Some of the young members of the research team who
conducted the interviews for The Nineties Report

It is impossible to make predictions about the future, yet many of us have feelings, opinions, fears and hopes for the future. Human beings´ behaviour is to a great extent governed by values. These values are acquired during our whole life, but the years of childhood and adolescence are a particularly formative period when our underlying value patterns are formed. Each generation has its value patterns, on some issues these are very obvious, in others they are hardly noticeable. This means that we live in the past much more than we realize. It also means that we who do research and make statements in the issue are influenced by our own inherent values, our upbringing and our social context. We ask questions and we interpret answers through a subjective filter. To minimise this "expert effect" we have in the project The Nineties Report been very careful to apply"participatory research". Young people interview their peers. A team belonging to the generation concerned was trained in the techniques of in-depth interviews, and was also trained on the theory and method of futures studies. The fact that the interviewers belong to the same generation as the respondents has been used throughout the research process, both in designing the interview guide and the questionnaire, and in conducting the interviews and in analysing the material.

In the study we asked young people about their future outlook and discussed it with them. Long interviews of up to three hours, were carried out in the interviewees´ home environment. How do they perceive the future; their own, Sweden's and the world's? We started by asking what they thought of when they heard the word future. Did they feel positive, negative, ambivalent, resigned, or lost concerning the future?

We were aware of the methodological pitfalls, such as giving cast and dried answers or making sweeping statements. Therefore the interviewers often stopped and asked the respondents to expound and motivate their points of view and to formulate several different opinions about the future. We also asked about their dreams and the driving forces in their lives and what they considered to be the most important thing in life today and when they are 45 - which will be a few years into the twenty-first century. Moreover we let them make forecasts on their own future.

Leaving their general and personal views aside, we moved on to discuss what they thought of Sweden's future and their own oppurtunities for influencing on it. What is the best way to make oneself heard? Furthermore we asked about who controls developments - in Sweden and in the world. What are the threats and the possibilities for the future?

The next step was to see if or how these attitudes are related to other questions, e.g. their views on environment, energy, the family, work, technology and their own way of life. Are there underlying variables which might explain these attitudes? We studied their parents backgrounds and their standard of living. We examined possible differences between those who study, work, are unemployed, on parental leave, on military service or on sick leave, etc. In addition, we examined possible changes over time between the three interview periods, spring 1995, autumn 1996 and late autumn 1997/winter 1998. What changes occurred in the young people's views between the three periods?

This material was compared with the statistical material collected in parallel. 1000 interviewees were asked to answer a selection of the same questions as the respondents in the in-depth interviews. The main purpose of these telephone interviews was to test the possibility of generalising the in-depth interview material. Do the respondents represent a cross-section of "ordinary" young people aged19-25 or do they differ in any particular respects? These questionnaire interviews also gave us valuable reference material to draw on. In addition, within the framework of the comprehensive global research project World Value Study , we conducted yet another survey in which 1000 Swedes of different ages were interviewed at personal meetings. The questions concerned fundamental values and approaches. This empirical material made it possible to conduct inter-generational comparisons with the same set of questions. In addition to this, a pilot study was carried out with young people belonging to several other cultures.

The ambition was to penetrate the surface, to see through the many "black and white" pictures given by the well-mannered individuals, regardless of age, who quickly cross their way through questionnaires. This does not imply, however, that questionnaires should be regarded as an inferior source of information. They are often of vital importance when the object is to scan or discover a context or a connection which might otherwise remain unknown. As an example the Institute for Futures Studies has for many years studied, on the basis of questionnaires, how graduates perceive their future. A picture of the generation born in the 1970s has slowly emerged.

In one of the questions that the graduates answered they were asked to mark on a scale from 1 to 10 how much self-determination and freedom of choice they considered themselves to have. The question was asked in a questionnaire every year between 1990 and 1996. The answers varied between 7 and 8, which can be interpreted as a stable expression of the degree of self-determination. Could this also mean that they have a strong belief in the future and a feeling of their own power? That is not necessarily the case, but it can be seen as an indication of a certain stability in the fundamental value patterns. To achieve a better understanding, more complex and at the same time precise questions must be asked which make it possible to follow the individual's train of thought. Therefore the interviews are semi-structured.


