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Politics & Law Series: EU Referendum

Young Europeans set to become EU champions

New research shows young Europeans are more optimistic, have a more positive attitude to EU decision making and are less likely to support government intervention.
by Hollie Jenkins

Research conducted by academics at City University London and the European Policy Centre shows that there are clear differences in the attitudes and values of young people in Europe compared to the rest of the population.

Analysis of data from established cross-national surveys covering more than 20 countries showed that young, affluent, well-educated people feel more optimistic than other sections of the European population and young people are more likely to have a positive attitude towards EU-level decision-making than older population groups.

While there is a high and stable level of support for the idea that the government has a responsibility to provide welfare services and support for its citizens across the Continent, young people are also less likely to support the general concept of  government intervention.

The research, which was a joint initiative between the European Policy Centre and the European Commission, aimed to help determine the most appropriate policies to maintain and increase quality of life across the Member States of the European Union.

The study follows recent research also conducted by Eric Harrison and colleagues at the Centre for Comparative Social Surveys which showed that young people in their twenties in the UK were more likely to feel discriminated against on the basis of age and that age had a stronger 'bonding effect' than other bases for social identity.

Eric says that that coupled with this previous research, the latest analysis suggests that age is a significant  factor in determining attitudes, values and preferences in Europe.

"We expected to see that perspectives across the Continent varied on the basis of cultural background or country; instead we found that some of the biggest differences in values existed between different age groups.

"This suggests that the biggest gaps in European attitudes and values aren't always determined by national borders, although this does depend on your social background as well. The young and well educated are more similar to each other in their outlook right across Europe, whereas the older generations - particularly from less educated backgrounds - retain more nationally distinctive aspects in their views.

"Interestingly there was no one set of overall European values that should govern how the EU operates, but this latest research suggests that as this group grows older they will provide consistent support for decision-making at EU level."

Eric Harrison, Senior Researcher, City University London

Other interesting results included the fact that work remains central to the lives of European citizens, with this being regarded by respondents as  more important than leisure in virtually every country. Richer countries with greater GDP place particularly strong emphasis on leisure compared with those with lower GDPs.

Across the European population the sick and the elderly were seen as the most deserving recipients of government assistance, however countries with older populations generally have lower levels of satisfaction with most types of public service.

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