What is it like being young today? Are there emerging challenges that are unique to this generation of young people globally? Laurence Chandy, director of the Office of Global Insight and Policy at UNICEF, joins the podcast to discuss The Changing Childhood Project, a partnership with Gallup. Do young people view themselves as global citizens? And how does this play out in their values? Whom do they trust?
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Below is a full transcript of the conversation, including time stamps. Full audio is posted above.
Mohamed Younis 00:07
I'm Mohamed Younis, and this is The Gallup Podcast. This week, we look into how the experience of childhood itself is changing in our ever-changing world. Laurence Chandy is director of global insight and policy for UNICEF. Laurence, Welcome to the podcast.
Laurence Chandy 00:22
Thanks for having me.
Mohamed Younis 00:23
When I heard about this research, I was really fascinated and couldn't wait to speak with you, particularly because everything that's happening in the world today. UNICEF and Gallup teamed up to ask multiple generations of residents across 21 countries about what it's like to be a child in today's world. Let me start by asking you, Laurence, what were some of the insights that struck you?
Laurence Chandy 00:45
So I think I'd start by saying that we found that childhood today is very different from childhood in the past. And that's true in many ways, but let me highlight three. So firstly, I think it's -- there's a good news story, which is that childhood has got a lot better across many different dimensions of children's lives. So their access to healthcare and their education, their, the availability of clean water, even their safety -- and you ask young people, "How do you think childhood compares today to in the past?" They believe there's progress. And I think they're right there. So there's a good news story there.
Laurence Chandy 01:25
At the same time, young people today, children today face new challenges, and they face growing pressures. So young people today report elevated levels of mental health issues, and they believe that they're a generation who face more pressure than children did in the past. The third thing I'd focus on is that young people's lives are overwhelmingly digital today. There's a, we talk a lot about a digital divide in the world, which we tend to think of as people living in poor countries not online; people in rich countries all being online all the time. There's a very clear generational digital divide, with young people much more online.
Laurence Chandy 02:12
And it's not just a matter of access. I think it's also a behavioral difference too. So young people are keen to go online. They rely on online sources for information in a way just in such greater numbers than their parents' and their grandparents' generation. So just much more, their lives are just so much more digital. That's obviously not true of young people everywhere, but the difference across the generations is stark.
Mohamed Younis 02:41
Let me ask you this, Laurence. We also see that young people today are more likely than older generations to see themselves as "citizens of the world." Reflect on that for us, and explain to us what we found in the study.
Laurence Chandy 02:54
I think this is one of the most striking things from our project, in my mind. So we asked people what they identify most with: their local area, their town or community, their country, or the world at large. And in the average country, the older generations in our survey identify first with their country, second with their local community and third with the world. The younger folks, the 15- to 24-year-olds, were equally likely to go with the world or their country. And while the shares of young people from country to country who identified first with the world certainly varies, almost everywhere we have that generational gap. So young people are more likely than the older generations to say, "I identify with the world."
Laurence Chandy 03:55
Now, some things about that finding are, are, I think, intuitive. So young people are more likely to be online; they're more likely to live in cities because they are, they, you know, they were born more recently. They're part of the contemporary age. I think that the, the children and young people in our poll are very much products of globalization, and we saw this in other questions in our survey. So young people are not only more likely to identify as citizens of the world, but they, they express greater support for international cooperation between countries. They demonstrate more pluralistic values, in terms of how you should treat people who are different. So they are, so there is a, I think, a really important difference between the generations here that we're identifying.
Laurence Chandy 04:51
Now the consequences of this, I don't know what they are, really. I think they, I think they require further reflection. I think it's, I think it's a really, a really important thing for us to think about further. We've become used to thinking of the human, the human condition as almost being defined by nation-states. And yet if we take several steps back, maybe, maybe that's a temporary thing. Certainly if we go back in history, perhaps that wasn't true so long ago; you would be more likely to identify with your, with your local community. But maybe if we look forward, it won't last very long. Maybe we would all think of ourselves as citizens of the world not too many years from now. Who knows? But to me, a really important finding and one that I'd love to explore further in the future.
