Developed Countries Show Little Optimism About Kids' Future: How The Economic Crisis Will Continue To Affect Our Kids

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A survey of over 16,000 people in 20 countries found that many in developed countries don't believe today's children will have better futures. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The 2008 economic crisis has left its mark, all right. As Western economies have slowly bounced back over the past six years, our faith in each other has waned. The future lives of young people throughout Western countries isn’t looking bright, to put it lightly. But those who live in developing countries have a far more optimistic view of their children’s future, according to a recent survey spanning 20 countries.

The survey was conducted by the market research firm Ipsos Mori, and looked at how 16,039 young and older adults felt about the future of youth in their countries. They found that people in so-called Western countries, like the U.S., Great Britain, and Spain were more likely to say that the future was bleak, when compared to developing and Eastern countries like China, Brazil, and Russia.

When it came to numbers, China as a whole was the most optimistic, with 81 percent of people saying that “today’s youth will have a better … life than their parents’ generation,” while only seven percent of France could say the same. In the U.S., 19 percent of people said the youth would be better off. Still, young people under 29 were less optimistic — even if by a little — about their futures. In China, for example, 78 percent of respondents felt their future would be better.

It’s not surprising that the age group reports the most pessimism. The annual Stress in America report found last year that those 33 and under reported the most stress out of any age group. Their reasons: work, money, and job stability.

“Optimism in Western developed economies is hard to come by — particularly when people are asked to think about the future for their young people,” said Dr. Bob Duffy of Ipsos, in a press release. “In some ways, this should be no surprise, coming on the back of five-plus years of dire economic conditions in many Western countries.”

Interestingly, however, both Germany and Sweden, which fared well throughout the economic meltdown, also reported higher levels of pessimism. Duffy attributed this to the possibility that older adults, not just in Germany and Sweden but in other developed countries, too, are living longer and worrying more about paying for their own retirement and care. In turn, this may lead to the perception that they are being selfish and not sacrificing enough for the young when it’s really about “a more direct concern about being a burden on their families,” he said.

The results could prove useful for governments hoping to push youth’s lifespans further than ever. Stress is obviously never a good thing and can lower a person’s immunity, cause headaches, depression, anger, and eventually lead to heart disease, diabetes, and anxiety disorder. Studies have shown that people who are not optimistic — especially those who are older or who have heart disease — are most likely to live longer if they’re optimistic.

So, while quality of life may not be the best in some developed countries, it may be good to take a moment to contemplate how thinking negatively will only make things worse. “It is shameful enough that the current crisis has made it particularly difficult for young people to find jobs and kick start their careers,” Angel Gurria, secretary general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, told The Guardian. “What would be tragic is if the very trait that we count on the young to infuse into our societies — optimism — were to somehow become permanently scarred. We can’t afford that.” 

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