Message from the young: The future’s going to be all right

A poll shows that young Americans are the most confident U.S. generation that things will get better. And youths in poorer nations are even more confident.

Students embrace as they arrive for the Rutgers graduation ceremonies in Piscataway, N.J.

In the midst of climate change, a pandemic, and economic uncertainties, young Americans stand out as the generation most confident that the future is going to get better. And worldwide, the young people in poorer nations are even more confident than those in wealthier nations.

Those are the conclusions of two recently released surveys that ask about views of the future based on age groups. 

In the United States, Generation Z (ages 13 to 24) and millennials (ages 25 to 40) were more confident about the future and their ability to bring about positive change than the older Generation X (ages 41 to 56). The survey reported that 66% of Gen Z and 63% of millennials say their generation is motivated to make positive change, compared with 56% of Gen X. 

That’s based on a newly released poll conducted by MTV and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

In addition, the younger Gen Z (45%) and millennials (41%) are more optimistic than the older Gen X ( 33%) that Americans will be able to come together and work out their political differences.

“Where I find the most hope is when I talk to people and we find the common ground,” said Jonathan Belden, a 29-year-old from New Mexico and a father of five children. “When that happens, even if there are differences, it helps me to feel like there is actually good in people and in the world.”  

A separate UNICEF-Gallup survey taken across 21 countries, rich and poor, and released last month showed that 57% of younger people (ages 15 to 24) believe the world is getting better with each passing generation, compared with only 39% of older people (age 40 and up). 

In the half-dozen richest countries, though, only about a third of the younger age group replied that they thought children today will be better off economically than their parents. But in poorer countries, especially in Africa and South Asia, about two-thirds of the younger group said children today will be better off than their parents.

Why the optimism? One answer might be that in recent decades, standards of living have been rising in many poorer countries. And growing access to the internet has created new opportunities for education and employment.

“I think when you have less, it fuels you to seek more,” said Lorraine Nduta, a 21-year-old in Nairobi, Kenya. “The power to change any situation lies with us – hard work, consistency, and discipline.”

Commenting on the report in The New York Times, Sharlene Swartz, a sociologist at the Human Sciences Research Council in Pretoria, South Africa, also noted that her research has shown the positive outlook of youths in poorer countries is related to their religious faith and strong family and community ties.

Reports of these positive attitudes among young people – the architects of the future – help inspire confidence that the challenges that lie ahead will be met.

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