Young people on the future

Adam McDonnellResearch Director of Political and Social Research
Laurence Janta-LipinskiAssociate Director
July 27, 2012, 12:57 PM GMT+0

18-24s optimistic about future despite economy, in poll comparing their views to British public

Two thirds of young Britons are broadly optimistic about their future, according to our new poll for British Future, exploring the views of British adults aged eighteen to twenty-four.

The comprehensive study looks at the views of young people across a wide spectrum of issues, and shows a stark contrast between the views of this young generation and that of the public as a whole.

Outlook for the future

Despite the prospect of higher tuition fees and a lack of jobs upon leaving education, there is a surprising wave of optimism amongst young people in Britain.

Eighteen to twenty-four year olds are broadly optimistic about their future with a 2:1 split between optimism and pessimism (67% against 33%). This runs in contrast to their attitudes towards issues of jobs and housing, with a majority of youngsters worried about being able to get or keep a decent job, and nearly half of them are concerned they won’t be able to afford a decent home.

An overwhelming majority think it’ll be harder for them to get a good job than it was for their parents’ generation and also that it’ll be harder to buy a home.

There can, however, be reason for optimism when looking at the 'get up and go' attitude of many young people in Britain.

With many seeing their prospects of getting a good job limited, this young age group are willing to travel for the right job, with only 8% saying they’d never consider moving to another part of the UK for a job and only 15% saying they’d never consider moving abroad. In fact, just under a third are either looking to move abroad for work or would consider doing so in the next few years.

Youngsters also feel they’ve got it better than their parents did when it comes to going to university, travelling abroad and living longer ‒ and while they concede that it will be harder for them than their parents to enjoy a reasonably standard of living, they are less pessimistic about this issue than the public as a whole.

Emerging attitudes

The economy and pensions: less of a priority

We asked a representative sample of eighteen to twenty-four year olds what they thought were the most important issues facing the country; a regular tracker we ask the British public. While the economy comes head and shoulders above all other issues for both the general public and young people, there are other striking differences between the younger age groups and their parents' and grandparents' generations.

With younger people now facing the prospect of £9,000 tuition fees, it is perhaps unsurprising to see that education is a much higher priority for young people than the public as a whole (26%-13%).

This is in contrast to the topic of pensions where the general public (25%) believe this to be a much more important topic than their younger counterparts (10%).

Immigration: more accepting

Compared to the views of Britons as a whole, young people see immigration as a much less important issue, and their attitudes towards immigrants in Britain appear more accepting.

Younger people in Britain are more likely than their parents to socialise with people from ethnic minority backgrounds and it is perhaps this proximity that is contributing towards their more accepting attitudes. If there were a referendum on the issue, 45% of young people would vote to reduce net immigration to zero, which represents a considerably lower figure than the overall population (69%).

Increased Euro-scepticism with age?

Our data for British Future highlights a further generational difference on the issue of Europe.

Whereas 50% of the general public would vote to leave the EU, the tables are reversed among eighteen to twenty-four year olds, with 48% saying they would vote to remain.

However, for those of a pro-European outlook, the news is not all good. The phenomenon of youthful positivity towards matters of Europe is not new; indeed many of our older respondents would have been pro-European in their youth as well. Perhaps, therefore, euro-scepticism, like conservatism, is something that comes with age.

'Left-of-centre' viewpoints

Young people also show some more ‘left-of-centre’ viewpoints when looking at a number of other hypothetical referendum situations we posed. They would vote against reinstating the death penalty, whereas the general public would vote for it. Younger people are divided over the legalisation of soft drugs, whereas the public in general is against it.

The one area where the younger respondents could be seen to more ‘right’ leaning than the overall public was on pay.

Whereas the general public may already feel that their chance of earning £1 million a year have been and gone, perhaps it is the aspirational side of young Brits that results in them being against setting this cap. Maybe this is where their positivity comes from; they have their whole life ahead of them and while their prospects do not look as good as they may ideally hope for, there is still opportunity that many will be keen to grasp.

See the survey details and full results here