Picture of young Europeans
by Jeanne REMACLE
Those who do not have the time to read the Eurobarometer report on young Europeans in 1990-and it runs to 191 pages, plus annexes-can obtain a 14-page summary for the press, outlining the results of the survey run for the Commission of the European Communities (Task Force on human resources, education, training and youth).
It was run on a representative sample of 15-24-year olds in the 12 countries of the Community simultaneously in December 1990. The size of the sample was 7600.
The idea was to take stock of the situation of young people in Europe today by extending a similar study, (2) run in 1987, which itself was based on a first survey run in 1982. (3)
The May 1991 report on the December 1990 survey contains a comparative analysis of the three previous studies.
Young Europeans were asked about six things and, although there was no question of producing a close synthesis of the replies, the write-up does contain an outline of those people who are to be the Europeans of the 21st century.
The first battery of questions in the survey dealt with everyday life-background, personal relations, satisfaction with life in general, interests and financial resources.
It shows that many young Europeans (75%) today live with their parents and that only 12% live alone or share accomodation with one or more other people. Since 1987, couples have tended to be living with, rather than married to, their partners.
On a scale of satisfaction going from I (very bad) to 5 (very good), romantic attachments scored 3.8 and optimism about personal future 3.7, while relations with parents and friends were deemed to be very satisfactory.
Contrary to what might be expected from the pervading gloom, satisfaction with life in general is increasing in all the countries of the Community (although it declines with age) and young people say they are better off financially than in 1987.
Interests have remained the same since 1982-the environment, sport, major problems of society, the arts and entertainment-although the order varies.
There are, of course, differences according to nationality, age, sex and so on. Young women of all ages are more aware of the major problems facing society, development, the environment and pacifism than young men-who are keener on sport, science and technology and politics.
The second topic which the study dealt with was social attitudes-to the great causes, the values to be inculcated in children, the main problems facing young people, their social life and what they feel about discrimination against certain categories of people of their age.
The leading concerns in young people's relations with society are, very reassuringly, world peace, the protection of the environment and human rights-regardless of nationality.
Environmental protection has gained ground spectacularly, with 19 points more than in 1982.
Support for the European cause, which stagnated between 1982 and 1987, picked up again in 1990.
The values which children should be encouraged to espouse are, despite one or two divergences, given (in order) as responsibility, politeness, tolerance and an ability to communicate.
Young people have apparently fewer problems than in 1987. The things which worry them are, in order of importance, unemployment, drugs, AIDS and the relatively poor extent to which education prepares for the demands of a job.
One European out of every two belongs to some kind of association (club, young people's organisation, religious organisation, trade union, professional association etc), but the percentage varies from North-where the score is high- to South, where more traditional (family, local etc) structures still thrive.
Young people think, as they did in 1987, that some categories of people of their age are discriminated against. These are, in order, the disabled and the ethnic minorities.
Then comes the section on how open young Europeans are to things foreign, travelling, and learning and using foreign languages.
Three out of 10 have never been abroad, but the tendency to do so increases with age and education.
France, Spain and Italy are still the most popular destinations in Europe.
Only 34% of subjects who have already been abroad did so on a trip organised by the school, university etc., but the percentage increases in the 15-19s, particularly those who belong to clubs or youth or other organisations. Girls go abroad more than boys.
Despite 1993 being on the horizon, mobility for the purposes of either work or study remains low-8% of those who have already been abroad worked there and 7% studied.
Language is the major obstacle. It is to be hoped that mobility will increase with a mastery of foreign languages-which is more common among young people because of the sort of education they have had and the fact that they stay at school longer.
It is impossible to over-emphasise the effect of level of education on the various topics covered by the report.
In the Twelve, the languages currently learnt (other than mother tongue) are, in decreasing order, English, French, German and Spanish. But those the young people actually want to learn are, in order, German, Italian, Spanish and English-apparently to improve their personal culture or their job prospects or to settle in the country where the language is spoken.
The survey attempted to outline what young people think and know about the European Community by investigating their education, their objective and subjective knowledge, the Commission's reputation and the trends in their thinking about the Community.
More subjects than in 1987 had been taught about the European Community - information which aroused the curiosity of almost three quarters of them.
But although teaching about the Community is improving, young people's objective knowledge is poor. For example, only 4% can list the 12 Member States accurately.
Relatively few have heard about the Commission, although a great many of them know about the big internal market, one of its major projects.
The percentage of positive attitudes to Europe is high, overall, and almost 50% of subjects see an improvement in understanding between countries of the EC, although the figure was only 30% in 1987.
In the section on studies , all 15-24-year olds were asked what they knew about computers and then how satisfied they were with their studies, what they wanted and what their motivation was.
First of all, the percentage of young people who know nothing about computers has declined considerably in comparison with 1987. Computer studies are more and more common at school and university, although the basics are also learnt at home and from friends, with work and vocational training in third and fourth places.
When it comes to education being up to expectations, 88% of interviewees said they were studying what they wanted and 50% that they had chosen their course because of the job they wanted to do.
Those who stayed in education past the minimum leaving age did so mainly because of the personal advantages attached to it and, in second place, because they liked the subjects they had chosen.
The last batch of questions, on getting a job, investigated vocational guidance, experience of vocational training courses and any experience of work and unemployment.
Young people tend to take advice from their families and friends, above all, for vocational guidance and go to job centres, employment offices, teachers etc less than they did in 1987.
However, those who went against the trend and applied to the official services said they felt they got a better hearing than in 1987, although they were disappointed with the advice. In 1987, by contrast, the biggest complaint was the shortage of job opportunities.
Almost 50% of young Europeans with jobs and 30% of unemployed say they are taking or have taken vocational training courses - which are deemed to be satisfactory overall and a big help in getting a job. This positive opinion is declining slightly.
As in 1987, young Europeans get their first jobs, most commonly, through people they know. In second place, but diminishing in importance, is direct contact with the employer and in third, but coming up amongst boys and falling back amongst girls, is reading job advertisements.
For those respondents in employment, four out of 10 were still in their first jobs and 10% were already in their fifth.
There is a clear increase in those who have never worked (56%, as against 49% in 1987). Of those working, 72% are in permanent jobs. Skills are being used less.
Four workers out of 10 are taking inservice training. Note that computer skills are always a plus point (when it comes to pay, using knowledge, promotion etc).
Young Europeans of both sexes are happy with their present jobs, overall, and less pessimistic than they seemed in 1987.
Unemployment, of course, is reason for pessimism and it is the first cause of concern amongst the subjects. Periods of unemployment of over a year are more common among young women. Periods of unemployment of more than two years are half as common as they were in 1987.
Young people see the cause of unemployment as being the lack of jobs to suit the qualifications. One out of five complained about the absence of jobs in his/her region.
So? Are the Europeans of the 21st century happy? Are they responsible? Are they educated? Do they perhaps show solidarity with each other? It is impossible to say, even with a survey. But they are certainly free to become all these things. J.R.
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