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YSI Gen Z Index Reveals Young People's Desire for Greater Involvement in Policies that Shape the Future

Young Social Innovators aims to inspire, empower and equip Ireland’s young people with the tools to make positive change in their communities, the world and their future lives

Key research findings include:

A major new study conducted by Young Social Innovators in partnerhip with Amárach Research has detailed the hopes and fears that Generation Z (Gen Z) harbours for the future. The nationally representative research of 1,090 Irish teenagers revealed that a massive 78% of the cohort want to play an active role in the policies and plans that will ultimately shape their futures.

The research was undertaken to understand the key issues Ireland’s young people are facing today, as well as their hopes and fears for the next 20 years, and coincides with the 20th anniversary of YSI in Ireland. 

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Political persuasions
With the majority of the Gen Z population hoping for a greater say in future policies and planning, over a third (35%) of this cohort would consider becoming a political representative. The research revealed that the vast majority (82%) do not believe young people have a say in how their local area is planned for and developed, and over half (53%) believe there are not enough ways to contribute and make a difference in their communities, whilst 2 in 5 do not know where to find such opportunities.

A majority of Gen Z (53%) feel that 16-year-olds should be able to vote in Ireland, but just 19% have confidence that that will happen in the next 20 years.

What success looks like
From the research, it is clear that Ireland’s young population is committed to making a positive impact not just in their respective localities but also on an international level. ‘Making a difference to your community / the world’ ranked second to financial security (30%) for a quarter of all respondents. ‘Loving your job’ came in third highest at 18%, while ‘having good friends’ ranked fourth at 9%. ‘Being a good parent’, and ‘owning your own home’, tied for fifth at 7% each, and simply ‘being happy’ was a key success indicator for 4%.

Is Education Failing?
In terms of future readiness, a massive 80% believe the Leaving Cert does not prepare young people for their future career paths. This comes as this year’s second-level students are sitting the traditional Leaving Cert exams after two years of Covid 19 disruption. It also follows findings from the 2019 Gen Z Index study in which 4 in 5 young people said they felt there was too much emphasis placed on third-level education. Interestingly, 1 in 3 revealed that the pressure to get good grades was the main reason it was more difficult being a teenager today than it was for their parent's generation.

Future Careers
From a career perspective, ‘doing something you love’ is ranked by almost half (48%) of Gen Zs as the most important consideration for their ideal job, whereas 19% feel work/life balance is most important. Surprisingly, given their stated future worry in relation to unaffordable living costs, only 7% felt salary was the most important career consideration, while 4% would prioritise job security. Only 3% cited ‘working for a socially considerate employer’ or a ‘values-based employer’ as their top career choice decision driver, which is also surprisingly low given how socially conscious Gen Z is believed to be.

The survey also revealed that only 3% cited working for themselves as their top priority. However, this is contradicted by data from the 2019 Gen Z Index, in which a quarter of Gen Zs (26%) indicated that they’d like to run their own business with more males 37%) than females (22%) harbouring this future goal.

“Gen Z has long been identified as a conscientious and altruistic generation, taking an activist, hands-on approach to trying to solve the world’s problems. This new research study provides a further depth of understanding into this generation, showcasing a pragmatism in areas such as policy making and financial security that they would not typically have been credited with before. “It is clear from this research that young people want to be at the table when it comes to policies and planning that will shape the future of Ireland. Of the 78% who desire a greater say, some 35% would consider entering the political arena. This is something to be welcomed, valued and encouraged. Young people feel that their voices and ideas are not included in current decision-making processes and that, whilst desirable, they hold little belief that Ireland is likely to follow in the footsteps of Scotland or Wales in relation to lowering the voting age to 16. We need to ask ourselves are we doing enough to encourage and enable young people’s participation in democratic systems or are we sending them a message that this is not a space in which they are welcome? Empowering and engaging the young people of Ireland and giving them a platform to have a strong voice on the issues directly impacting them is our duty to this generation. This is what YSI does and we would like to see social innovation as an option for all young people.

Rachel Collier, Co-founder and CEO Young Social Innovators

Money minded
When asked to think ahead to 20 years’ time, 79% of Gen Z survey respondents cited ‘unaffordable cost of living’ as their greatest fear for the future.  This focus on financial wellbeing is closely linked to the generation’s viewpoint on what signifies future success, with nearly a third (30%) choosing ‘financial security’ as the greatest sign of a successful life in the future, which is a 50% increase on the 2019 research findings and overtakes ‘making a difference in the world’ which was the most popular indicator of a successful life for young people in the 2019 study.

The great emigration?
On the topic of where Gen Z sees themselves in 20 years’ time, over two in five (43%) believe they will be living and working outside Ireland Which represents a 24% decrease since the 2019 study. Of those who plan on remaining in Ireland, they are evenly split in relation to where they see themselves living with 19% expecting to live in a city, 20% in a town and 18% rurally. Interestingly, just 4% expect to be working in rural Ireland suggesting that Ireland will need to adopt more flexible working models to drive interest in rural living in the future.

A litany of worries
Probing further into the topic of future concerns, 44% are worried about inequality, 41% about poverty and hunger, 38% about war and violence, and the same percentage for the potential loss of species and biodiversity. Next to the cost of living, by far the largest other area of worry was climate change, with 78% citing that as a future concern. Looking at this topic in more detail, over half (51%) believe that Ireland won’t hit its key climate goals within the next 20 years. The vast majority (88%) are not confident that we are doing enough today to tackle climate change, and nearly nine in 10 (87%) believe the government is not doing enough. Similarly, over four in five think companies are failing to play their part in addressing the issues, and 45% don’t believe citizens are doing enough either.