Almost Half of Young People in England Feel There Are Now Fewer Opportunities for Their Age Group

January 26, 2022
R&WS Research Team
Young People | Youth

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The past two years of the coronavirus pandemic have been particularly tough on the world’s young population, in light of school closures, restrictions on social interactions, and job losses—not to mention the impact of the virus itself. But while a notable number adopt a pessimistic attitude amidst the significant uncertainty of the current era, many of England’s young people are looking towards their future with a positive outlook.

The latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds 52% of 16-to-25-year-olds in England are optimistic about the general direction in which their life is heading. At the same time, however, the future does not seem so bright to all: 21% of respondents indicate that they are pessimistic about the direction in which their life is heading. Meanwhile, 23% say they are neither optimistic nor pessimistic.

That a fifth of this demographic feels pessimistic about their future may stem from a sense of hopelessness surrounding the opportunities available to them, which has undoubtedly been aggravated by the pandemic. Indeed, a plurality (46%) of English residents aged 16 to 25 feel there are fewer opportunities for young people like them than there were ten years ago.

Yet, reaffirming the diverging outlooks within the group, a third (33%) alternatively holds the view that there are more opportunities for young people like them compared to ten years ago. Respondents with this perspective are particularly likely to feel optimistic about the direction in which their life is heading (67%). By comparison, 49% of those who think there are fewer opportunities feel optimistic, suggesting that young people’s level of optimism for their future may be related to their perception of the opportunities available to them. 

While just over half of 16-to-25-year-olds in England express optimism about their own future, the demographic is clearly less hopeful about the future of their country. 36% of young people in England are optimistic and 34% are pessimistic about the general direction in which the UK is heading. Notably, pessimism is especially pronounced among female respondents, at 39%, compared to 29% among males.

Looking at the most politically active segment of this demographic, 47% of those who take a ‘significant interest’ in politics say they are optimistic about the direction in which the UK is heading, pointing to an elevated sense of positivity about the country’s future among this group—though a considerable 35% feel pessimistic. Levels of both optimism and pessimism are much lower among respondents who take ‘no interest at all’ in politics, for whom the most-selected response is ‘don’t know’ (29%).

That only 36% of those aged 16 to 25 in England feel optimistic about the general direction in which the UK is heading is certainly troubling. However, compared to the overall population of Great Britain, optimism is actually heightened among these young people. In a poll of adults in Great Britain, 26% say they are optimistic and 47% say they are pessimistic about the direction in which the UK is heading, while 24% of both demographics indicate feeling neither optimistic nor pessimistic.

Therefore, though optimism about the UK’s future is far from being the dominant position among young people in England, the group may possess relatively more hope than its older counterparts. The 16-to-25-year-olds polled also feel comparatively more optimistic about the direction of their own futures—so what do these futures look like for England’s young population? 

For 35% of the demographic, the ideal future would involve settling somewhere no more than one hour away from where they grew up. A slightly greater proportion (38%) would most like to settle somewhere more than one hour away from where they grew up, an ambition that is more common among male respondents (42%) than among female respondents (34%).

15% of 16-to-25-year-olds in England indicate that they aspire to settle somewhere outside of the UK in the future. But among those who are ‘very pessimistic’ about the direction in which the country is heading, 30% say they would most like to settle outside of the UK, suggesting that frustration with the country’s perceived course may drive some young people to migrate. 

For the large majority of young people in England, the ideal future also includes having children of their own. 79% of 16-to-25-year-olds polled say they aspire to have children one day, including 81% of female respondents and 77% of male respondents. Once again, those who are ‘very pessimistic’ about the UK’s direction stand out, with a notable 35% of these respondents (compared to 21% overall) indicating that they do not aspire to have children.

Meanwhile, there appears to be a correlation between young people’s optimism for their own futures and their desire to have children, with an overwhelming 91% of those who are ‘very optimistic’ about their life’s direction aspiring to have children—compared to 81% of those who are ‘optimistic,’ 77% of those who are ‘neither optimistic nor pessimistic,’ and 75% of those who are ‘pessimistic.’

When it comes to how many kids these individuals aspire to have, the majority (57%) indicates they would like to have two children. A quarter (23%) aspires to have three children, while 9% would like to have one and 9% would like to have four.

Evidently, young people have diverse hopes and plans for their lives, which may be influenced by their general sense of optimism for both their own futures and the future of their country. As the hardships and uncertainties of the coronavirus pandemic hopefully subside, one can also hope that this optimism will grow and young people will become more confident in the opportunities available to them.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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