Today’s youth are increasingly unhappy with the way their elders are running the world.
Their ire was most recently expressed when thousands of teenagersand others across the country marched on March 24 demanding more gun control, a little over a month after more than a dozen of their peerswere shot and killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
But there’s growing evidence that today’s young adults, ranging in age from 18 to 29 or so, are strongly dissatisfied with other fundamental aspects of our political and economic system. Specifically, growing numbers are rejecting capitalism.
This led us – a sociologist and an economist – to wonder how would young people redesign the economic system if they could. The answer, based on recent surveys, should make any status-quo politician seriously rethink their economic policies.
We first wanted to better understand how young people feel about the current economic system.
So we started by examining a troubling 2016 Harvard University surveythat found that 51 percent of American youth aged 18 to 29 no longer support capitalism. Only 42 percent said they back it, while just 19 percent were willing to call themselves “capitalists.”
While it may be true that young people of any generation tend to have less support for incumbent economic and political systems and tend to change their views as they age, past polls on the topic suggest this is a new phenomenon felt especially by today’s youth. A 2010 Gallop pollshowed that only 38 percent of young people had a negative view of capitalism – and that was right after the worst financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression, which hit young people especially hard.
What can we make of this? Do they prefer socialism, in which the government more actively regulates and intervenes in the economy and restricts individual choice?
It’s unclear. The Harvard poll showed just 33 percent said they favor socialism. A separate poll, however, conducted in 2015 by conservative-leaning Reason-Rupe, found that young adults aged 18 to 24 have a slightly more favorable view of socialism than capitalism.
Their views contrast markedly with their older peers, who consistently tell pollsters they prefer capitalism by wide margins – more so as their age climbs. Still, the share of the overall population that questions capitalism’s core precepts is around the highest in at least 80 years of polling on the topic.
To be sure, the questions pollsters ask Americans vary significantly from poll to poll, and sample sizes aren’t always large enough to draw firm conclusions.
All the same, the data suggest that today’s young people are part of a vanguard of Americans losing faith in capitalism and ready to embrace something new.
But what do they want?
So if young people are increasingly rejecting capitalism but they’re ambivalent about socialism, what do they want?