Youth Barometer 2013

Sami Myllyniemi (ed.)

The Youth Barometer is an annual research series that, since 1994, has been measuring the values and attitudes of 15–29 year-olds living in Finland. The Youth Barometer 2013 is based on 1,903 telephone interviews and its themes are participation and influence.

Of the young people, slightly more women (33%) than men (28%) feel that they have attempted to exert influence in society during the past year. The corresponding figure for those under 20 years of age was only about one in five. Participation in politics is even more in - frequent; only 7% of the respondents reported having participated in political activities during the past year.

The possibility of influencing an issue experienced as important to oneself and the possibility of promoting the common good were the most important incentives for exerting influence in society. Socializing and having fun are also important motives whereas causes, convictions and ideology are less important. The main obstacles to exerting influence are lack of time and being unable to find meaningful ways of exerting influence. Nonparticipation is also justified on the grounds that one has not been encouraged or invited to take part. As many as one in five of all young people considered the lack of any issue on behalf of which he or she would want to exert influence to be significant grounds for nonparticipation.

Young people consider voting and active participation in youth councils or organizations to be the most effective ways of exerting influence. Voting, however, is uncommon in young people’s age groups, as is active participation in organizations. In the entire respondent group, the means of exerting influence experienced as effective are not necessarily the same as those in which the young people participate in practice. An example of the opposite, a low-threshold means of exerting influence, is the signing of initiatives, appeals or petitions, which is common although belief in the impact of this is not very strong. By contrast, young people consider various participatory and deliberative mechanisms of democracy, with their debates, as being relatively influential. On the other hand, more clearly counterdemocratic mechanisms, whether legal or illegal, do not generate much enthusiasm. 

Young people’s most common means of exerting influence are giving feedback about some service, signing initiatives, and influencing through purchase decisions. The forms of young people’s exertion of influence indicate the individual nature of this. Different forms of collective influence, based either on a group with a formal position, such as a youth council, or on the looser activities of a group of friends, are significantly less common than individual means. Young people who vote are more active also with regard to means other than representative democracy. In other words, passivity and activity accumulate – also in the different modes of activity in a democracy. 

A high level of education and good school performance predict a better voting turnout.  Passivity, in turn, is predicted by a poor income level in the childhood home, vocational education and the respondent’s unemployment, especially if it is prolonged. When asked about the reasons for not voting, the vast majority mention the difficulty of finding a suitable candidate (an important reason for 65%) or political party (an important reason for 49%). Only a small share of the non-voters is protesting against politics and an even smaller group has some reason of principle for not voting in elections. For the most part, therefore, non-voting  does not appear to be an active political choice but rather election passivity or a mismatch between one’s own life situation and the modes of activity represented by political parties.

The majority of the young people thought that politics is important, but the overall picture of young people’s relationship to politics is partly contradictory. Four out of five respondents consider voting to be a civic duty; almost as many believe that voting influences matters. Similarly, only a small minority (22%) thinks that the decisions made by politicians have no effect on their own life. At least on the face of it, young people therefore have a positive view of the effectiveness of politics and the functioning of democracy. On the other hand, the majority believes that they have no say in what the Government and Parliament decide, and half think that political parties are only interested in the votes people cast. Only half feel that they receive adequate information on their possibilities to participate and exert influence in their municipality of residence, and a minority consider that decision-makers in their municipality of residence take young people’s views seriously. For many, politics and representative democracy appear not only as important but also as more or less inaccessible areas. 

Lowering the age for the right to vote in municipal elections to 16 years is supported by 35%, 63% oppose the idea and 2% cannot say. No changes have taken place in the entire age group of 15–29 year-olds over the past few years, but among those under 18 years of age, who the issue affects the most directly, lowering the age limit for the right to vote is gaining support: now the majority of 15–17 year-olds (54%) are in favour.

A clear majority considers their possibility of exerting influence in matters concerning their own life to be good. On a five-step scale, the majority of young people gave a rating of four or five for their possibility of exerting influence on their economic well-being and housing situation, and more than two out of three gave that rating for their education choices, career choice and for their life overall. By contrast, the ratings for matters pertaining to actual exertion of democratic influence or civic competence, such as decision-making at school or in the workplace, national decision-making and EU decision-making, brought up the rear. This illustrates not only the individual frame but also what types of channels for exerting influence young people can use. The fact that only one in ten experiences their possibilities of exerting  influence on decision-making in their own municipality of residence as being even somewhat  great supports the viewpoint that the Finnish political system has not in all respects convinced young people of the quality of activities.

Nine out of ten of those 15–29 years of age say that they use some type of social media, girls a little more than boys. Participation in social media decreases clearly with age. Almost all social media users say they regularly follow the updates and contents of others. Commenting  on or sharing the contents produced by other  users is clearly less common, and only a small  minority actively disseminate contents that they  have produced themselves. Also in young people’s age groups, the bidirectionality of the social media is thus asymmetric: being a recipient is much more common than the production of one’s own content and active communications.

Young people feel that each person should primarily be responsible for his or her own welfare. Two out of three think that their own responsibility is very high, and almost all of them think it is at least fairly high. Young people want to see the state, municipalities, schools and educational institutes, families and relatives, and friends and the circle of acquaintances as actors important to the well-being of Finns. There is the wish that friends and the circle of acquaintances would bear the same amount of responsibility for Finns’ well-being as families and relatives, and that the state and municipalities would bear even more responsibility. It is hoped that significantly less responsibility would be borne by enterprises and even less by civil society organizations and various religious communities.

Of the young people, 40% reported participating in some group or community during their free time. A high level of education and good school performance are strongly associated with belonging to groups, while the unemployed belong to groups less than others (31%). As unemployment becomes prolonged, the level of participation downright collapses.

The majority of young people say that they would rather take even temporary work than live on unemployment benefit if the net income would be equal. Work ethic does not seem to be under threat, at least not by young people. Work life, on the other hand, raises concerns. As many as three out of four think that the share of those permanently outside the labour market will increase. Equally many believe that work life is so demanding that many workers burn out prematurely. More than a third are concerned about their own coping in work life in the future. The importance of work is also indicated by the fact that clearly more are concerned about whether there will be work at all for them in the future.