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Brussels, 14 November 2008

Young Europeans are enthusiastic about science – but still reluctant to pursue scientific careers

A new ‘Eurobarometer’ opinion survey carried out in the EU show that young Europeans (aged 15-25) put great trust in science and technology (S&T). Young Europeans tend to be more positive than adults about S&T. 82% agree that S&T bring more benefits than harm. However a large majority of young people are not interested in studying engineering or a scientific discipline. The main reason is that most of them said to have already chosen their profession; only 3% of interviewees invoked low salaries in the scientific careers.

Why this survey?

This survey (Flash Eurobarometer 239: Young People and Science) was conducted to determine young people’s interest in science and technology, their views on various topics and their plans for future involvement in the scientific domains.

In detail, the survey examined young people:

  • Interest in news in general and science and technology topics in particular
  • Views about science, scientific research, scientists and the need for more coordination and expenditure in the EU
  • Awareness and interest in various scientific innovations
  • Opinions about the health risks linked to various scenarios and their thoughts about the future
  • Plans for studying (or not) scientific topics in the future

How many young people?

This survey’s fieldwork was carried out from 9 to 13 September 2008. Almost 25,000 randomly-selected young people (aged between 15 and 25) were interviewed across the 27 EU Member States. Interviews were predominantly carried out via fixed telephone, approximately 1,000 in each country. Part of the interviews in Finland and Austria were carried out over mobile telephones. Due to the relatively low fixed telephone coverage in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, Gallup also sampled and interviewed 300 persons face-to-face. To correct for sampling disparities, a post-stratification weighting of the results was implemented, based on socio-demographic variables.

Are young people interested in science and technology?

Between a third and a half of young people showed a high level of interest in the listed science and technology topics, e.g. new inventions, the Earth and the environment, the human body.

“Soft news” (culture and entertainment) was more popular than “hard news” (politics and economics); interest in science & technology came somewhere in-between (67% interest).

Young men showed more interest in science and technology (75% vs. 59% of young women) and the topic appealed more to the somewhat older, the more-educated and city dwellers.

Young men were far more interested in new inventions and technologies and ICT, while young women were attracted by subjects such as the human body and medical discoveries.

Are they positive about science and technology?

Young Europeans have a positive view about science and technology, e.g. one-third (35%) of respondents agreed strongly that science brings more benefits than harm; a similar number (38%) felt just as strongly that profit motives were having too big an influence on these issues.

Young men had a more positive view about science and technology, e.g. four out of 10 men agreed strongly that science makes lives healthier and easier (vs. three out of 10 women).

A large majority of young EU citizens agree that scientific research should principally serve the development of knowledge; fewer than half feel that it should primarily serve businesses and enterprises.

Young people chose ‘citizens’ when asked who should have the most influence on decisions about the division of research funds in their country (26%); virtually no-one opted for private enterprise (2%), while the EU was somewhere in the middle (13%).

Almost all young people agreed that there should be more coordination of research between EU Member States and a majority also agreed that the Union should spend more money on scientific research.

What about their future profession?

Presented with several choices of scientific study, a minority of young citizens said they were considering them. Respondents were most likely to say that they would study social sciences, then economics or business studies; mathematics was selected by the smallest group.

Young people in the New Member States (NMS) were slightly more open to scientific studies.

Similar proportions of respondents wanted to become engineers or health professionals (both 22%). Next in line were those who wanted to study natural sciences or mathematics in order to become a teacher. The smallest group of respondents wanted to become a technician (9%).

Young women were more likely to study natural science or mathematics in order to become a health professional, teacher or public sector researcher. Young men, however, were more liable to select engineer, technician or private sector researcher.

Asked why they were not considering engineering, biology or medicine, a slim majority reasoned that they had already chosen their profession (56%). Half of the respondents said that they were (also) not interested.

Young EU citizens were in agreement that young people’s interest in science was essential for future prosperity: half of the respondents agreed strongly and 39% tended to agree.

Almost half of the young people agreed strongly that young women should be encouraged to take up studies and careers in science.

Awareness of new innovations

Almost all young EU citizens were aware of innovations in mobile phone technology and the level of interest was the highest of the presented topics; despite a quarter of interviewees having not heard about innovations in brain research, there was a high level of interest.

Three-quarters of young EU citizens reasoned that scientific and technological innovations related to brain research would present more benefits than risks; for nuclear energy and GM foods, almost half of the respondents thought the opposite.

A large majority of respondents were certain that health risks were associated with air pollution caused by cars, excess fertilizers in water reserves, new epidemics and with living in the vicinity of a nuclear power plant or chemical plant.

Concerns about health risks

The health risks associated with living near a nuclear power plant were perceived as being less serious than those associated with living close to a chemical plant.

Respondents from several southern European countries and Romania tended to associated serious health risks with the various sources of pollution mentioned; those from the Netherlands and the UK, from the Nordic countries and from several eastern European countries were less likely to do this.

Asked for views about the next 20 years, young EU citizens were the most optimistic about improvements in communication between people; they were more pessimistic, however, about changes in other areas of life, e.g. the quality of food and water.

A majority of young EU citizens (57%) thought the most effective solution for the greenhouse effect and global warming would be a fundamental change in Europeans’ way of life.

See also IP/08/1711

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