The vision

The respondents' answers differ astonishingly much from the picture of them given in the media. Nine out of ten young people have positive views on the future. Those who are the generally optimistic about the future are also optimistic about their own future. To the follow-up question "Do you feel that you can influence your own future?" 92% gave an affirmative answer. This should, however, not be interpreted to mean that they are optimistic about everything to do with the future. We also asked the question "Do you feel that you can influence the future of Sweden?". Here the reply was completely different; only 39% believed that they could influence the future of Sweden. Many added comments like:

- Yes, well I can give my vote in elections, but I don't really know whether the politicians listen to us. We are young, we lack power and influence...

The respondents' visions of the future are often qualified even though the fundamental view is bright. The ability to differentiate between their own future, and that of other people and the community's and the world's future is impressive. We therefore chose to explore the question of how their own lives can be influenced and their views on power in general and their chances of influencing the community as a whole. Is it possible to change the world? We started off with their own lives.


The willingness to fight for one's goals

It is possible to influence one's future. That is what 92% of the respondents believe, men as well as women. They think that people today, to a large extent, have control of their own lives.

They decide for themselves how they want to live, in any case in their own community. They also take responsibility for their own lives and generally blame themselves if things do not turn out the way they want. But there is also a difference between the possibility deciding about their own lives and the issues that are decided by others. The family and relationships belong to the sphere in which their own influence is great. Work, on the other hand, depends on a work situation even though respondents believe that they can have influence. There is a generally expressed desire to fight for one's goals but also a great insecurity concerning what methods are best. There is great reliance on adults, and many people expect adults to intervene and make the crucial decisions. There is also a clear distinction between individual oppurtunities and problems in society. Few of the interviewees consider that they have any real influence over politicians' actions or on questions that concern Sweden as a whole.

By looking at different arguments and explanations given by young people we can increase our understanding and perhaps be in a better position to judge the long-term effects of different situations. How do the young define their own goals for the future and what are their chances of achieving them? A systematic analysis of all the in-depth interview answers to that question displays a strong wish to fight for their own goals and a great insecurity about the best way of doing so.

The respondents repeatedly demonstrate a great awareness of the limits on their opportunities, despite a strong belief in the own ability. The urge to integrate is strong and separates this generation from the young people of the 1960s and 1970s, whose attitude towards adults was highly critical. In youth-research there are many who advocate, as does Thomas Ziehe , an explanatory model which implies a socio-cultural liberation of youth. According to this view, modern society creates specific youth cultures with their own lifestyles and with little desire to integrate with the adult world. Young people turn inwards, towards each other. We have found very little evidence in our study to support this approach. Young people´s values differ from those of adults, which does not necessarily involve a dissociation from the adults' values and way of life. Rather they display a curiosity, a wish to communicate with adults and a readiness to adopt the adult position. This becomes especially evident as regards views on labour, where we have found very little critical dissociation or condemnation. As to the question whether they have any role models, the majority mention their parents or one of them, next to celebrities such as Bill Gates, Percy Barnevik and Nelson Mandela.

Some of the interviewees state that their parents and grand parents did not have the same opportunities to influence and decide their own lives as young people today. The fact that previosly people were born into a certain class or a specific context is something negative to the youth today. They state that today you can choose your own way of life to a much greater extent.

Mats, 24, lives in Stockholm but was raised in a small village in the county of Hälsingland. He is studying science and intends later to study medicine. Mats tells us about his commitment to environmental issues and how that effects his view of the future.

- I feel that I have greater influence than my grandfather had when he was young in the 30s. If I want to, I can make a terrible fuss, study to become a biologist and stop projects like the bridge over the Sound. Fifty years ago it would have been built anyway. Somehow it feels as if citizens can influence large issues as well as small ones. I feel that I can influence my situation.

The psychologist D. Fryer has formulated a theory which he calls the agent theory . In short, this theory states that individuals are basically independent creatures, provided that they are not hindered by their surroundings. People initiate and influence situations and their own surroundings through their own inner motivation. The theory is based on the assumption that individuals are active participants who strive to assert themselves. The theory has been tested on the interviewees' statements and we see clear evidence that many of the young people have this point of view.


An attempt at typology

Most of the interviewees are consequently optimistic about the future - but what does that mean? Can the different attitudes towards the future expressed by the respondents be classified so that we can attain a better understanding of how different issues and ways of life are connected. When the individuals' statements are examined separately and compared with those of others, a pattern emerges. The group of optimists is no longer as homogeneous as it may have seemed at first. Some quite clearly discernible attitudes among this group are as follows:


1. The optimists

- the ones clearly optimistic,
- those who are on the condition that family and security is provided,
- those who are on the condition that we take responsibility for and help each other.

