Reading: If “Youth are the future”, youth today has to shape that future
If “Youth are the future”, youth today has to shape that future
According to Eurostat, the population of the European Union in 2019 was 446.8 million people, of which, 142 million people, approximately 32%, were under the age of 30. Breaking down that demographic further, children aged between 0-14 years accounted for 15% of Europe’s population and young people aged 15-29 years composed 17% of citizens in the EU. Over the preceding two decades, the average age of the EU population has continued to rise steadily by more than three months per year. Consequently, in 1990, the population's average age was 35 years climbing significantly to almost 44 years in 2019.
The obvious consequence of this significant shift in EU demographics is that the present generation of those under 30 will carry the financial burden of supporting an aging population. The maintenance of welfare systems, pension schemes and public healthcare will present an important challenge, with the overall demand on these fundamental systems increasing to service Europe’s elderly.
Accordingly, Europe’s policymakers are facing challenges with respect to the maintenance of the long term sustainability of public finances given the rapidly declining proportion of working-age citizens contributing to the maintenance of public services.
Adding to this debate, the NEXUS project aims to increase awareness of today’s youth on the importance of their participation in decision-making and policy-making both at local and EU level.
If young people don’t take an active part in shaping the future, decisions that will affect their life will be made by those who will not be directly impacted by those decisions!
OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) data from 2016 shows that younger voters are less likely to cast their vote than the electorate in general: voter turnout among 18 to 24 year-olds is, on average, 16% points lower than for adults aged 25 to 50 inclusive. On average one in four young people reports to be not at all interested in politics compared to one in five for the total population in OECD. The report made by European Parliament from 2019 notes however that there has been a slight increase in turnout for all groups of the population between 2014 and 2019 .
Much has been said of the disengagement of Europe’s young generations from established society. This belief is supported by the majority of available research which indicates that established practices of participation in society, such as voting in elections and membership in political parties, are being shunned by young people. For example, 2016 OECD data highlights that participation in elections was significantly lower in younger generations with voter participation in 18-24-year-olds being 16% lower than that of adults aged between 25-50. Added to which research shows that one in four (25%) of young people declare that they ‘are not at all interested in politics’ compared to one in five citizens (20%) in the total OECD population.
There are however, some social observers that insist that young citizens are not by any means disengaging, rather that they are both creating and finding innovative ways in which to participate in society, and that these methods are not as yet on the radars of more conservative or traditional decision-makers .
Those new and innovative ways rely on the extensive use of the internet.
The gap in internet usage between young people in the EU, when compared with the EU population as a whole, is pronounced, to say the least. In 2016, daily use of the internet by young people aged 16-29 years was 91%, whilst the population at large connecting daily to the net was 71%. Further differences were found with respect to the method of accessing the internet, with mobile devices such as smartphones (83% of users) continuing to dominate as the preferred method of access over computers, with only 38% going online using a PC. Within the young people demographic, those with a higher level of education and younger users are the highest users proportionally.
Given their high usage of digital devices, ICT (Information and Communication Technology) skills are more prolific in young people than in the population at large. Data indicated that young people employ the internet for a broader range of activities such as online gaming, social networking and participation in civic activities to name just a few. The EU and its member states face the challenge to ensure the safe use of ICT technologies by younger people whilst developing the social and economic benefits that the use of such technology generates for the community.
These findings were reflected also in data collected by the NEXUS team among the student population at three participating Universities, as this infographic shows (click here to see it bigger):
So, if young people are online, and they are passionate about social issues and are willing to engage more – how do we make their voices count, and how can innovative civic education facilitate greater participation of youth people in digital democracy?
 Zalc, J., Becuwe, N., & Buruian, A. (2019). The 2019 Post-Electoral Survey-Have European Elections Entered A New Dimension?. Eurobarometer Survey, 91. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/at-your-service/files/be-heard/eurobarometer/2019/post-election-survey-2019-complete-results/report/en-post-election-survey-2019-report.pdf
 Crowley, A., & Moxon, D. (2017). New and innovative forms of youth participation in decision-making processes. Council of Europe. https://rm.coe.int/new-and-innovative-forms-of-youth-participation-in-decision-making-pro/1680759e6a