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Cartography of youth

Photographie : Anne-Lea Berger
On behalf of the Federal Commission for Child and Youth Affairs, a survey of around 2,000 17-year-olds has been conducted to find out what they think about a variety of subjects – from family relationships and the armed forces to migration. Here's what it revealed.

Alexandre Babin


The conference on the study, entitled 'Ma Suisse et Moi' ('Me and My Switzerland'), took place on the second floor of the Fabrikhalle in the Swiss capital of Bern. In a light and airy room, 150 delegates gathered to discuss the survey's findings. The programme featured group discussions, addresses from politicians Pierre Maudet and Federal Councillor Alain Berset, an evaluation of the study results, and a look ahead to the future. Three researchers[1] followed each other on to the podium to present the key messages from the survey.


Young conformists?

With the help of a series of charts, Michelle Beyeler (Bern University of Applied Sciences), Sarah Bütikofer (University of Zurich) and Isabelle Stadelmann-Steffen (University of Bern) made a simple observation: the young people who took part in the survey are not all that different from their elders. They are certainly more progressive when it comes to family-related issues, but they still display more or less the same left–right political split, and their attitudes to migration are fairly similar to those observed among older population groups. The survey paints a picture of this generation.


The researchers began their presentation by highlighting some of the study's principal findings. Counter-intuitive though it may seem, their first point was that there is very little difference between the opinions expressed by the 1,900 young survey subjects and those of the population as a whole. They observed that young people's beliefs are aligned with those of adults, but quickly added the qualifier that "there is no such thing as 'youth', singular. In the same way as in society as a whole, we encounter groups which take very different views of the same questions". These groups are formed along similar lines as those among adults: cultural and linguistic regions, boys and girls, and Swiss nationals and residents of foreign origin. All have "different perspectives on identical problems".


Nationality, region and sex

For example, young people from Canton Ticino take a different stance from the rest of the population on a number of issues. Almost 45% believe that foreigners threaten Swiss jobs, for example. This proportion is much higher than the national average. In the same vein, young people in this Italian-speaking canton are most worried about unemployment (39%). The survey average is just 10%, on a par with immigration. Another difference between linguistic regions is that the majority of young French and Italian-speakers see voting as a civic duty, but German-speakers believe that participation in elections and referenda should remain voluntary. 


Perceptions of immigration vary not only by linguistic region, but also according to nationality. Half of all Swiss passport-holders believe that foreigners should have the same opportunities in Switzerland as Swiss citizens. This also means, however, that a large proportion of young people think that Swiss people should have better chances than immigrants. The share of those in favour of equal opportunities rises to 70% among those with dual nationality, and peaks at 90% among foreign nationals. 


Finally, gender has a defining impact on responses in certain areas, and especially those concerning the family. While young people overall are in favour of an 'egalitarian' model of family life, opinions about what exactly equality means differ widely between boys and girls. Of the latter, 40% believe that both parents should work part-time, and another 40% are in favour of the father working full-time and the mother part-time. Only 30% of male respondents shared this second view. More strikingly, more than 35% of the young men participating in the survey wanted only the husband to work. Another key finding is that girls are overwhelmingly in favour (72%) of gay couples being able to adopt, but their opinion is supported by less than half of boys.


United in opposition to the EU

These different groups of young people nonetheless agree on several subjects. Primary among these is great optimism about their future. Just one young person in twenty is downbeat, while 90% believe that they have very good education and training prospects. According to the researchers, the figures contrast sharply with the findings of similar surveys in France and Germany, for example. The young people surveyed are also united (i.e. almost 90%) in their opposition to any kind of Swiss membership of the European Union – a statistic which clearly illustrates the closeness between young people's views and those of the rest of the population. Moreover, the researchers emphasised that, according to the data which is available, the voting patterns of young citizens in the 2015 federal elections were similar to those of adults.


A truly representative study?

Before moving on to the actual results in detail, the researchers explained the methodology of the study. This necessary step established the credibility of the findings that the remainder of the day was devoted to studying. The survey was conducted online between November and December 2014. More than 3,000 young people born in 1997 were invited to take part. Almost 1,900 responded – a high rate for this type of survey. At 78% it was highest in the Ticino. The researchers ensured that all of the criteria needed for the best possible representative sample were observed:

  • gender mix (boys and girls)
  • linguistic mix (the survey covered French, Swiss-German and Italian-speakers)
  • academic/vocational mix (those preparing for university and those in apprenticeships)
  • nationality mix (Swiss, dual nationals and foreign nationals resident in Switzerland).

[1] Michelle Beyeler, lecturer in social policy at the Bern University of Applied Sciences

Sarah Bütikofer, member of the scientific staff and visiting lecturer at the University of Zurich Department of Political Science

Isabelle Stadelmann-Steffen, Chair of Comparative Politics at the University of Bern Institute of Political Science



Report first published on 20.11.2015 on is the Swiss magazine where young people under 30 can take their first steps into journalism and learn their craft under professional instruction. This is possible only thanks to countless young volunteers. Read more at


Published: Tue, 14/06/2016 - 15:01

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