Demos: False stereotypes of young people holding them back from getting jobs

‘Introducing Generation Citizen’: New report challenges harmful perceptions to show today’s teens are more engaged with social issues than their predecessors

False stereotyping of young people in the media and wider society is having a negative effect on both their self-esteem and employment opportunities, reveals new Demos report supported by National Citizen Service (NCS).

Four-fifths of teens (81%) feel they are unfairly represented in the media. Most of them (85%) go on to argue that negative stereotypes are affecting their chances of getting a job – with ‘unemployment and access to work’ being the biggest concern of this age group as they look to enter the workforce.

The think tank Demos polled both 14 to 17-year-olds and their teachers as part of a study into the social and political attitudes of the next generation.

Introducing ‘Generation Citizen’
The report shatters misconceptions of disengaged teenagers, revealing a huge majority of young people today (80%) believe their generation is more concerned with social issues than previous generations of teenagers, with two-thirds of teachers (66%) agreeing.

Over four times as many teachers also feel that today’s youngsters are more likely than previous generations to volunteer for good causes and community organisations (46% agree vs 11% disagree).

The findings support the Government’s latest Community Life Survey, which found that three-quarters (74%) of 16-24-year-olds had volunteered in the past year, a 9% point increase on two years previous.

Types of volunteering include taking time out to support staff at local primary schools or old people’s homes, helping teach pensioners how to use technology, or running campaigns in their community.

Tellingly, when secondary school teachers were asked to paint a picture of the young people they know, the most common attributes were ‘caring’, ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘hard-working’; but the words most commonly associated in the media were ‘binge-drinking’, ‘yobs’, and ‘crime’.

Politics 2.0

The Demos report also found an increasing number of young people have a stronger sense of individual responsibility and are looking at other ways to make a difference, believing traditional politics isn’t the most effective way of dealing with their concerns.

Many wouldn’t turn to their local MP to resolve issues in their local community, with six times as many teens viewing ‘charities and social enterprises’ as agents of positive change rather than politicians (60% vs 10%). Only a third of teenagers (35%) agreed their generation is more interested in politics than previous cohorts.

Having grown up in a social media age, the research goes on to present a future generation who are increasingly motivated to pursue social action online.

– 87% of teenagers agree that social media is an effective way to gain momentum behind social issues.
– 38% have signed a petition online; 29% have used Facebook or Twitter to raise awareness of a cause; and 19% have donated money online.
– 84% of teachers felt that expressing views on social media is just as effective as traditional forms of engagement.

Jonathan Birdwell, Head of the Citizenship Programme at Demos and author of the report, said:

“Teenagers are motivated to make a difference in their community but the approach they take is radically different to previous generations. They do not rely on politicians and others to solve the world’s problems, but instead roll up their sleeves and power up their laptop and smartphone to get things done through crowd sourced collaboration. They value bottom up social action over top down politics, and social enterprise over government bureaucracy.

“Some have referred to the next generation – after Generation Y – as Generation C because they are the most ‘connected’ generation in history. Our research suggests that the Gen C title is apt for another reason: because the next generation could be the most active citizens we’ve seen in a generation.”

The benefits of social action

‘Introducing Generation Citizen’ supports the large body of evidence that young people who volunteer report a wide range of benefits including higher levels of wellbeing, social cohesion and employability.

Over 90% of young people agreed that their volunteering experience made them feel better about themselves, care more about others, work better in a team and improve their self-confidence. Over 70% felt it changed their views on other groups in society.

At a time of high youth unemployment, over 80% of teachers agree that taking part in social action improved teens’ future employment chances. It also makes young people want to volunteer more in the future, arguably helping to create a more engaged, cohesive and tolerant society for the long term.

Michael Lynas, CEO of NCS Trust, said:

“’Generation Citizen’ is the true face of today’s teenagers. Through National Citizen Service, we have supported over 70,000 16 and 17 year-olds engage with their communities and put something back. Contrary to stereotypes, we have found a huge demand for opportunities to engage among today’s teenagers, with over 1 million hours of service given by our participants so far.

“Critically, the report reveals that teenagers and their teachers want more opportunities for young people to engage in social action. I believe that NCS can play a unique role as a social action programme that brings young people from different backgrounds together in common purpose – building bridges across divides and ladders to opportunity.”




The report, Introducing Generation Citizen, authored by Jonathan Birdwell is published by Demos on Wednesday 19th February 2014.

This research was supported by NCS Trust, an independent social enterprise established to manage National Citizen Service and execute the ambitious expansion of the government backed programme.