Three different types of ambivalence emerge also among the optimists.


2. The ambivalent

- I believe in my own future but not in that of the world or the environment,
- I believe in my own future but not in that of others: the segregation is increasing,
- I believe in my own future but distrust the politicians' way of governing.

Furthermore, there are those ambivalent respondents who sway to and fro, sometimes they are positive and sometimes negative - it depends. A third group are those who persuade themselves that you must be optimistic, anything else is pointless.


3. You have to believe in the future

- I could not bear it if the future seemed dark,
- The future offers constant surprises,
- One cannot stop believing.

Besides these variations regarding belief in the future there are those that are totally indifferent, they feel it is pointless to have an opinion about such an issue.


4. The indifferent

- I take one day at a time, I don't actually look that far ahead,
- These things usually solve themselves in the end,
- I don't have any hopes for the future, it is just waiting for me ahead.

In addition there are some who can be classified as lost or insecure. They are neither positive nor negative.


5. The lost and worried

- I feel disillusioned, nervous and insecure with regards to the future,
- we will be so lazy that we hardly make it out of bed, everything will go automatically,
- I'm afraid of what is going to happen.

Finally there are those who are completely pessimistic. They are remarkably few in number.


6. The pessimists

- It just gets worse and worse all the time, it will go to hell.
- Either they will control every person, every step, all the time, or everything will just flip out.
- It will be worse, "it feels like it".
- Maybe I will experience the end of the world.

There is a clear correlation between these six attitudes and how the interviewees responses to the other questions. We therefore carefully analysed how different people's views of the future correspond to their views on the family, work and technology but also on the environment and energy. This will be accounted for more thoroughly in the reports to be published within the project and will also be available on the Internet.


How the view of the future affects life in general

The factors which are most often related to insecurity such as divorce, unemployment and weak cultural membership cannot be connected in this study with a more insecure or pessimistic view of the future. Children of broken families do not have a divergent view of the future, nor do immigrant children compared with those born in Sweden. The former have, however, a darker view of war and global threat. They distinguish more clearly between themselves, their own conditions, Sweden's and the world's.

A strikingly large percentage of the unemployed have a positive view of the future and they feel that they can influence their future. Those who are unemployed and live in large cities generally have a more optimistic view of the future, whereas those who come from villages or who live in the countryside are more often pessimistic, especially as regards to the possibility in influenceing the future of Sweden. Those most pessimistic respondents live in the interior of Norrland.

Thus we can establish that the traditional explanations for a pessimistic view of the future - insecure upbringing and unemployment - give a much too general picture and this cliché does not stand a closer examination. We have not found any correlation between parents' divorces and a pessimistic outlook. Nor can it be said that the children of divorced parents are more often unemployed or that this fact influences their choice of education.


The View on the family, work and the respondents' own ability

Views of the future decide how people look at life in general. There is clear correlation between an optimistic view of the future and a positive view of everything, ranging from the family, employment and environment to information technology. This is most clearly is this reflected in the views on the family and work, conditions which determine one's own life.

Great optimism about the future is often associated with a strong belief in one's own ability. The young see the family as the basis for existence, it provides the security and it is there you can most easily have a say and realise your dreams and ideas.

There is a great optimism as regards work. Naturally, there is an anxiety about unemployment, but most people are convinced that they will do allright even if people around them are hit hard by unemployment. The young have high demands on a future job and cannot consider doing whatever work is available.


IT and the informationsociety

The general attitude towards IT among the young is positive. There is also a strong connection between how they view the future and how they view the development of IT. A positive attitude towards the possibility of influenceing on development on Sweden is almost always assosiated with a positive view of the development of IT. The young who embody this attitude claim that the possibility of exercising influence will increase with the IT society. 80 % of the young people who took part in this study have access to a computer. 40 % have a computer at home, the rest have a computer available at work or at school. Half of the interviewees use a computer every week, one out of four use it daily. The Internet is used by 40 %.


Concern about and commitment to environmental issues

Many of the young people that we interviewed claim that the environment is the most important issue for the future. The environment concerns them. Without a healthy environment it is difficult to envision a good future. 60 % regard environmental issues as the biggest threat to the future. The young often point out the difficulty of influenceing what you do not control, for example the environment.


The pessimists

There is a small group of young people who are pessimistic about to the future. They find it difficult to see the possibilities of the future and are sceptical about the future of the environment and peace. Many of them speak about war and increased unemployment as possible future scenarios.


