The background, purpose and arrangement of the research project were presented in Puranen and Nordlöf, The Nineties Report (1995), which also discussed the theoretical background to values studies. The question was asked whether young people in the nineties are society's least exploited qualified resource.
This study of young people's views includes their views on the family/work, technology, driving forces, culture and the future but also their values on environmental and energy issues, see Futures Energy. The potential benefits of understanding these processes are great and the potential drawbacks of failing to understand them are even greater. We need to find out about the possible options for the future. We need to understand young people's lifestyles and attitudes to work and the family, and also to try to identify the factors that trigger change. Therefore, these studies were carried out with the participation of young people who were specially trained to prepare them to conduct interviews with a representative sample of peers aged 19-25. The project was led by Bi Puranen of the Institute for Futures Studies. The approach used - participatory research - is an established method in international research, although not so familiar in Sweden.
The project is now in its third year. Here follows a brief account of the research done so far.
1. The theoretical background to value studies
There are two aspects to this background:
"First, each individual is a captive of his own history, his own biography of his formative and critical years. Second, each individual's biography is a captive of contemporary history at the level of development attained during the critical years in the individual's biography. (...) Different generations grow up and are moulded by different social situations. Consequently, different generations acquire generation-specific values and opinions. Since the generations are 'locked' in their own history, they do not essentially change their fundamental values as they grow older and pass through the various phases of their life cycle. Therefore, in society as a whole values change as a result of the replacement of one generation by another, the disappearance of the older generation with its specific values and the appearance of new generations with their specific values." (Thorleif Pettersson, Mot denna framtid, 1992, p. 34.)
The theory of the silent revolution was presented by Ronald Inglehart as early as 1977. It has played a large part in shaping our perception of changing values. Practically all researchers refer to him on the question of the uniquely formative childhood years. The idea of stable generational differences is at the core of the theory. The silent revolution consists in a slow change from the industrial society's appreciation of safety and security to the post-material society's emphasis on personal liberty. According to Inglehart, this trend is largely explained by the development of the welfare state and improvements in education. The younger generation has greater citizen competence and places a high value on the individual's realization of his potential. Relationships and work are top priority.
Inglehart bases his research on studies performed in several European countries (Germany, Belgium, Italy, France, the Netherlands and the UK), as well as the USA, and he has found that the further a country has advanced in societal development, the more people tend to espouse post-material values; the process has, so to speak, started earlier. In some countries, for example Japan, this has happened quite recently.
There is of course scope for change, particularly in times of crisis; "short-term periodical effects" occur in parallel with the lasting differences between the generations. In his later research Inglehart attaches greater importance to this process as an explanation of the fact that changes do in fact take place.
Are there differences in male and female behaviour during this process? Are we perhaps more or less inclined to change? How are our attitudes to the conflict between production and reproduction influenced by these changes in values? Is there a consensus on environmental and energy matters?
Inglehart sees a pattern: women lag behind, they have the same value pattern as older men, i.e. they are more material. Women between 16 and 24 can be compared with men aged 25-34. And women aged 25-34 are similar to men aged 45-54. In other words, younger women lag behind by about ten years and older women by about 20. He summarizes this as follows:
"The prewar cohort lag two decades behind the men; the postwar cohort is only one decade behind. In the United States these differences disappear among the youngest cohorts." Thus, among young people of today there are no differences between the sexes. These conclusions are also consistent with the studies carried out in Sweden. In the most recent studies more women than men espouse post-material values. This might be taken to mean that women have less vested interests, less to gain from established society and more to gain by change. These processes have of course long-term implications for the question of production and reproduction and the approach to environmental and energy issues.
Among the European countries included in Inglehart's study it is the countries with the slowest industrialization process that are considered to have the largest proportion of women with material values, e.g. Italy and Belgium. Japan is another interesting example. Another interesting factor is the great differences in attitudes to nuclear power; in a country like Belgium very few (5%) are anti-nuclear, while in Greece the figure is as high as 50 per cent and, among the Greek post-materialists, 77 per cent.
Japan is an interesting country in this connection. The Japanese researcher Nonutaka Ike attempted to identify changes in the Japanese national character by making retrospective cohort analyses of population surveys carried out in 1953, 1958, 1963 and 1968. He found that a generation shift from material to post-material values really had taken place in Japan. Younger people were much more interested in personal liberty and the individual than their elders, who were more rooted in Japanese traditions. Ike's study has been taken on to the year 1973, and it has been established that the older generation has hardly changed its views at all; it is the young who represent the new post-material value patterns.
