Overall, the future outlooks and civic actions of young adults in the UK closely align with those of their peers in Germany, Greece, Italy and Poland, and they are more similar than they are different. In other words, the aforementioned findings also apply to 18- to 39-year-olds in the UK. Nevertheless, a few areas appear in which young adults in the UK differ from those in the other countries surveyed. Explore it here.
Alongside Germany, the UK is home to the largest proportion of people with a migration background. Twenty-four percent reported that either they themselves or at least one of their parents were born abroad (Germany: 25%; Greece: 20%; Italy: 11%, Poland: 2%). It is not least due to this ethnic and cultural diversity that UK respondents express relatively progressive attitudes toward migration: For most young adults in the UK, the concept of Western countries having a single national culture is outdated (60% vs. 53% on average). This normative acceptance of diversity and inclusion also impacts concepts of fairness. For instance, 75% of UK young adults agree that a society is fair when it accepts climate refugees (vs. 70% on average).
However, UK young adults’ emphasis on diversity does not necessarily reflect the reality in the population as a whole, nor does it protect minorities from discrimination. Indeed, UK young adults are more likely than their EU peers to report having been discriminated against (50% vs. 42% on average). Attitudes toward class also vary greatly. Among the countries surveyed, only in the UK did a substantial number of respondents agree somewhat or fully that a society is fair when people from families with high social status enjoy privileges (49% vs. 35% on average). This attitude is especially prevalent on the political right, with 69% of right-leaning respondents agreeing.
Generally, young adults in the UK share similar hopes with their peers in the other four countries: They want a secure, affordable, eco-friendly and fair future society. While UK respondents may have a slightly different view of what this means than their EU peers, a strong majority still acknowledge the need for well-functioning health and social welfare systems (68% vs. 79% on average across countries). As noted above, by comparison, UK respondents also place greater priority on equal opportunities for minority groups (59% vs. 53% on average).
Strong democratic institutions are less of a priority for UK respondents than for their peers in the EU. Only a third identify independent media outlets or the separation between religion and state as very important to a good quality of life in society (vs. 48% and 41% on average, respectively), while 45% say the same of citizen participation in political decision-making (vs. 52% on average). Two thirds, however, recognize that an independent justice system is crucial (nearly on par with the 69% on average across countries).
On average, young adults in the UK are less worried about the current social and environmental challenges (35% are “very concerned”) than those in Greece (50%), Italy (42%) or Poland (44%). However, 71% of young adults still rank rising living costs as an urgent problem, as do 47% for climate change, 46% for energy insecurity and 45% for the destruction of nature, demonstrating that young adults in the UK are far from worry-free. Moreover, like their European peers, most young adults in the UK believe that economic conditions will get worse rather than better in the next decade. Sixty-two percent predict higher living costs and 56% a bigger gap between rich and poor. The fact that 46% anticipate better opportunities for minority groups within the next decade is a ray of hope. Around half of those surveyed are open to implementing measures like ethnic or gender quotas in parliaments and on corporate boards to help ensure a more equal future.
Like their peers in the EU, nearly all young adults in the UK report having engaged in some way to help address social and environmental challenges. For most, this means taking individual actions like moderating their energy use (80%), consumption (66%) or travel (60%).
In terms of collective civic action like participating in protests and other political events, young adults in the UK are somewhat less active than their European counterparts, with just over 20% having already engaged in civic action. They are reticent when it comes to expressing their political opinions in conversations (47% vs. 60% on average), as well as taking part in a protest (23% vs. 28% on average) or supporting a citizen’s initiative (21% vs. 27% on average). However, workplace engagement holds some potential, with 41% having already stood up for social issues at work and an additional +21% expressing willingness to do so in the future.
As in the other countries surveyed — though to a somewhat lesser degree — young UK adults report that ethical factors are most likely to have motivated them to take action. For example, wanting to be certain that they did everything they could (39% vs. 45% on average). Self-development is also a relevant driver for a third of respondents (34% vs. 41% on average). Finally, in the UK more so than in the EU, social belonging (wanting to be part of a movement: 31% vs. 27% on average) and recognition (17% vs. 13% on average) are meaningful to a number of young adults.
Barriers to civic action largely mirror those found in the other countries. However, UK respondents appear somewhat more risk-tolerant than their EU peers: A notably higher percentage report being willing to face physical confrontations (38% vs. 29% on average), loss of income or job opportunities (37% vs. 30% on average), or legal problems (35% vs. 27% overall).
The Allianz Foundation Next Generations Study identified six engagement types in the UK and the other countries surveyed. Among those who have taken little to no civic action so far, 12% of young adults in the UK belong to the politically left-leaning group of Hesitant Progressives who have yet to act on their pronounced concerns about environmental and social justice. Members of the sizable Quiet Mainstream (38%) are also mostly inactive, but are less politically opinionated and interested. Their counterparts to the right are the Passive Traditionalists (6%), who despite their strong religious bent are not particularly involved in any social or environmental causes.
The smallest yet most organized of the three civically engaged groups are the Conservative Campaigners (12%), who through their actions seek to promote values of individual prosperity and national identity. The Proactive Center (21%) are less driven by any particular issue, but nonetheless willing to be involved in shaping the future, preferably through individual actions. Finally, the Progressive Movers (11%) are the youngest and most left-leaning group, as well as the one with the highest overall level of civic engagement.