely as older people to say they identify most with being part of the world, as opposed to feeling primarily part of their local community or country. A one-year increase in age is associated, on average, with about a 1% lower likelihood in identifying as a global citizen. Most young people, and older people in nearly every country, agree that they would be safer from threats like COVID-19 if their governments, worked in coordination with other countries. Young people in most of the 21 countries surveyed are more likely than older people to support this cooperation.
Equality. Young and older generations agree about the importance of treating women and members of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities equally. On average, at least 80% say it is somewhat or very important that members of these groups are treated this way. Young people are more likely to say that it is important that members of the LGBTQ+ community be treated equally. On average, 71% of young people say it is somewhat or very important to treat LGBTQ+ people equally, versus 57% older people. Overall, young women express greater concern for equality than young men.
Climate change. Climate change awareness among young and older people is far from complete. On average, 80% of young people say they have heard of climate change. When young people who have heard of climate change were asked to identify its correct definition, only 56% chose correctly. Among those who have an awareness and understanding of climate change, majorities of young and old are aligned in the belief that it is possible to mitigate it, and that governments must take action to do so.
Read the full report here.
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