Young people were among the most affected by the coronavirus outbreak, as they were forced to retreat from their university desks to their bedrooms, deprived of their communities. What is the current state of young people in Hungary and the region? Can we measure the behavioral pattern of Generation K at all? We looked for answers to these questions at the event organized by the Budapest Institute for Youth Research. Report.
“Youth research is like intelligence tests: we know that we measure something with it, we know how we measure it, but we are not quite sure what we measure,” pointed out the main difficulty of youth research at the introduction of the Hungarian Youth during the Coronavirus Epidemic study book, at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Budapest. The volume, a joint effort of the MCC and the Nézőpont Institute, published by the Institute for Youth Research, aims to summarize the impacts on young people’s lives during the pandemic. The volume results from large-scale youth research that started at the turn of the millennium, with the last data collection taking place at the end of 2020 when the first wave of the coronavirus was in full swing.
Levente Székely, the editor of the book and head of the Institute for Youth Research, opened the event, followed by Petra Aczél, professor at the Corvinus University of Budapest, who shared her thoughts on the method of naming new generations. A generation can be defined by pastimes, behaviors, heroes, or global life events, but none of them are adequate, as they are all extensions of what they would accurately name. According to Aczél, the publication’s strength is that it “reflects on all of these, yet does not seek to stigmatize”. The professor highlighted the Times magazine’s naming of the “Me, me, me” generation and also talked about the Generation K naming, which compared the generation to the character of a real warrior, Katniss Everdeen.
Nine years ago, the Times wrote that there is a lost generation, less known to us, who have no need of adults, “which is why they are so frightening to us.” A 2015 study found that people born before 1945 have a favorable view of themselves; in comparison, the millennial generation evaluates itself rigorously in everything, which is seen as relatively negative.
“While we are researching youth, we are making them believe that they are less and less valuable and not narcissistic,” said Aczél, who thinks that the self-image of today’s youth is much more distorted than that of the generations that were not over-saturated with media. According to the researcher, the study is readable, not sensational, but very interesting, and comparable, as this is the sixth such large-scale survey.
The introduction was followed by a roundtable discussion with sociologist Andrea Szabó, Deputy Director of the Institute of Political Science at the Centre for Social Science, sociologist Tamás Domokos, Head of the Department of Development Sociology at the Kodolányi János University, and sociologist Péter Pillók, Head of the Department of Social Research at the Pázmány Péter Catholic University.
The panel agreed that youth should be defined by the amount of leisure time, and the concept of “downagers” was mentioned too, which refers to the active age group over 60 with a lot of free time. In this sense, youth can be defined in terms of external actors and, accordingly, Tamás Domokos pointed out that “age is not necessarily the best definition,” and an increasing emphasis has been placed on classifying by generational experience. Previously there was much less diversity, there were 4-5 behavior types that covered the patterns, but now there are utterly inconsistent life situations, according to Péter Pillók: “young for a while, then a bit not, then maybe it is again.”
The participants also pointed out that youth researchers have a challenging job nowadays because the methods are already available, but the problem is that they don’t speak the language of the youth. There was a small debate between the panelists and Petra Aczél on the methodology of youth research. According to Andrea Szabó, there are so many better methods available today for understanding youth, from social listening to reports and small-scale questionnaire surveys, that “maybe this genre, the large-scale youth research, should be let go.”
She also stressed that a panel of 8-10 experts should meet and, as with the “election of the Pope,” debate until they are convinced of the right direction. Aczél was surprised by these statements and wondered whether the inclusion of new methods precluded the reform of large sample research. She also challenged another remark by Andrea Szabó, asking the provocative question: is it really a good thing to bring together those who already know? In her reply, Szabó maintained her original statement in both cases, and the other participants in the discussion mainly emphasized that the large sample makes sense because statistically valid statements can be made on smaller subsamples within it.
Visegrad youth and their trends
Hyper&Hyper asked about the situation of youth in a regional context, where Tamás Domokos said that “even within a nation there can be huge regional differences.” There are very specific cultural circumstances, according to which a respondent is drawn into one direction or the other, depending on whether we are measuring the same situation in Poland, the Baltic States, France, or here in the Carpathian Basin. These cannot be interpreted outside the regional context and international comparisons can also be misleading.
For example, in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, there is a significant Russian-speaking minority, and there was a big dilemma about whether to study them separately or to take a complete national sample in a survey. There was a similar dilemma in Slovakia, where researchers decided to include a Hungarian section because of the Hungarian minority. So there are no regional trends; the variations are very drastic even within countries.