Paper presented at the international symposium: "Youth in the World, Youth in Japan", Prime Minister's Office, Tokyo, November 3-4, 1973

 

A New Generation Meets a New Social Structure

Hans L Zetterberg
SIFO, Stockholm, Sweden

 

Research on youth has become increasingly common among social scientists, and necessary ingredients in the emerging field of futurology. There are several youth surveys in the rapidly expanding social sciences in the Soviet Union. The older Soviet generation who has sacrificed much and suffered much during the growth of a new social order has asked with considerable curiosity: "What is the new Soviet man actually like?" and the answers have been contemplated with noticeable ambivalence by the Soviet establishment. In the United States a similar situation prevails. In apparent confusion, annoyance and reluctant admiration the older generation in America has witnessed that their great and expensive investment in higher education for the young has resulted not only in education and occupational opportunities but also in a drastically different youth culture on the college campuses.

The most ambitions research to date into the position and values of young people is the one that brought us together today, the international youth survey commissioned by The Youth Bureau of the Prime Ministers Office and expertly coordinated in eleven different countries by Nippon Research Center working through the facilities of Gallup International. The main purpose behind this effort was "to clarify characteristics and problems of traditional culture and modern social conditions of Japan in comparison with those of foreign countries which have different history, climates and culture, so that the government can get basic materials for establishing an overall policy for youth."

In commenting upon the results of the Japanese survey from a Swedish perspective, I will be greatly aided by other Swedish youth surveys conducted by Karin Busch and myself at the Research House of SIFO. We have made annual youth surveys since 1968 on a nationwide basis. Sample sizes vary from 2.100 to 1.700 and the ages covered range from 12 to 24. All samples are made on a strict probability basis and all interviews are made by personal calls to the respondents home. Non-completion rate ranges from 11 to 16 per cent. At this time I will use some of the results from these studies and interpret them in a long term perspective, ignoring changes from year to year.

The Social Structure and the Values in Generational Perspective

In the cross-section of an opinion survey of the general public the attitudes of the different generations appear as geological layers in the tables. In Sweden as in many other countries of the West the grandparents stand up for production, property, entrepreneurship and liberalism. The parent generation stand up for consumption, status, occupational security, welfare and social democracy. The attitudes of the young are still different. The layers are not so sharply distinguished that every teenager, father or grandfather has an entirely predictable attitude; the individual answers are influenced by personal factors and by the relative isolation or involvement of each person's life situation. But on balance clear clusters of attitudes mark the different generations' attitudes. (Overlay 1A)

It is a mistake to think that the unique aspects of a generation can be studied by looking only at this generation even if, this is done in eleven countries. Any cross-section of the young will normally contain large layers of attitudes, beliefs and habits that have their origin in earlier generations. In fact the impression one often gets when research is confined to youth surveys is that youth is amazingly old-fashioned. However, to know the unique about the new generation we must compare a cross-section of it with cross-sections of older generations. Only then do we discover how different the youth are. And these differences do not need to be large or majority percentages. The interesting youth attitudes are the growing novel ideas that emerge as different from the attitudes of the elders.

It will help to gain perspective on the difference between young and old today by sketching earlier generational cleavages. Since change in values often are related to change in social structure let us quickly review the structural situation of earlier generations and their dominant values. The figures I will show attempt to summarize in some key works the structural situation and the value of recent generations.

The beginning of the modern problem of youth comes with the joint occurrence of the industrial revolution which separated family and home life from the work life and with the emergence of mass education of the young. These changes lead to a structural separation of the young and old generation. (Chart 2).

This separation provides the stage on which the young may evolve differently from their elders. Parental influences now compete with peer group influences on more equal terms than before. Youth emerges as a separate social category, not only as a biological stage in the growth of a human being. You notice this charge in the paintings portraying young people. Earlier they showed what we would call miniature adult faces. After this change they take on qualities of their own.

The grand-father generation substituted a market economy for their ancestors estates, guilds and privileges. (Flap 1) The duty to remain in ones station was exchanged for an enterprising desire in pursuit of success. The typical grandfather is an entrepreneur: farmer, merchant, dealer, shop-owner, industrialist, free professional. The grandfathers thrive on competition. They believe that the best one in intelligence, in diligence and in character will win the competition and the best of life.

