“What concerns you most about the future?”
Since September 11, 2001, we have been asking 13-25-year-olds across North America about their Future Concerns in order to get a sense of the mindframe of young people and how they think about things. Based on many factors, usually involving news, internet, school, politics, the economy and jobs, globalization, family concerns, work, and the environment, the responses have changed with each wave of research, and have become excellent Macro trend indicators of what’s of most important to the marketplace in their future (see also Label Networks’ European, Japan, and China Youth Culture Studies and Future Concerns sections for comparisons globally).

To get an idea of how things have changed in terms of Future Concerns of youth and Macro trends, here’s a recap: In 2002, concerns for War and Terrorism were prevalent; however there were also high future concerns about school shootings based on the after-effects of Columbine. To many young people this fear lingered in 2004 as Columbine was their “September 11th” meaning it was as impactful to them as what happened to the NYC World Trade Centers. As indicated in our Humanitarian Youth Culture Study (Green Marketing) 2007, we also asked about the effects of Virginia Tech shootings and now in 2008, other various school shootings. The results were then that 3 out of 4, 13-25-year-olds believed that the same types of shootings could happen in their schools. School shootings for many young people are a fact of their existence and they think about it, just like War. However while some of these concerns may seem as though they dropped in the results of Spring Study 2007 and Spring Study of 2008, one reason for this is, as they put it, “We simply live with these things (i.e., School shootings, Terrorism, Globalization) as a part of our daily lives, so they are not so much concerns as simply just a part of our existence.”

From 2002 to 2004 there was an increase among the youth market concerned with Work and Money/Economy and this was again the case in the Spring Study 2007 and Fall Study 2007 in 2nd at 13.7%.

In the Spring Study 2006, however, Happiness was of utmost concern (which is always high across the board in North America), and resurfaced as #1 again in Spring Study 2007 at 19.9%, however it had been replaced by Relationships in the Fall Study 2007 as the #1 future concern at 27.2%.

When it comes to Happiness, which was 3rd overall at 10.4% last year, followed by Money/Economy at 8.3%, young people said that Happiness can mean simply having a job that you like when you grow up rather than making a lot of money. However job lay-offs of their parents and themselves are a major concern, and increasing cultural influences have had their effects. They are very concerned about getting a job or their parents losing their jobs. Young people often comment that they’ve seen their parents get laid off and that job loyalty isn’t important to them at all. There’s a growing entrepreneurial spirit as consumer control continues to increase and DIY (Do It Yourself) culture remains strong particularly in North America. Basically, young people have a growing sense that they need to take care of their own future because no one else will, and in many respects, such as the environment, it’s already been messed-up and handed to them to deal with. This is also combined with their sense of needing to take care of themselves in what was traditionally considered safe places such as college campuses because random acts of violence can happen anywhere.

This correlates with Future Concerns from ’03 to ’04 which shifted and became less fear-based and more reality based. The backlash has been a new strength found in learning to take of yourself and discovering that one is responsible for their own happiness. This has also made an impact on the Environment, which most people believe has been blown by previous generations (see also our Humanitarian Youth Culture Profile Report 2007 and 2008).

In a troubled economy, young people often express concern for their parents’ jobs and therefore say Money and Economy are important future concerns. More young people, especially females, are taking up part time jobs which has increased their spending capacity and provided a new sense of freedom. You can also see this reflected in the increase in females concerned about Success compared with males which indicates a significant change: This generation of females is among the first to have grown up with working mothers and expect to do the same.

Relationships -either getting into a relationship, dealing with a current relationship, or getting out of a relationship -are also of utmost concern and while it ranked #1 in ’04, it ranked 2nd in Spring ’05, then #1 again in the Fall Study ’05, and #2 again in Spring of ’06, then coming in 3rd at 15.1% in the Spring Study ’07 and back to #1 in the Fall Study ’07. We also had some young people say Relationships because they were thinking of relationships between countries and governments, and therefore, it was a big future concern to them which would determine the fate of their personal future.

