Global Young People Are Socially Aware, but Face Some Barriers to Getting Involved
What inspires young people around the world to create change? What barriers hold them back from taking action – and what tools, resources and experiences could help them break through?
With these questions in mind, we conducted a study of more than 7,000 people aged 13 to 34 across ten markets (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Italy, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, UK, and US). Here’s what we learned:
Global young people are socially aware and believe change is on them. They genuinely care about the world around them and want to make a tangible impact. Two-thirds of young people seek out ways to get involved in the causes they care about – and 64% believe they have a personal responsibility to get involved in important issues. For 61%, it’s their generation’s responsibility to fix the problems they’ve inherited.
A personal connection to a cause, a sense of unfairness, and friends’ engagement in an issue motivate them to get involved. Young people become more fully aware of a social issue when it impacts them personally. They get inspired to act if an issue feels “unfair” and violates their sense of right and wrong. Social force is another powerful motivation. If their friends care about an issue, they’re more likely to find a way to participate.
They’re optimistic and future-focused – but still need help. Young people think and talk a lot about what’s next in their lives. While they generally view the future with optimism, it’s paired with some anxiety about the unknown. Optimism does win out, however – they are nearly 2.5 times more likely to think the world will be a better place in 10 years than a worse place. Even though young people are socially aware and eager to get involved, they feel that not having enough resources or support limits their power to create change.
Four main barriers prevent young people from participating in social causes. Often they rest beneath the surface, driven more by subconscious and emotional thinking than rational thought. The barriers are:
- Feeling like they don’t have time. Young people worry that getting involved in social issues will be a “time suck.” While those who are highly active tend to embrace the time commitment, those with less experience sometimes assume that commitment has to be huge. To get around this barrier, it’s important to show that getting involved doesn’t have to be daunting.
- Internal and external doubt. Self-doubt is huge among young people; they believe they lack the authority to make change happen. Often, this is rooted in a sense that they don’t know enough about the issue, what change is needed, and what kind of action could help – so there is power in providing them with information and resources. They also want reassurance that their time, energy and money will be used in good faith. They can feel hesitant about a group, organization or initiative’s ability to do what they say they will do. One way to address this lack of trust is to be transparent and illustrate the impact of their actions, such as through live updates.
- Concern about how others will react to their participation. Getting involved in a social issue can feel awkward or intimidating for young people – 56% say they keep their views to themselves to avoid conflict. Participating in a social cause might not seem “cool” to their friends, and it could expose them to threats like bullying, trolling, or physical violence at public events. While peer groups and social media access can inspire engagement, they also can be the reasons young people end their involvement in a cause.
- Being unsure of how and whether they can make a real impact. Participating in social causes feels complicated – and sometimes young people believe they can’t take action on their own. For 1 in 5, feeling exhausted or overwhelmed limits their power. And for 1 in 4, a sense that it’s impossible to achieve what they want limits them. Young people can feel hopeless about persistent issues that don’t seem to improve. Because they tend to think about change in black-and-white terms, it’s important to show incremental change by giving them small wins along the way.