Tag Archives: millennials

Millennials across the world are dissatisfied with democracy

Credit: Pixabay.

Compared to baby boomers or Gen X-ers, Millennials are much more disillusioned with democracy than previous generations. In fact, the majority of 30-year-olds nowadays report low satisfaction with their country’s democracy, according to a massive study performed by Cambridge researchers that combined almost 4,000 surveys conducted in countries across the world.

In response to economic uncertainty and widening gaps between social strata, the researchers also found that the youth is most positive about democracy in countries ruled by populist leaders. Surprisingly, this was the case for leaders of both the left and right political spectrum. Previously, the same team of researchers showed that global dissatisfaction with democracy was at a 25-year high.

The tides of times are shifting, and so are our politics

Dr. Roberto Foa is a lecturer at Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies and the co-Director of the Cambridge Centre for the Future of Democracy. Along with colleagues, Foa embarked on the herculean task of stitching together the response of over five million people in over 160 countries recorded between 1973 and 2020. Among other things, these people were asked about how satisfied they were with democracy in their countries. All of their replies were then pooled and standardized by the Human Understanding Measured Across National (HUMAN) Surveys project.

The work was massively challenging as there were thousands of data sources that had to be interpreted with care. The volume of surveys, each with its own labels, language, and idiosyncrasies, proved to be immense. But the wealth of data is also what made this study incredibly enlightening, spotting trends not only across the world but also across multiple generations, that may have otherwise been overlooked.

“I think when all you see is the final product, it is
difficult to appreciate just how much work goes into getting there,” Foa told ZME Science.

All of this hard work eventually paid off, though. Foa remembers the first time he saw the graphs and charts showing how the public sentiment on democracy shifted massively across the generations.

“Before hitting that point there are weeks of data management to crunch through, so when you see those first results the feeling is really gratifying. You just don’t know until then whether the project is going to find anything at all – and you are braced for disappointment,” he told me.

“Originally for example we thought there would be a big difference between right-wing and left-wing populism – so when we didn’t find that, it really gets your fascination going. You are forced to re-think a lot of your assumptions, and that is always healthy.”

The most disillusioned generation with democracy in living memory

atisfaction with democracy by age and generational cohort, for 77 countries across the world in all regions. Credit: University of Cambridge.

According to the report released today by the Cambridge researchers, 55% of global millennials claim they are dissatisfied with democracy. Meanwhile, under half of Generation X (40-55 years old) feel the same way, whereas baby boomers (over 60 years) maintain an overall satisfaction with democracy, as did the interwar generation.

Indeed, there seems to be a trend of eroding confidence in democracy and its institutions. Take the UK, for instance. In 1973, 54% of 30-year-olds from the interwar generation said they were generally satisfied with British democracy. In 1984, 57% of UK baby boomers who turned 30 said they were happy with democracy, and for 30-year-old Gen Xers in the 1990s and early 2000s, pro-democracy sentiment reached its peak at 62%.

However, this trend took a turn for the worse in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, leaving many millennials in debt and feeling stuck ever since. As a result, 48% of millennials in the UK are now reportingly dissatisfied with democracy. In the United States, half of those in their mid-30s report growing dissatisfaction with democracy. And the major culprit seems to be economic development — or rather, the lack of it.

In developed countries, the biggest economic discontent has to do with exclusion and inequality. On the opposite end, in countries like Iceland and Austria, where wealth distribution is relatively flat, there are only minor generational gaps in attitudes to democracy.

“Basically, you have two major inequalities in western societies today: the intergenerational wealth gap between young and old, and the spatial inequality between successful global cities like London, New York or San Francisco, and left-behind hinterland regions. Those inequalities produce resentment, and the politics of resentment is populism: wanting to shake the system and upset the complacency of political and social elites. Nobody will ever admits that resentment is the driver of their political or social views. But once people feel that they have a stake in society, everything changes,” Foa said.

Average integenerational satisfaction shift, by
country, comparing cohorts at identical points
in life. Credit: Youth and Satisfaction with Democracy, University of Cambridge.

Elsewhere, in emerging democracies in Africa and Latin America, besides economic woes, dissatisfaction with democracy is also linked to “transitional fatigue”. Essentially, people are fed up with the seemingly unending political transition to democracy — the proverbial wolves dressed in sheep’s’ clothing — while the youth have no memory of the shortcomings of the autocratic regimes of yesteryear.

Political theorists used to believe that malcontents among the youth surrounding the government and a country’s state of affairs soften with age. However, the reverse seems to be true today in the world, with millennials and Gen Xers have grown steadily less satisfied with democracy as they advance in age.

“By making comparisons between generational groups at identical stages of life, we could really get to the core of the issue from an empirical standpoint: whether youth disillusionment is a “life-cycle effect” or the start of something more profound.  And what we found, in short, is that there is real generational divergence taking place – with millennials significantly more discontent in the United States, Britain, southern Europe, Latin America and much of Africa,” Foa told ZME Science.