True or false belief in the future?

Do the strongly optimistic answers really mean that the young genuinely believe in their future or is it more of an attitude that they have? Are we to regard theyoung people's optimistic answers rather as a necessary defence mechanism. We have to believe in our goals, it is a more or less conscious awareness of the mechanism behind self-fulfilled prophecies. The optimistic belief in the future could thus be explained as an attitude, an approach that gives life a meaning rather than a positive belief in the future in an absolute sense.

The "grand old man" of stress research, Professor Lennart Levi, emphasizes the difference between "how you have it and how you take it". He quotes Francis of Assisi, who exhorted us to accept what we cannot change, but to have courage to change what ought to be changed and wisdom enough to distinguish the former from the latter. The conclusion I draw from these interviews is that the young have that ability to a great extent.

The advantage of the in-depth interviews is that they really allow us to dig deeper than the simple dichotomy positive/negative. Just as one can distinguish between true and false pride or guilt there is reason to believe that attitudes to the future could be more or less solid, more or less real. A complex attitude emerges in these interviews. The same person can be both optimistic and pessimistic about the future depending on which track of thought, which association is being dealt with. The differences in the responses also depend greatly on the level of aggregation. A person can be optimistic about his or her own future but more pessimistic about that of Sweden and even more concerned about that of the world. A logical consequence of this is therefore to demand power, control and influence. Of course, behind the question of whether it is possible to influence developments lie ideas and assumptions about who runs the development.

Who decide development?

The young people are agreed that the politicians, the media and the companies decide developments. But they have different attitudes towards them. It is useless even to try to influence the politicians, they are driven by selfinterest and they do not see further than the next election, according to the respondents. There is a much greater openness towards companies and the media. They are taken seriously. These very distinct attitudes are very significant for the discussion on democracy. We know that there are powerful links between evaluation-systems and fundamental political and sociological variables such as democracy and economic growth. This is nowadays well established, even though the consequences are not always realised. So we will go back to the question put at the start. Why ask the young?

Whether we proceed from Adam Smith or Karl Marx, the classical answer to the question about what drives development is that the economy is the fundamental driving force. Thinkers such as Eli F Heckscher, Joseph Schumpeter and Fernand Braudel broadened our perspectives and made us see how economic and social development together could be regarded as driving forces in transforming society. The economy was seen as a reflection of the physiological possibilities. Transportations and communications were necessary conditions for the emergense of a modern society. Fernand Braudel and the French Annale school opened new doors and the focus was shifted to underlying mentalities and values. Culture as a strategy for survival became an important addition to the economy debate.

Economic, cultural and political changes interact. Are cultural changes conditioned by social changes or the reverse, or are they actually mutual? The hen and the egg, what causes what has been concidered less important, but how they interact is important. Modernising theorists from Karl Marx to Max Weber and Daniel Bell have considered it possible to predict, construct patterns and set a course for the future. To avoid being accused of charlatanism, most of those who in their research deal with longterm perspectives have chosen to "pass" on this controversial question. It is therefore interesting to note that one of the leading theorists in evaluation studies, Ronald Inglehart, claim, on the basis of extensive empirical studies, that we actually can predict certain patterns of change both as regards differences in evaluation between generations and the consequences at the individual level as well as at the level of society as a whole. And he stand on solid ground.

In his newly published book Modernization and Postmodernization , Ronald Inglehart shows with empirical data based on a statistical selection of 70 % of the earth's population that cultural, economic and political changes in 43 countries very strongly tie the macro and micro levels to each other. Democracy at the macro level is convincingly tied to notions such as trust, tolerance and subjective well-being at the micro level. Inter generational changes in values constitute the core of Inglehart's research. He establishes that

Economic development, cultural change, and political change go together in coherent and even, to some extent, predictable patterns of change in values and belief systems. These changes in worldviews reflect changes in the economic and political environ-ment, but they take place with a generational time lag and have considerable autonomy and momentum of their own. Major cultural changes are occurring. They have global implications that are too important to ignore.

Values are therefore very powerful means of ruling which alters the world to a larger extent than isolated political decisions. To integrate this knowledge into the approach necessitates to work openly and with curiosity, listening to the young and integrating different generations' outlooks and their knowledge. Some companies and organisations do this already, the media toy with it curiously but the "political bear" has not yet awoken.


©2003 Bi Puranen