Where are we so far
Focusing on inequalities in youth active citizenship:
Findings from large European surveys.
Some results from the CATCH-EyoU project
Are there inequalities in youth active citizenship across Europe? How is youth active European citizenship formed by the context? How do individual characteristics (e.g. age, gender, immigrant background, or socioeconomic status) affect active European citizenship in youth? How can we employ contextual forces to reduce individual inequalities in active European citizenship?
These are the main questions that have guided a research conducted under the coordination of the University of Bologna as part of Catch-EYoU (Constructing AcTive CitizensHip with European Youth; http://www.catcheyou.eu), a project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
Active European citizenship refers to people’s psychological connection to the European community and their active involvement with this community. Being an active citizen represents a way to make one’s voice heard and to effectively influence public issues. If there are systematic differences in active citizenship between people coming from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, attending different schools, or living in different countries, it means that the voices of people in society are represented in an unequal and possibly undemocratic way.
A re-analysis of data from several large European surveys (*) pointed out that active citizenship of young Europeans between 14-30 years is affected by several types of inequality (e.g., socioeconomic, gender, or age). Young people coming from less affluent and educated backgrounds are less politically active, less likely to vote, less involved in various civil associations and groups, less communicating about European issues, less involved in European or international projects, or less psychologically connected to Europe in terms of their European identity and trust in European institutions. Possible reasons for this pattern seem to be both psychological (e.g., less affluent and educated people are less interested in politics or less willing to vote) and structural (e.g., less affluent and educated people report a lower number of opportunities for international volunteering).
(*) Processes Influencing Democratic Ownership and Participation (2011), International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (2009), European Social Survey (2002-2012), Eurobarometer (2007-2014), Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency 2010/03: Youth Participation in Democratic Life (2011), and International Social Survey Programme (1995-2013).
Regarding gender differences, young women, compared to young men, are less interested in politics or slightly less involved in civil associations and groups. On the other hand, women’s involvement in less institutionalized civic activities (e.g., boycotting products for political reasons or donating money) is comparable to or sometimes even higher than in men. It should be also stressed that all these gender inequalities are typically present not in every but only in some European countries.
With age, i.e. moving from adolescence to the late twenties, young people tend to be less trusting in European institutions and less supportive of European unification. They also become more involved in conventional political activities. On the other hand, their participation in international projects slightly decreases, which is probably caused by some more general changes typical for this life period (e.g., having children, leaving school, and finding a stable job).
Besides individual-level factors, active European citizenship is formed by contextual forces. At school, active European citizenship is strengthened by the opportunities for learning about European issues and by the presence of pro-active citizenship norms. From a country-level perspective, active European citizenship is less common in countries characterized by greater economic and gender inequalities. Furthermore, European and international participation is limited in the countries that have been recently affected by the economic crisis and/or massive youth unemployment. In contrast, young people from wealthier European countries have somewhat stronger European identity and do more voluntary activities targeting European and international issues.
Contextual forces might play an important role not only by globally affecting all people across the context, but also by moderating (reducing or augmenting) the inequalities caused by people’s individual characteristics. For instance, numerous inequalities given by socioeconomic status are greater in less wealthy countries and countries with greater income inequalities. Not surprisingly, men’s and women’s chances of voting are equal (or even in favor of women) in countries with high gender equality. Low economic and gender inequalities also support the positive association between national identification and the identification with Europe.
Overall, these results show that individual-level inequality can be, to a certain extent, counteracted by addressing contextual inequality. While it is unlikely that socioeconomic inequalities will cease to exist, there are possibilities to counteract individual inequalities in schools and through decreasing economic and other inequalities at the country level. This implies that school curricula should involve opportunities for students’ learning about Europe. Schools also need to be sufficiently resourced to offer opportunities for exchange with other European countries. Finally, living in an unequal society clearly has a negative impact on youth’s active citizenship. Hence, economic redistribution within the European Union, policies that help to reduce gender inequality and measures for reducing youth unemployment can be seen as strategies supporting active citizenship in young people.