Besides countries where economic inequality was so rampant as in the US or the UK, the researchers found that pro-democracy attitudes among millennials were more likely in countries that elected populist leaders — whether they are from the left or the right made no difference. Some examples include Greece under the left-wing Syriza coalition, and Poland under the Law and Justice party, or Viktor Orbán’s right-wing Hungary.

For Foa and colleagues, these developments are a direct consequence of public division and polarization, which populist leaders are famous for masterfully exploiting. According to the report, 41% of millennials in western democracies agreed with the statement you can “tell if a person is good or bad if you know their politics”, compared with 30% of voters over the age of 35. 

Such findings should serve as a wakeup call for moderate parties and their leaders if they are to avert this crumbling decay of democratic attitudes and their underlying values. In the meantime, the reserachers are busy with more breakthrough research.

“We have a lot of ideas for future reports – but foremost is that with the global coronavirus pandemic attitudes are shifting a lot in 2020, so one of the really fascinating questions right now is to parse out what legacy that has left. And we’ve no idea yet what is the answer to that question – which is precisely what makes it worth asking,” Foa said.

The report Youth and Satisfaction with Democracy: Reversing the Democratic Disconnect? was prepared at the Bennet Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge and the Centre for the Future of Democracy.


UK millennials would happily sow, reap, and eat GMOs — unlike older generations

The majority of young adults in the UK say they’ve got no problems with GM crops and more tech in agriculture.


Image via Wikimedia.

Ah, GMOs, that horrible enemy that sends soccer moms scrambling for cover ever since the 1990s. According to a new poll, under-30s in the UK don’t share that view. In their eyes, GMO is a-ok, as is more technology and more futuristic techniques in farms.

Put it on m’plate!

The poll, carried out for the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) to gauge public opinion following farmers’ calls for post-Brexit innovation, involved more than 1,600 participants aged 18 to 30. Two-thirds of responders said more technology in farming is a good thing and that they would support futuristic farming techniques — such as the use of drones in livestock and arable farming to monitor livestock, assess and spray crops — according to The Telegraph.

A similar number said they’d support more innovation, such as the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to improve crop security and yields.

Only 20% of responders expressed having any concern regarding GM crops or about the benefits that gene editing can bring to agriculture — a very stark contrast to older generations. A similar number said they’d object to the use of self-driving tractors on farms.

The poll was requested by the ABC as part of their drive to have the UK Government capitalize on novel technology over Brexit. Many of the measures have been previously proposed and blocked on the EU-level. Once the country leaves the bloc and resets its agricultural policy, however, it will be free to pursue such technology should it desire. Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, believes next-generation food and farming technology could reduce the impact of pests and diseases — helping keep the UK agricultural sector competitive amid the Brexit fallout.

“We are delighted to see young people embrace technology as part of the future of farming,” says Mark Buckingham, chair of the ABC.“Using cutting edge technology and growing techniques will enable the UK to deal with the serious challenges of keeping our farmers competitive, maintaining a safe, affordable food supply, and protecting our natural environment.


Mason statue.

Millennials demand perfection from themselves and each other, hurting their mental health

Perfectionism is on the rise, but that isn’t good news. College students today are significantly more driven to achieve perfection in all they do compared to those in previous generations, according to a new paper, which could end up eating away at their physical and mental health.

Mason statue.

Image credits Henryk Niestrój.

If I had a dollar for every time someone cited “because I’m such a perfectionist” as the thing holding them back from a certain passion or goal, I’d be rich enough to live the perfect life I so crave. According to a new paper lead-authored by Thomas Curran, PhD at the University of Bath and co-authored by Andrew Hill, PhD at the York St John University, there’s a simple explanation for this — younger generations are simply more demanding of themselves than those before.

But don’t bring out the “#1” banners just yet, because this isn’t good news. The team defined perfectionism as “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others”. The strain of these high (and often unrealistic) expectations we yoke ourselves with might have very damaging consequences for our health and well-being in the long term.

Perfectly imperfect

According to the team, this is the first effort to look into “group generational differences in perfectionism”. The team worked with 164 samples supplemented with data from 41,641 American, Canadian, and British students who took the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale test between the late 1980s and 2016. The researchers looked for three types of perfectionism: self-oriented (an irrational desire to be perfect), socially-prescribed (perceiving excessive expectations from others), and other-oriented (placing unrealistic standards on others).

Overall, the researcher duo found that more recent generations of college students reported significantly higher levels than previous generations on each and every form of perfectionism. Between 1989 and 2016, the team reports self-oriented perfectionism rose by 10%, socially-prescribed by 33%, and other-oriented by 16%.

“These findings suggest that recent generations of college students have higher expectations of themselves and others than previous generations,” said Curran. “Today’s young people are competing with each other in order to meet societal pressures to succeed and they feel that perfectionism is necessary in order to feel safe, socially connected and of worth.”