The parent generation respond to the rough competitive social order of their elders by organizing larger units to act on the market and by organizing themselves into organizations: unions, corporations, associations, cooperatives etc. The typical parent is an employee and a member. (Flap 2) He or she works in a corporation or for the government, and joins occupational and voluntary associations. In this way the parent-generation obtains security, becomes part of something bigger that commands loyalty.

The now-generation faces a social structure which in one essential respect is different from that of earlier generations. Parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were all alike in the fact that their occupations were a life-time engagement. (Chart 3) The now-generation has been taught that they must be retrained at various points in their lives: everyone is likely to have not only several jobs but several careers. Rapidly changing social systems "ad hocracies" to use Alvin Toffler's term emerge along the side of the stable private and public bureaucracies of earlier generations. The most heralded persons of space-age, the astronauts, have many years of training for a job which lasts a few days or a week. When the mission is over the astronaut can devote himself to other pursuits for the rest of his life. In modern, society, an increasing number of structures have become ad hoc: one starts projects instead of companies, action groups instead of associations. (Flap 3)

The international youth survey shows that already among the 16-24 year olds there are more persons who have had several jobs than those who have stayed in one. Japan is an outstanding exception to this pattern but even here the answer "I have never changed jobs" is probably a long way from what it used to be.

There is no doubt that the young Swedes are aware of the new structural trends. Of all employed young persons in one survey, 41% expect that they probably will change jobs within a year. And only 28 percent expect to have the same employer in ten years.

The short time perspective on ones occupation is utterly realistic in times of rapid social change and in today's world in which tailor-made no-deposit-no-return organizations emerge almost overnight and dissolve when no longer needed. In this situation only those who are stupid or unaware commit themselves to any one organization by investing their ego in its work and by hanging their self-evaluation on the nail of a job title. The now-generation view their contribution as a series of short hauls. The new art of living among the young consists of finding a bearable pattern in these time-limited contributions that the emerging social structure requires.

It becomes important in their new world to take it easy and not to work too hard, and so say majorities of youth in the international survey in all countries outside the Anglosaxan, Calvinist tradition. (Question 23, part 5)

The new life situation of the young consists of the two structured trends mentioned, the separation of adult and young activities and the shortened time perspective on occupational pursuits. To this we may add the increased reliance on non-human forms of energy that have come to characterize modern society: petroleum in a variety of forms, electricity, and atomic power. (Chart 6) The non-human forms of energy have made life for the young more mobile and more free from hard physical labor than any previous generation. The new sources of energy have also made it cheap and easy to destroy human life and civilization by atomic war and they have created pollutions and destructions of nature that the next generation neither will overlook nor forgive.

The basis for self-evaluation in the ancestrial generations were privilege and birth. (Chart 4) The entrepreneurial grandfathers made property the basis for their self-evaluation. The parental generation sought their self-esteem in the positions and titles their life-long careers would bring them. The now-generation tends in varying degrees to distrust all of this and, as we see from the international youth survey, they achieve the glory of their selfhood mostly in sincere relations and fellowship with their peers.

The dominant values have also emerged differently in various generations. (Chart 5) Duty, enterprise, and security have been stressed in the past. The international survey shows that the search for basic economic and social security is still very much with us. But new values are emerging, perhaps the dominant will be awareness. Young people tend to separate those who have achieved a certain insight or awareness from others.

An illustration of the new awareness is the attitude toward nature. (Chart 6) Our ancestors were afraid of nature: nature was man's enemy. The grandfathers changed this view to its opposite. Nature to them is something to be conquered and something from which one should obtain grain and raw material. They also started mankind on its exploitative route to use more non-human energy: coal and eventually oil. Modern society exploits nature to become the high-energy society.

This view of nature changes somewhat with the parental generation. Nature becomes a resort for rest and recreation and is used to give new energy for work. It is something to be used to recharge the batteries so that you can render still better service to your employer or organization. The now-generation, however, tends to reject all these exploitative views of nature and emphasis that man is a detail in a huge and complex ecological system, and is more important than any of its details. They clearly dislike industries and cities that upset the ecological balance. They dislike, in other words, what is the pride and joy of the two earlier generations.

A striking, and to the elders very surprising reaction is the desire of young Swedes to move away from the cities.

When we asked 15-24 years olds, "Where would you prefer to live in the future? In one of the major cities (Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmö) or in a smaller city, or in the country?" we got the following answers:

Wants to live in: 

Major city
Smaller city
Country

Don't know

Total
%

Now living in:

Rural areas
%

Major city
%

Smaller
city
%

14
42
41

3

33
31
33

3

6
53
38

3

3
35
61

2

Here the planners of the parent-generation have made perhaps their biggest miss building huge urban conglomerates that few want to live in in the future.