During a visit to Japan in May, 1993 Bi Puranen, together with a colleague, Åke Nygren, conducted a number of pilot interviews with people aged 20-23. They all had post-material values, including the girls. It was interesting that the boys emphasized the importance of relationships and the girls of education and work. None of the ten interviewees considered health and the environment important. It was only when we explicitly asked them about their views on health and the environment that they said they were important. Four of the boys smoked and saw no connection between this and their health. Eight members of the group, including two girls, said quite frankly that they used alcohol every week. It was part of their lifestyle. Their greatest dream was to have a car of their own. The ideal number of children was two. But the girls wanted to go on working even after the children were born.
Young people today differ in several respects from the generation of their parents, which is so clearly motivated by the values of industrial society. Young people have been shaped by the global communication society in which we now live. Obviously, this does not mean a clean break with history; there are deeper fundamental values and ideals that have evolved over the centuries of agrarian and industrial society.
Young Swedes consider good health the most important thing in life. It is quite clear that nothing else is anything like as important. Both in the surveys conducted during a five-year period by the Institute for Futures Studies and the in-depth interviews conducted by Bi Puranen in 1992 and 1993 with young Swedes the central questions concerned what the respondents regarded as the most important thing today and at the age of 35. The answers indicate that being healthy and earning money are important in both the short and the long term. The importance of travel and friends decreases with age, from being one of the most important things in life to something much more secondary. The family, parents and brothers and sisters become more important, as do a job and someone to live with and have children with.
When young people are asked about their priorities as regards society's use of resources it is striking how important health and the environment are in their lives. In response to the question "what do you think will be most important to you when you are 35?" both young women and men answered that health is the most important thing. This was followed, in the case of men, by having someone to live and have children with and, in the case of women, by an interesting job. This is interesting, considering the fact that it is usually assumed that women, unlike men, attach great importance to relationships. Are these patterns changing? Are we to expect a society in the 21st century where men long to have someone to love and live with while women are most interested in their careers? How do family factors and lifestyles influence attitudes to energy?
In order to make better and more relevant decisions, adults need appropriate supporting data; we need to know about young people's value patterns and we need good ideas about what social innovations can and should create a socially and environmentally sustainable society.
2. The Nineties Report
Are young people in the nineties society's least exploited qualified resource?
Young people of today represent the first generation that has grown up in a post-industrial information society. What do we know about their thoughts and, above all, about what has shaped their thinking and their values? Not a great deal. We have a much clearer picture of the flower power ideals of the generation of '68, the political protests of the seventies and especially the determined protests of the young people in the eighties.
Each decade has its own value patterns, and these determine the environmental commitment of those who are young at the time. There is a risk that we see young people of today through the spectacles of the past and fail to perceive the distinctive features of the 1990s.
The environment is an important part of young people's lives and future outlook. It is a well-known truism that young people today are the opinion-formers of tomorrow, and that tomorrow is rushing towards us faster than ever. For the young this is a reality, but does the older generation - those who make the decisions - realize this? The potential benefits of understanding these processes are great and the potential drawbacks of failing to understand are even greater. At stake are the political options for future energy policy and the need to get the political priorities right in this area in order to orchestrate a real paradigm shift from a traditional industrial society to something new. The conclusion must be that harnessing energy is as crucial to such a transition as it was to the transition to an industrial society.
Many young people in the 1990s feel quite comfortable with technology and development and experience no resistance to or exaggerated fear of them. Their familiarity with the gigantic flows of data which feed the information society has qualified them for a role as world citizens, although they sometimes lack specialized knowledge and experience. Consequently, they have an open, unbiased attitude and a new sort of creativity which can also be useful in addressing environmental issues.
One thing that young people born in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s have in common is that, despite their acceptance of the values of an industrial society, they are prepared to forgo an energy-consuming lifestyle in the interests of a sustainable environment. But in the post-industrial information society the young of today are captives to their own energy needs and should therefore strive for a realistic solution to the problem of energy supply. However, they must be given the chance to play their part in achieving this solution while remaining true to their own values.
3. Design of the youth study
We still know too little about young people's fundamental attitudes, lifestyles and preferences. We must therefore first perform a values study by way of basic research.
The aim of the study is therefore first to conduct in-depth interviews with young people all over the country and to carry out a general quantitative survey. What are the differences between young people in different regions, between local communities and towns, between men and women, between young people with different educations and belonging to different age groups? This survey has resulted in a report and also in a film entitled The Nineties Report.
