Young Latin Americans welcome future with optimism, but demand less corruption, poverty and violence

Jul 22, 2013

Madrid - Young people in Latin America, Portugal and Spain are optimistic about their future—two out of three believe that in five years they will be better off than they are now—, according to the 1st Ibero-American Youth Survey (available in Spanish), presented today in Madrid. The first study ever conducted with youth in 20 countries, with over 20,000 interviews, revealed that young people aged 15-29 are more optimistic about their own capacity than their surrounding environment.

The research shows that violence and insecurity are the main problems for young Latin Americans, a unanimous response in nearly all countries. Substance abuse (Brazil), unemployment (Central) or the economy (Portugal and Spain) are also among the top concerns, says the survey developed by the Organization of Ibero-American Youth with major development banks in Latin America (IDB and CAF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), among other partners.

"We are convinced that understanding our youth is the first step to give them more importance and recognition and also to design public policies tailored to their needs. That is the main objective of this initiative, "said Alejo Ramirez, who heads the Ibero-American Youth Organization.

"Measuring young people's expectations is critical to the region, especially now that Latin America is experiencing an increasing number of youth-led street protests," said Heraldo Muñoz, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. "In our survey young people in the region are voicing the same messages they convey from the streets: they expect more in terms of reduced corruption, violence, poverty and inequality."

Youth Expectations Index
With decades-long experience in creating Human Development Indices, UNDP developed the Youth Expectations Index for the survey to measure young people’s degree of positive or negative expectation for the future in each of the 20 assessed countries.

Ecuador, Costa Rica and Nicaragua rank as the countries with the most optimistic youth (followed by Uruguay, Venezuela and Panama). On the opposite side, are Portugal, Guatemala and Brazil, countries with less encouraging views about their future.

The Youth Expectations Index also revealed that two thirds of young people in Latin America have a positive outlook and that they are more optimistic about the future than the present. Young people express more confidence in their own capacity than their surrounding environment, and the notion of “national crisis” does not seem to directly impact their expectations. For example, Spain’s youth are not pessimistic about their future.

Young people also look forward to more improvements in environment and education, expecting their governments to reduce corruption and inequality.

Rank / Youth Expectations Index:

1. Ecuador 77,3
2. Costa Rica 71,3
3. Nicaragua 70,0
4. Uruguay 68,9
5. Venezuela 68,2
6. Panama 67,0
7. Peru 66,8
8. Spain 66,3
9.  Bolivia 65,2
10. El Salvador 65,1
11. Argentina 65,0
12. Chile 65,0
13. Honduras 64,3
14. Paraguay 62,4
15. Dominican Republic 62,3
16. Mexico 61,6
17. Colombia  61,4
18. Brazil 55,9
19. Guatemala 54,5
20. Portugal 44,9

The survey gathers the perceptions of young people about various topics (education, security, institutions, drugs, and family), asking them to assess current and future (five years) scenarios—of their personal paths and their countries’.

More than 150 million Latin Americans—one in every four—are young (aged 15 -29). Half of them live in Brazil and Mexico. Of the young Latin Americans, 80 percent are concentrated in the urban sector. In Central American countries the percentage of young urban population is less than that of the Andean and Southern Cone.

"The need to increase and encourage the participation of youth in all their diversity represents one of the major challenges within UNDP’s vision of a true citizens' democracy," said Muñoz.

An important instrument of UNDP's work with youth in Latin America is the online platform with the Ibero-American Youth Organization, JuventudConVoz, which seeks to expand political participation, foster discussion, and develop the skills of young people aged 15-29, especially women, Afro-descendants and indigenous people.

Key findings:

  • Young Latin Americans are more confident in their own future (5 years) than in their countries’ future. In almost all regions, when asked about their individual perception, over 70 percent believe it will be better than now.
  • Crime and violence are the main problems affecting young Latin Americans. This answer is predominant in all sub-regions and countries surveyed, more evident than the other top answers: employment, economy and access to education, health and justice.
  • Young people from Mexico, Portugal and Spain expressed the lowest levels of confidence in their institutions (police, government, politicians, justice, media, universities, social organizations and democratic institutions).
  • Young Brazilians are showing increased support for controversial issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion or the legalization of marijuana. The young people less open to the above-mentioned topics were found in Mexico, followed closely by Andean Region.
  • Young Latin Americans showed support for regional integration (question not asked in Portugal and Spain)  When asked about free movement of people, a common currency and solidarity with small countries, there was support in the majority of answers, over 60 percent. Young Brazilians, however, were not generally in favor of the above-mentioned topics.


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