The Politics of the Young

The conflict between aristocratic privilege and democracy dominated the generation gap for the grandparents in Sweden. (Chart 7) The parents faced their generational cleavage around capitalism and socialism, or better, capitalism and social democracy. The development in other countries may differ but there is little doubt that conflicts over democracy and socialism have dominated the politics of recent generations in all countries, at least those that have not had liberation from colonial dominance on top of their political agenda.

The emergence of big government, big business and big labor during the parental generation has meant that the main units now acting on the social scene are large and heavy. The individual sees them often enough as all-powerful monoliths. In the main, it is against these large apparatus that the young react. And in this reaction one finds the distinctly new in the political values, distinctly new in emphasis if not in content. Decentralization and humanization are common denominators, louder and more energetically propagated by the young than by the older.

The theme of decentralization governs, also the thinking of the young in viewing the main political issue of their elders, that of socialism. There is very modest enthusiasm among the young for the classic political act of socialism: government takeover of the means of production. (Chart table) One-tenth of the young Swedes sympathize with communist parties and every fifth student is a Marxist, but we cannot find any strong support for the classical socialist measure that the state should take over means of production.

"Do you think that the state should continue to take over and run more companies than today, or do you think that the state now owns and runs enough companies, or do you think that the state should own and run fewer companies than today?"

Should take over and run more
Owns and runs enough
Should own and run fewer

Don't know

%
18
50
23

9

The young experience the main conflicts in society, not between capital and labor but between the local communion and the big organizations. A fight against a large government bureaucracy, a giant state-owned mining company, the top-heavy labor organization, the big market and the big city may be experienced as meaningful, well worth, that is, one of the "short hauls", hit-and-run attacks, that mark the life style of the now-generation.

And entirely in line with having projects rather than organizations, the main vehicle of youth politics is the action group, not the party. (Chart 10) The party has a long life, the action group has a short-term objective and when the objective is reached the action group is resolved and new groupings appear around the next issue. This fleeting political style irritates established politicians of the older generation. They can find no stable leadership among the young as negotiation partners.

The view of freedom among the young is profoundly influenced by their close experience of their parents' freedom. Among the parents, individual feelings and goals must be subordinated the agency, the organization, the party. Planning, technique, order become essential, above all order: pre-determined hours of work, guaranteed vacations, definite areas of responsibility, all questions of the form must be answered, the request should be made in prescribed manner, treated according to standard operating procedure, with decisions in written form and with right to appeal. There is certainly much freedom for the parental generation but not freedom to disturb the apparatus in its work.

The young want freedom from bureaucratic requirements, a personal freedom of a new sort. A few illustrations are found on the chart: (Read chart)

In the same view the international youth survey shows that majorities of youth in all countries diagnose the ills of technocratic society by agreeing to the statement "Present day society is an unhappy one because men in organizations perform their assigned jobs mechanically." (Question 27.9)

Of special interest is the growing rejection of the marriage contract. In Sweden we asked "Do you think that marriage is the best arrangement for two persons who love one another and who wish to live their lives together, or do you think it best if they live together without marriage?"

 

Marriage

No marriage

No answer

1971
%

1969
%

49

38

13

68

23

10

The legislation is now adjusting to this new situation. Essentially this legislation says that the young man and the young woman of the union are not responsible for each others maintenance but they are responsible for the maintenance of their offspring.

The anti-bureaucratic theme of youth politics is clearly shown in two areas where the young have experience and where they have been very articulate: the questions of educational and military arrangements.

The school is the first bureaucracy encountered by the young and the bureaucratization of childhood and adolescence is one of the characteristics of modern society. What the young react against here is primarily the bureaucratic feature of grading, promotion and advancement based on merit as established by competitive tests. (Chart 12) The international survey is very clear on this point and numerous local surveys confirm the point: the young generation wants to do away with the visible measures of achievement that have motivated their parents to such remarkable efforts.