What’s interesting about the Environment is that it’s a growing Future Concern among young people, still ranking even higher than Family and now Success, which is clearly not the case in our European Youth Culture Study. Generally, the youth marketplace in North America is far more aware of the Environment than any generation previous. Saving the Environment is cool, especially since Al Gore’s initiatives, changing weather patterns, the increase in celebs getting involved, and global warming warning signs that the government can no longer ignore. The environment and philanthropy in general are such a part of their lives.

In the future, this generation of consumers will make sure that these components will be a part of their purchasing patterns and it’s something that all brands should be aware of.

Overall, the results from the Fall Study 2008 have shifted from the Spring Study 2008 in that Money/Economy are now the #1 concern at a sharp rise to 21.1% of 13-25-year-olds and Happiness which was the #1 concern at 18.5% has sunk to 4th overall at 10.2%. Second top concern is Relationships at 13.8% which is at a similar percentage from the Spring Study 2008. Work is 3rd at 13%, followed by Happiness and then the Environment at 9.3%. Overall, it’s clear that the state of the economy is of utmost concern to this new generation and is impacting their decisions -even surpassing historical future concerns such as Relationships, Happiness, and Family. The other increase is the Environment, now at 5th, which we’ve seen increasing steadily for the past 5 years. Interestingly, Health has dropped considerably. What should be also clarified in terms of “Success” is that many people in this demographic group also mean this with a similar definition of Happiness. They don’t always mean Success as in making a lot of money, but Success as in loving what they do for a living, being happy, healthy, successful within themselves and among their friends. It’s a more inward meaning than outward meaning of Success among many people in youth culture today.

By gender, in the Fall Study 2008 there are less differences in percentages in future concerns than ever before. For example, 22.2% of males say Money/Economy along with 20.1% of females. 14.1% of females say Relationships along with 13.5% of males. Work however is higher among males at 14.9% compared with 11.7% of females, whereas Happiness and the Environment are much higher among females. What’s also interesting is that Success is once again higher among females, marking a full year when this has been the case. Males also have higher percentages concerned with War, My appearance, and Health.

Some things to note about Future Concerns in addition to the top concerns are the ones further down the list. For example, War is ranked 8th overall and Terrorism is at the bottom of the list. While many people believe these things would be higher, in youth culture, it’s often the things that most directly impact them that are of greater concern. In addition, many young people say they’ve grown up with Terrorism or War for most of their lives so it’s just something that’s happening -what they “live with.” In addition, Health tends to rank low among this age group because most young people believe they are still somewhat immortal. This is an important difference by age groups in that when sports organizations push athletics or as the Olympics are doing with the Youth Olympic Movement and the “values of health,” what they don’t remember or realize is that young people don’t think as much about their health because of this immortality aspect of their age (see related stories about the Olympics in our Sports section). So, trying to get young people to lead a more active lifestyle for “health” reasons doesn’t necessarily work because they don’t think about life yet in that way. They are still immortal.

By age groups, there are also distinct differences again, whereby now, Money/Economy are #1 across the board, but increases the older the age group. What’s notable about this however is that now, 13-14-year-olds are also most concerned about Money/Economy, where in the past, even within the Spring Study 2008, Relationships were the #1 concern. Interestingly, the Environment has a direct correlation among younger demographics, increasing in percentages the younger the age group and indicating that a new generation is growing up with far greater awareness to the Environment than ever before. This is also dictating many changes in preferences, shopping patterns, and other lifestyle choices. Happiness is also interesting in that it spikes among 15-17-year-olds and then again Aamong 21-25-year-olds. 

As we noticed last year, Terrorism tends to be higher among younger demographics, peaking among 15-17-year-olds. This also indicates a new generation that is not only more environmentally aware, but also more aware about the world at large including effects of Terrorism. This translates for many as being aware of their safety or lack of safety and taking responsibility for your own fate as simply a part of their lives.