Mohamed Younis 05:43
It's interesting that you mention that, because it was the one thing really that struck me as well, and it actually made me reflect on UNICEF and the history of UNICEF. I mean, this is an organization that was established in the 1950s really to address the needs of children and women in the developing world, at a time when global cooperation was really on the agenda of global leaders in a very serious way, coming out of World War II. It was just fascinating to me that young people are more and more seeing themselves as part of this global economy, more than really a member of a nation-state. Reflect on what that means for organizations within the United Nations, like UNICEF, for the future, if you, if you want to -- if you dare.
Laurence Chandy 06:31
That's a great question. I think you're right -- we are a multilateral institution. And our ability to function and be successful hinges on our membership, which is countries, believing in that spirit of multilateralism. Without that, it does make our work more difficult. I also think we so, so perhaps the, perhaps we can take something very positive from this, this response. At the same time, I don't want to, I don't want to be Pollyannaish here. We, we certainly found young people also identifying with their nation-state, and in some countries, that spirit of global citizenry was much lower.
Laurence Chandy 07:30
And so I don't think we can, don't think we can take it as a given that support for institutions like ours is sort of bound to improve. We still have to demonstrate our usefulness and efficacy. But certainly in a moment like now with the COVID crisis, with the climate crisis, there's a desperate need for global cooperation and, and for the, to be technical, the provision of global public goods. So there is certainly something positive, I think, to take from this question. I don't think it's been asked before. So it's, it's one of these ones that need some more research, but it's, it's an exciting one in my mind.
Mohamed Younis 08:22
I think reaffirms the importance really of global cooperation. I mean, it's literally one of the things we found in the study that young people want to see more of. And it's not a surprise to think of the younger respondents in this study who have literally watched the world go through a global pandemic and fail at sharing vaccines across borders. You know, there's been a lot of examples of failed cooperation in the very near past. The other thing that really fascinated me was this finding around young people and trusting information on social media platforms. So -- correct me if I'm wrong -- we found that young people, not surprisingly, were more likely to be using these platforms, but actually didn't express a lot of confidence in information that was available on them. Is that correct? And if so, reflect with us on that.
Laurence Chandy 09:16
Yeah, I love this finding, and it's one we've been, we've been reflecting on a lot and discussing with Gallup colleagues to try and make sense of it. So I think there's, there's a few layers to this. So let me try and unpack it a bit. So firstly, we found that young people tend to be more trusting than older folks. And this is true of various institutions, at least in terms of the, the reliability of the information those institutions provide. So we found that young people were more trusting of governments, which was quite surprising; of scientists; of international news organizations.
Laurence Chandy 09:56
So firstly, you have this, you have that first point: that young people are not, you know, they are, they seem to be quite trusting. But of all the sources we asked young people about, the one they said that was, the one they, where we found the least amount of trust was social media organizations. If I remember, it's something like a paltry 17% of young people in the median countries said that they trust social media organizations "a lot" to provide them with accurate information. So that's really low. But as I mentioned earlier in our discussion, young people go into social, social media to get their information. They love online sources. That's where they go. They don't go to TV or radio or friends and family; they're most likely to go to online sources, and within that, they're most likely to go to social media.
Laurence Chandy 10:51
So something interesting is going on here. They, they seem to appreciate social media, but they're a savvy audience; they know not to, not to believe everything that they read. The finding is actually, in such even stronger than that. If we look at, we look at young people who rely on social media for information, and we compare them with older folks who go to social media for their information, young people are more discerning; they're less likely to believe what they read. So they really are a savvy bunch.
Laurence Chandy 11:32
And, you know, I think they're just perhaps better able, able to filter between the real stuff and the nonsense. I don't think this means that misinformation isn't a problem. But it's, but perhaps if you're brought up relying on these sources of information, you develop that knack to be able to discern what is real and what isn't. So yeah, a really interesting finding and, and there's something positive in this one too, I think.
