Unemployment was named as the deepest fear of young Croatians in a comprehensive study of the status and aspirations of the younger generation (age 14 to 29), carried out by the Friedrich Ebert Stifung Foundation and the Institute for Social Research.
The survey revealed that young people are overwhelmingly focussed on socio-economic issues, while they held a deep distrust of political institutions and were dissatisfied with the political situation as well as those in power who they felt “disregarded the needs and opinions of their generation”. The army was the most trusted institution in Croatia, while political parties were at the bottom of the list, with just 8% of respondents saying they trusted them.
“Youth attitudes toward political affairs are characterised by … an uneven acceptance of liberal-democratic values, a strong preoccupation with socioeconomic issues and problems, and a pronounced distrust of political institutions,” said the “Youth Study Croatia 2018/2019”.
At the same time, it revealed “a mild increase in religiosity … inclinations toward nationalism and, in slightly greater measure, authoritarianism (especially in the political sense).” Exclusionary attitudes were revealed by the low numbers willing to accept homosexuals (37%), refugees (29%) or a Roma family (16%) as their neighbours.
Overall, however, migration and refugees were at the bottom of the list of concerns among young people, who focussed instead on unemployment, illness, social injustice, poverty and climate change.
“The biggest fear and worry noted among youth was unemployment, and the highest value was independence,” it said. The two are interlinked. Extremely high rates of youth unemployment are a phenomenon seen across the Western Balkans region, and lack of opportunities for young Croatians to find stable work in their chosen professions holds back their "transitioning toward emancipation”.
While things have changed for the better since FES’s last in depth survey six years ago, less than half of young Croatians were working in their profession, half the respondents did not have a secure or permanent job, and young Croatians worked long hours for relatively low salaries. In what the story describes as a “precarious” work market, job security is elusive.
Part of this is down to the education system; while a considerable number of respondents said they were satisfied with the quality of education in the country, the education system was criticised for being ill-adapted to labour market needs. Moreover, young people from less privileged social backgrounds were underrepresented in tertiary education.
Small wonder then that almost three-quarters of participants still live in their parental homes — and the majority were content to do so. “Young people endorse the values of their families; most get along well with their parents and would raise their own children in the same way they were raised themselves,” according to FES’ research.
In terms of financial resources, a relative majority said that while their households could cover basic existential needs, they could not afford more expensive items like household appliances. For example, while mobile phone ownership is becoming ubiquitous, 42% of homes had no dishwasher, and 49% lacked air conditioning. "This suggests that a considerable portion of Croatian youth and their families are experiencing a shortage of financial resources and implies that they live in circumstances of economic insecurity,” says the report.
On the other hand, there was a high degree of optimism about the future, with 64% of respondents saying they expected their lives would improve ten years down the line.
The threat of a youth drain is also receding. Almost two-thirds of Croatian youth do not wish to emigrate: compared to 2012, this represents a 20% increase in respondents who see their future primarily in Croatia, says the report. Of the young people that do want to leave, the primary reasons were economic, and Germany was the preferred destination.
“The main reasons for leaving reported by respondents suggest that Croatia primarily needs structural economic reform to facilitate employment, better jobs, job security and higher income: in short, a better living standard for the young population,” says the report. “It is to be expected that any future insecurity or erosion of the socioeconomic position of youth and their families will result in their being more willing to leave the country.”