Visions of tomorrow’s Europe – fair, secure and sustainable
Every generation has doubts about its future, but the anxiety gripping Europe’s young pushes the extreme of the spectrum. Many firmly believe their societies are becoming less equal, less safe and more divided. Such is the bleakness of this outlook that eight out of 10 question whether their generation should have children at all.
These findings from a recently released Allianz Foundation study reveal a generation united by anxiety. This worldview is deeply troubling, especially as European young adults also mistrust government, organized civil society and other established institutions.
How can the findings of the study be contextualized? Young Europeans’ prospects are at least as daunting as those of any modern generation. Having just experienced the worst global pandemic in a century, they face a world marked by heightened fears of recession, geopolitical conflict and the existential threat of climate chaos. Younger cohorts in countries like Germany and Italy also have to deal with huge tax bills to pay for their parents' pensions.
Yet, for many, the problems are more personal and immediate. They struggle to make a decent wage in an increasingly insecure and casualized labor market where low pay is endemic. Those in countries like the United Kingdom leave universities burdened by tens of thousands of pounds of student debt. And across Europe, overheating housing markets have condemned many to be part of ‘Generation Rent’ with little prospect of ever becoming homeowners.
In The Movers of Tomorrow? report, conducted in partnership with the SINUS Institute, Allianz Foundation asked 10,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 39 in Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom about their visions for a livable future and what they are doing to help shape that future. These five countries reflect Europe’s diverse realities on much-discussed issues such as anti-democratic tendencies, climate action and minority rights.
While the findings paint a picture of young Europeans navigating a society in flux, the survey finds strong unity in the aspirations between members of Generation Z (those currently aged 18 to 26) and Millennials (aged 27 to 29) regarding the Europe they want. Above all, they believe their society should be anchored in fairness, security, and sustainability.
Most are already taking individual and everyday actions, such as voting, donating and changing what they eat and how they shop and travel, to make their voices heard. However, only a relatively small number have chosen to amplify their individual voices and exert more pressure on decision-makers through collective action, for example by joining a social movement.
Despite their grim economic outlook, many young adults expect the future to bring better opportunities for migrants, the LGBTQI+ community and other minority groups. These opportunities aren't confined to employment but also encompass education. However, there's a palpable concern among them. Many believe that social unity will diminish in the coming years, leading to a more pronounced divide between various social groups.
A majority, at 59%, foresee a growing gap between the rich and the poor. This worry is further exacerbated by predictions from two-thirds of young adults about rising costs in energy, food, and transportation. To avoid this, almost 75% believe that a strong social welfare estate is necessary as a safety net paired with an independent justice system should be the fundamental building block of society.
Over half (52%) yearn for a future where environmental responsibility goes hand-in-hand with equal opportunities, encompassing education, employment and in sharing responsibilities for a green transition. Strong democratic institutions, such as a free press and an inclusive political system, are also deemed essential by 47%.
However, priorities like personal wealth, military might and traditional values find less consensus, with only 35% marking them as priorities. Notably, personal wealth emerges as a particularly polarizing topic among them.
The trend young European adults seem most hopeful about is climate action. Renewable energy and sustainable practices have gained widespread support. Many anticipate their countries to make decisive shifts towards environmentally-friendly policies in the coming decade. Indeed, about two-thirds cautiously hope that the fight against climate change can be won. However, it's worth noting that in Germany, this optimism appears to be in the minority, with only 38% sharing such a view.
Most young adults want have a say in their country’s future, with many already engaging in individual ways, such as voting and discussing politics. However, there's a noticeable hesitation in leveraging collective actions to influence decision-making.
However, the study finds they are not merely bystanders in their own story. Individually, a majority in all five countries are already active. On average, 76% vote, 63% donate money, 45% boycott ecologically detrimental products, and significant numbers share political views in personal and professional settings.
Yet, one in four prefers not to talk about political issues, and one in eight does not plan to vote. Ever. Collective actions like protests and citizen initiatives see limited participation, with over 70% of young adults in the five countries surveyed having never engaged in such activities – even though the majority call for more grassroots efforts.
When asked about the barriers to civic engagement, interviewees cited ‘No time’ and ‘No clue’ as significant reasons. Still, the overriding reason given by the majority is ‘Too risky,’ because of social and legal implications.
However, 25% to 30% are already active, and another quarter expresses a willingness to become so, which creates a reservoir of nearly 50% of young adults poised for engagement, which would mark a potent force for ensuring a resilient civil society.
The Allianz Foundation is an independent foundation whose mission is to enable better living conditions for the next generations. To achieve this, it focuses on empowering and connecting people and organizations who face the challenges of our times. A significant component is research to provide essential data and insights which are valuable for civil society, its funders and policymakers.
The Allianz Foundation is only one of the many measures Allianz has in place to help younger generations ensure their future. For example, the provides free expert coaching to help people – particularly younger generations and women – build their financial skills and confidence. Allianz has launched an that aims to improve training, education and employment prospects for young people worldwide. This includes a social innovation fund, a Future Generations Award and partnership with SOS Children’s Villages.
** As of December 31, 2023.