Mohamed Younis 12:06
And it was fascinating to me to think about the preconceived notions we have about media -- that, generationally, we bring individually to information that's out there, and to think about how young people have really grown up in an age where trust in media really overall -- and we see this in our polls, not only here in the U.S. but also globally -- has really taken a toll as misinformation and disinformation has come more into public focus. One of the things, kind of looking to the future, that the study found is that young people want faster progress in the fight against discrimination. Like I mentioned earlier, they wanted more cooperation among countries to solve global problems. But they also want for decision-makers to listen to them. Reflect on that for us, Laurence, and in some ways, how does UNICEF support efforts to do those things? Really focus on fighting discrimination, increasing cooperation and getting the ear of decision-makers closer to the minds of young people?
Laurence Chandy 13:09
So I think all the findings you just described are part of what I would describe as a sort of impatience for action that we see among the young participants in the survey. I think that, of the three things you described, I think that having, helping decision-makers listen to children and young people is perhaps the trickiest one. And, you know, one thing it could mean is lowering the voting age in countries. So one way to listen to young people is to give them the power to elect leaders. And we found significant numbers of young people proposing lower voting ages in some of the countries which we surveyed. And that included Cameroon and Lebanon, which are two countries where the voting age is especially high.
Laurence Chandy 14:09
I think, I mean, I would also add here that, you know, we're used to, I'm used to the voting age being 18, but that's a relatively recently established norm. And we are at a point today where a number of countries in Latin America and Europe are starting to reduce the voting age lower, so down to 16, and potentially it will fall further still. I mean, on this point, what, in terms of what UNICEF can do, I mean UNICEF aspires to listen to children and to promote their voice. We talk a lot about that, and we're sincere when we talk about that, but we find it hard to do in practice. And I think there's at least a couple of reasons for that.
Laurence Chandy 15:00
One of them is that we have an impulse to protect children, and yet protecting children and empowering them, they are, they almost work at cross purposes, right? There's a tradeoff. So our challenge is to get that balance right, and to get that balance right at different ages. Another reason is that it's easier, easier for us to, to amplify and elevate children's voices when those voices are the most eloquent children, often the children of the elite. And we don't want to reinforce inequities that already exist in society. So it's harder to promote the voices of those who, who aren't the elite.
Laurence Chandy 15:46
So one of the things we can do is things like this poll, which you can make, actually, we can make a deliberate effort to go out and listen to thousands of young people and, and then try and amplify, amplify their voices this way. But it's not easy. You know, this is not a, it's not an easy task. And I think it's, for us, it's one of the, one of the ways we view this project is an experiment in trying to elevate young people's voices and force decision-makers to pay more attention to them.
Mohamed Younis 16:24
So Laurence, before I let you go, tell me more about how our listeners can engage the content of the report and what it was like to ask the young people of the world some of these amazing questions.
Laurence Chandy 16:36
The first thing I'd say is that this project didn't aim to prescribe answers, right? It was, it was intended to, to force a rethink about what we know about childhood, if there really is a generational divide, and if so, about what and how big is it and where is it? And to really elevate the debate about these issues and give prominence to them. And I think that, as a result of the project, we have the data to do that. One of the things we've done, which we're really excited about, is we've built a website. And the URL is changingchildhood.unicef.org. Now if you go to that site, you get to do something really fun, which is you get to respond to some of the questions in the survey and see how your answers compare with children and older folks around the world. You can also, in some, in some parts of the site, you can guess how people responded to the questions
Mohamed Younis 17:34
Oh, that's neat.
Laurence Chandy 17:36
So yeah, so it's a nice interactive experience, and it means you don't have to download a PDF, which, let's face it, is not everyone's cup of tea.
Mohamed Younis 17:44
Can't wait to dig into it. Laurence Chandy is director of global insight and policy for UNICEF. Sir, thank you for being with us.
Laurence Chandy 17:52
Thanks so much, Mohamed.
Mohamed Younis 18:00
That's our show. Thank you for tuning in. To subscribe and stay up to date with our latest conversations, just search for "The Gallup Podcast" wherever you podcast. And for more key findings from Gallup News, go to news.gallup.com or follow us on Twitter @gallupnews. If you have suggestions for the show, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Gallup Podcast is directed by Curtis Grubb and produced by Justin McCarthy. I'm Mohamed Younis, and this is Gallup: reporting on the will of the people since the 1930s.