Curran believes it’s not a single factor that powered this rise, rather several acting at once. Among these, he cites the use of social media. It’s not conclusive, he says, but raw data suggests social media puts young adults in a state of permanent comparison to their peers — which ultimately makes them dissatisfied with themselves, their bodies, lifestyle, anything really, since people fake it a lot on social media. Ultimately, this inability to rise up to the (unrealistic) standards we see pushes people deeper into social isolation (since they perceive themselves as failures). Again, that’s a hypothesis and more research will be needed to confirm or infirm it.

Another example Curran cites is college students’ drive to perfect their grade point averages and compare them with peers. The drive to earn money, pressure to get a good education, and setting lofty career goals, are other areas in which today’s young generation exhibit perfectionism.

m&m sorting.

That and an overpowering urge to sort M&M’s.
Image via RebelCircus.

Curran believes these examples showcase a rise in meritocracy among millennials, especially powered by universities which encourage competition among their students to move up the social and economic ladder. Approximately half of high school seniors expected to earn a college degree in 1976, but by 2008 that number had risen to over 80%. However, the percentage of those actually earning a degree hasn’t kept pace — the gap between high school seniors expecting to earn a degree and those with a degree doubled between 1976 and 2000 and has continued to rise since, the authors note.

“Meritocracy places a strong need for young people to strive, perform and achieve in modern life,” said Curran.

“Young people are responding by reporting increasingly unrealistic educational and professional expectations for themselves. As a result, perfectionism is rising among millennials.”

According to Hill, this increase in perfectionism may be negatively impacting the psychological health of students, noting the higher levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal in students compared to a decade ago. The authors recommend that schools and policymakers stop fostering competition among younger generations in an effort to preserve their good mental health.

The paper “Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time: A Meta-Analysis of Birth Cohort Differences From 1989 to 2016” has been published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

Craft beer is very popular among Millennials, but a hops shortage driven by climate change will challenge entrepreneurs to think outside the box. Credit: Flickr // Tama Leaver

How Global Warming Could Impact Entrepreneurial Millennials

Craft beer is very popular among Millennials, but a hops shortage driven by climate change will challenge entrepreneurs to think outside the box. Credit: Flickr // Tama Leaver

Craft beer is very popular among Millennials, but a hops shortage driven by climate change will challenge entrepreneurs to think outside the box. Credit: Flickr // Tama Leaver

A hot topic for a reason, global warming and climate change will play a major role in the entrepreneurial future of aspiring business Millennials. With these threats opposing the creation of new business ideas, many young entrepreneurs may need to look past simply doing social good and also look toward adapting how people eat and drink.

Agriculture and Climate Change

One sector that affects many different business industries around the globe is agriculture, with our food system being responsible for 33 percent of all global warming. That being said, even though it accounts for one third of all emissions, farmers still can’t seem to be able to produce enough to satiate growing demands for grain and raw materials. A study by the Global Institute of Sustainability of Anglia Ruskin University, stated that the cost of food will likely be four times higher by 2040 than it is today – if changes aren’t made.

So how does that affect millennial entrepreneurs?

Well, consider that in just America alone, the craft beer market has grown exponentially over the past five years. In 2014, there were around 3,500 craft breweries in the US, reaching a double-digit share of the market for the first time and ballooning into a $22 billion dollar industry. This is largely due to the fact that consumers (namely millennial consumers) have moved away from big-name beer brands like Miller and Budweiser in search of more locally sourced options.

But when you consider the threats that a changing climate brings to the table as well as a situation that has already produced a shortage of hops (which also means a higher price tag, something consumers might not be willing to pay for), the huge dollar signs the aspiring brewer sees on the market right now could hit a hard and swift decline over the next five years.

Contrarily so, locally sourced options in the restaurant spectrum that have sparked the growth of ‘farm-to-table’ venues tend to lean towards the positive – specifically when discussing CO2 emission reduction. The aforementioned statistics accounting for one-third of global warming is largely in relation to food transport.

A 2010 study done by the UK project ‘Making Local Food Work,’ found that businesses, producers, sellers and all other individuals involved in the food chain transition for locally sourced ingredients, the number of CO2 emissions could not only be reduced, but could also, in turn, create more self-sustaining and economically viable communities.

What should be done when considering a future business venture?

For the aspiring entrepreneur, it’s best to keep in mind the future isn’t certain. Climate change is a real factor that will affect how you formulate and do business. It’s also important to recognize that perhaps not all trends in the market are sustainable over the long term, especially if the shortages in hops continues, as well as droughts in various parts of the world.

Additionally, the millennial entrepreneurs will need to always be open to innovation and adaptation to provide solutions that are profitable but at the same time, undamaging. For example, the Colorado Farm and Food Alliance met this year to discuss policy and action in how best to tackle local problems within the community in regards to sustainable food and climate change. Taking action of some kind is the first step to discovering a new entrepreneurial path that works together with the critical role of this generation in climate change progress, highlighted at the COP21 in November 2015.