However, the purpose of the survey is not just to carry out a traditional scientific study but to find out about young people's communication patterns so as to ensure that the efforts made on behalf of target groups really work. The ambition is to make the most of the young people's potential as a creative resource and to establish cooperation which in its turn will increase understanding between the younger generation and the decisionmaking generation. To do this, we must make the words come alive, give the study flesh and blood. The focus must be on young people's view of the world, not that of the adult generation's. This we have done by producing a film reflecting the nineties. To describe young Swedes today we must use their own media: images and sound.
The results and experience gained from the project are likely to generate a debate in the public dialogue on energy and the future. Momentous political decisions must be taken, and more modern methods must used to bring the issues home to the public than has been the case so far.
As already mentioned, the Nineties Report consists of a number of partial studies. The empirical data collection methods that are used are summarized below.
Group discussions were arranged in four different towns. All of them were filmed on video and printed out in extenso. The participants were young people aged 19-25. The purpose of the discussions was to broach problems and to compare the nature of the responses and dialogue in a group situation with those resulting from individual interviews.
The in-depth interview study
104 semistructured in-depth interviews of a sample of young people representative of the country as a whole, adjusted for sex, family background, parental status, employment situation, education, work and ethnic distribution. Random samples with a geographical distribution by rural areas, towns, medium-sized towns and large towns. Great care was given to screening and a representative control group of 1 000 individuals was selected in accordance with the same procedure. All these were interviewed by telephone.
The interviews were performed by 12 specially trained young people (born between 1965 and 1975). They were conducted at home, lasted between one and three hours and were taped. They were printed out in extenso by the interviewer. About 5,000 pages of interview material were printed out and stored in Word. The respondents answered a questionnaire containing 86 questions and the interviewers described each respondent prior to the printout and noted down their reflections after the printout. The answers to the questionnaires were coded and processed in Statistica. The same questionnaire was filled in by the interviewers to make it possible to check for any interviewer influence on the respondents.
The interviewers were given special training in the theory and method of futures studies (a course entitled Building the Future, which lasted 1.5 years). They were then given special training in in-depth interview methods and qualitative computer analysis. The approach was based on participatory research. Full use was made of the interviewers' generational membership, both in designing a guide for the interviews, conducting the interviews and interpreting the results.
Training and design of the questionnaire
An interview guide for semistructured in-depth interviews was prepared. A questionnaire was designed to be filled in on the same occasion as the in-depth interviews as well as a form containing test questions. Telephone interviews were conducted with the same 104 respondents one year later, and they were asked the same questions as in the original questionnaire. Instruction in in-depth interview techniques and in NUD*IST (nonnumerical, unstructured data in qualitative research) was given by professional instructors. The youth team took an active part in preparing both the interview guide and the questionnaire.
Apart from the questionnaire with 86 questions, which was processed after completion of the in-depth interviews, 1 000 individuals were checked for representativity. Apart from answering the questions in the above questionnaire, they were also asked to answer a number of questions relating to values by telephone.
A questionnaire designed to test the interviewees' knowledge of certain matters is now being used to question people all over the country with different educational and professional backgrounds and representing all generations. This survey will be carried out between the autumn of 1995 and the autumn of 1996. The study comprises 2,300 people. Its purpose is to establish any differences in knowledge profiles relating to elementary questions about the environment/technology between the sexes, between different generations or with reference to professional/educational background, residence etc.
Measurement of the interview material
The respondents in the in-depth interview will again be contacted in the autumn of 1996. They will again fill in the same questionnaire as before and answer more advanced questions. The interviews will be taped. The purpose is to establish whether the environmental and energy debate of the last year has influenced young people and also to deepen understanding and check statements made in the analysis phase.
A postgraduate student will in connection with his doctoral thesis carry out a multigenerational study involving interviews with a selection of the grandparents of the 104 respondents. The purpose is to try to understand the intergenerational structure of environmental attitudes. Is experience passed on from one generation to the next in a way that can help us to understand today's thinking?
The Nineties Report - Film
When the project was planned, great importance was attached to visualizing the research findings. It is important to use images and sound to add further dimensions to the findings in order to portray the first pure multimedia generation and their value patterns in an easily comprehensible and stimulating manner. For this purpose the film producer Kicki Nordlöf followed the project closely. The synopsis and script were written by Bi Puranen and Kicki Nordlöf. The production should be completed by the summer of 1997.
Most of the results are stil only available in swedish. Some english articles are presented here.
©2003 Bi Puranen