The new Shell Youth Study shows that the younger generation is contradictory. She is satisfied with our democracy but does not trust the parties. She looks optimistically into the future, but is afraid of climate change. It is educated but also susceptible to populist theses. Klaus Hurrelmann, educational researcher and co-author of the youth study, explains in an interview how politics should react to this.
ZEIT ONLINE: Mr. Hurrelmann, four years ago you predicted in a TIME interview the politicization of the younger generation. Why was that foreseeable?
Klaus Hurrelmann: In our regular surveys, we were able to observe a process very well: at the beginning of the decade, the political interest of the 12 to 20-year-olds was at a historic low. But even then, and in the follow-up, we could see that the political interest in the youngest groups was increasing. That's why a political generation is on the rise, I could predicted in 2015 already. Even though it was not clear that it would drive her into the streets in large numbers.
Klaus Hurrelmann is an education scientist at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and co-author of the Shell Youth Study. © Britta Pedersen / dpa
ZEIT ONLINE: The young generation is doing well. She believes Germany is fair, looks optimistically into the future. Why does she go out on the street?
Hurrelmann: That's actually a paradox. The predecessor generation would have had every reason to demonstrate: The concern of terrorist attacks, youth unemployment, economic crisis. That's why the previous generation has apparently focused on itself. At that time we called it a pragmatic basic attitude. The young people were strongly concerned with self-improvement and good educational qualifications and less with political commitment. While the financial crisis has troubled the young generation, it has been difficult for them to identify a culprit for this great global problem.
ZEIT ONLINE: But the climate change is still a global problem without easily identifiable culprit.
Hurrelmann: Definitiv.Er but brings a generation on the road, which has a completely different starting point. Those born after 2000 do not care about their education or the job, they live in good economic times. They did not grow up with uncertainty. That's what makes them political. Youth seems to become more politically active the better it is. The better the social perspective and the higher the level of education, the stronger the protest will be. It is, so to speak, a protest out of satisfaction.
ZEIT ONLINE: Despite this, the young generation's interest in politics has dropped from 43 percent to 41 percent since the last study. How do you explain that?
Hurrelmann: Yes, the political interest is stagnating. Growing, however, is the approval of the statement that it is fashionable to be political. It is also only a subgroup politically active, not the whole generation.
ZEIT ONLINE: Then the subtitle of your study, a generation speaks up , but misleading.
Hurrelmann: No, because there were always opinion leaders within a generation who met a large, silent majority. That was also the case in the '68 movement. Even then, in prosperity, shortly after the economic miracle, some young people became politicized. But it was not all young people by any means. As at Fridays for Future today, there was a small political elite - perhaps five percent of the year - but they had and have the ability to form a large circle of sympathizers.
ZEIT ONLINE: Just this politically well-organized generation also expresses distrust. 71 percent of adolescent youths, despite their commitment as politicverdrossen. How does it fit together?
Hurrelmann: The satisfaction with the democracy has increased surprisingly, which is gratifying. At the same time, however, democratic parties and politicians are losing their prestige. With the younger generation they are considered bureaucratic, sedate, and not very transparent. The incentive to get involved is low, the distance to the parties is great.