While politicians such as Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz consequently hold on to their positions and keep their places reserved, somewhere else a younger generation gains ground to rise a political challenge. Emmanuel Macron in France and Sebastian Kurz in Austria are stars on Europe’s political stage. Macron almost, Kurz certainly though are part of the age group born between 1980 and 1999, also called the Generation Y. How does that Generation look like that will fill the vacancies in the upcoming years?
The Generation Y in Europe mainly grew up in peace. While the generation of the grandparents were still broken and shattered from war and have hoped simply to survive, the following generation focused on having a good job and a secure income. After weathering post-war years and through market-opening businesses they faced more economic opportunities. In the 60’s and 70’s the economy was booming and corporate growth as well as labour was ensured. The parents’ generation kept in mind that upswing after the end of the Second World War and passed it on to their children. So to speak optimism began in the cradle of the Generation Y.
The parents euphoria thinking their children will have a better life than them goes along with an overwhelming comfort that everything the child does has to be extraordinary and absolutely meaningful. The laissez fair education style was trending whereby the children had more to say in parenting. Authority was out. Hence those children have developed qualities that are seen as quite negative from older generations; too much self-confidence, less ambitious in working life, egocentric and narcissistic. They are too self-determined, used to be asked and to have the choice. They want both, a meaningful job with which one can afford a comfortable standard of living as well as enough free time to raise children and have hobbies in order to keep in balance. Employers are concerned that their future staff will come with little diligence and ambition. However, one should not see that young generation so negative.
Looking at the “hierarchy of needs” of the psychologist Abraham Maslow in a more historical context it can be seen that each generation was able to work itself “up”. The generation of the grandparents still have war stuck in their bones and the biggest crisis was hunger. Meat and sweets was luxury and only few could afford a vacation. That was all normal.
The following generation was, characterized by the war stories of the family and the more distanced view on it convinced to never experience war. The physical security as the fundamental stage of the hierarchy of needs was given. By the opening market one did not only want basic food products – rather did everyone strive for possession and property. The market liberalisation and the economic success entailed that consumption got prioritised. Everyone needed to own a car and a house. Property and possessions meant security and social recognition. The founding countries France, Germany, Italy as well as the Benelux countries grew together with the initial EEC. That assured economic security and political peace. This transformation, necessary for societal stability, was, speaking with the sociologist Ulrich Beck, characteristic for the consciousness of that time risk society.
The Generation Y now has physiological and material security. Freedom to travel and free movement of goods are two essential foundations of the EU with which young people have grown up. The market is generally open so that there is the possibility to get products from all over the world – that seems normal and doesn’t have the allure anymore. What is now strived after is personal fulfilment, the highest stage of the hierarchy of needs. And this stage cannot only be fulfilled by work alone but through hobbies, traveling, family and friends. Furthermore there is a demand on jobs that not only bring money but also meaning. That young generation can afford to possess little because they grew up right in the consumption frenzy. They know how it is to possess all different kinds of kitchen appliances but to never use them. They know how everyone gazed at the new family car and how quick the dust fell on it. The status symbol of the car slowly loses its meaning. Instead, cars are shared – zip-car and car-to-go sending their regards. Generally there is a tendency to possess less; instead of DVD’s and TV there is Netflix on the laptop and instead of CD’s there is Spotify – cancellable on a monthly basis, nothing lasts forever.
The identity developed by that generation is mainly universalistic. Grown up with the Internet where there aren’t any geographic boundaries, the world “grew together”. The Generation Y watches American comedians and Japanese Mangas. They do exchange years during High School, Au pair or work-and-travel after graduation and semesters abroad during University. Friends made all over the world are managed by Facebook to – more or less – stay in touch. The identity of those people consists of different cultures, of acquaintances, friendships and love affairs from all over the world.
While those people haven’t experienced war themselves, yet they grew up facing crises. From a political aspect there was 9/11 as from an economic stance there was the financial crisis 2008. Since then they hear about crises from the Middle East, the climate crisis, the Euro-crises and the refugee crises. And while all the news continuously report about the crises, the world keeps turning. It has to continue somehow and the young generation is well aware of that – starting family and retirement still ahead of them. Where nothing is possible also everything is possible. That generation therefore has all kinds of possibilities.
Having possibilities, however, might on the other hand mean to not be able to take the opportunities. The financial crisis 2008, outsourcing of jobs and a digitisation has not made a career start easy. Not only are there poor job opportunities. Also the salary is less than that of the older colleagues. And the housing costs in most cities have risen so much that most young adults stay a little bit longer at their parents house or the shared flat. Optimism looks different.
The Generation Y is, as the letter perfectly is shaped, open but also split. Maybe there aren’t any great movements such as the labour movement or the environmental movement. But the kids of that generation have something that their predecessors haven’t had. As the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben put it in an interview, property is less and less the centre of society; rather is it about the use of something, of entities, instead of simply possessing them. Having left the fetish character of the goods, the Generation Y has all possibilities to take the bold use of incidences in process dynamics in order to reshape and form them. They have to be willing to recognize the immaterial, processual form of incidences so that a socio-political cohabitation can be guaranteed sustainably. While the previous generation lived in a way of a risk society (Beck) and transformation was seen as the essential component, now Beck has established the theory of metamorphose. Significant here is not the change of the existing form but rather the radical change of the form itself.