The military is another bureaucracy that the young males usually are required to join. This bureaucracy is designed to rap up a young man's motivation more completely than any other so that he becomes prepared to kill, to risk your his life, and possibly to die at its command. It is very obvious that such a bureaucracy functions poorly manned with young people who have the life situation and values of the young generation. The Americans discovered this the hard way in Vietnam. But the military in neutral Sweden that have not been in a war for 150 years have similar problems of motivating the young as shown by the table on the chart. (Chart 13)

A look at typical heroes of the different generations way conclude this review. (Chart 15) The grandparents had their heroes in men of production, men of initiative, who made inventions, build empires, found enterprises. For the parents, in addition to rewards in the form of bureaucratic titles and status, rewards come in the form of consumption. In popular mass media the male hero is one of consumption, not production, and the reader or viewer is served the details of his hero's consumption of housing, cars travel, food, clothes, and women.

The discipline of work, derives less from duty and calling and less from the entrepreneurial desire to create something new and something of ones own. To pay for housing, cars, vacations, the parental generation signs installment plans and mortgage papers. Work thus becomes a necessity in order that the future pay-cheque shall pay the consumption of the past month.

Engagement and Protest

In Sweden, as in many advanced countries both in the East and the West, the new generation approaches the world of their elders with much hesitation. Many are hesitant whether this society deserves a wholehearted contribution and some openly protest against it. The content of the hesitation and the extent of the engagement are suggested by a couple of questions asked in 1971:

"Which two of these questions have interested you most during the past year (1970)?"

%

The pollution of the environment

61

The wars that go on

41

The gap between poor and rich countries

31

The gap between poor and rich in Sweden

18

The risk of atomic war

14

The lack of a voice in decisions in society

10

The conflict between the younger and older generations

7

(None of these 4%)
(Don't know 3%)


"Have you personally engaged yourself and tried to make contributions about ?"

Pollu-tion
%

Wars
%

Rich and poor count-ries
%

Rich and poor in Sweden
%

Risk of atomic war
%

Voic-ing deci-sions
%

Total
%

As often as you had an opportunity

13

2

8

5

2

10

9

Rather often

17

2

12

6

6

10

11

Rather rarely

29

14

27

16

9

17

23

Never

39

79

50

71

80

63

55

Don't know

2

3

3

2

3

0

2

One fifth of the new generation engaged themselves "as often as they have an opportunity" or "rather often". This is a high figure representing about 300.000 young Swedes and many large social changes throughout history have been promoted and engineered by much smaller groups.

The international youth survey asked what the young would do in case they were dissatisfied with society and found that only a few percent would resort to illegal or revolutionary methods; the figure is highest in France (6,5%). Majorities in each country would try to achieve change through the ballot box or other legal means. Now one must point out that majorities are not needed to change society by revolutionary means; all that is needed is a small group of dedicated men and women who are prepared to be ruthless in their pursuit. This revolutionary potential seems to be present in virtually all of the countries studied. The student uprising in France in May 1968 is a reminder how close a small revolutionary youth group can come to overthrow the established order.

In international survey shows that many young people actively promote change without resorting to revolutionary or illegal means. The attitudes of the active ones take a greater chance than other attitudes to be attitudes of majorities in tomorrows society.

To identify the attitudes and values that are candidates to a position as majority values in the future, one should tabulate this active group apart from the others. Among the very active we may also identify a particularly visible group: 10% of the 12-24 years olds in Sweden have participated in "a demonstration in which one marches with placards". The treatment of many demonstrations in mass media tend, however, to focus on the conflict at hand and obscure the fact that many demonstrations are external manifestations of a new life situation and a new set of values among young people. This new life situation and these new values exist, of course, also when no demonstrations occur, and influence many more than the marchers, and have consequences affecting many more topics than those mentioned on the banderoles.

Contemporary youth will remain a strange people, incomprehensible and perhaps even frightening, if we fail to gain an understanding of their new life-situation and their new values. To subject them to research is important since the new values stand a good chance to become a part of a future climate of opinion and of forthcoming political platforms. And an insight into the life-situation and the values of the new-generation is indispensable for the understanding of the contemporary religion and art and perhaps particularly for an understanding of the music of our time, the main artistic expression of the young generation. What worries me in the second day of our symposium is that we have not learned enough to distinguish the voices of the future in the many survey answers collected in the international youth survey. I am frankly afraid that a future historian will look at the record of this survey and this symposium and say: "Here were all the messages that the learned men, the politicians and the youth leaders needed to avert a big crisis in human society that took place toward the end of the twentieth century. But they did not know how to read these signals or they did not care to do anything to meet them."