'Angry young men' lack optimism

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent

image captionYoung men, caught in a changing jobs market, show few signs of optimism

A study of youth attitudes has raised concerns about young men in the "squeezed middle" who are deeply pessimistic about their future chances.

Among these young men - from families of skilled or semi-skilled workers - more than two-thirds never expect to own their own home, says a survey.

These disgruntled young men were more negative than their counterparts from poorer backgrounds.

"These people feel trapped," says Durham University's Tony Chapman.

This identification of a distinctive group of aggrieved young men emerged from the Youth Matters survey, carried out for the O2 telecommunications company, and analysed by Prof Chapman, who has researched young people and social mobility.


These are young men, aged between 16 and 24, who appear to be particularly frustrated and unhopeful about their chances of good jobs or any upward mobility.

"These are neither the most deprived, who get quite a lot of attention, nor are they affluent enough to be on a conveyor belt to university," says Prof Chapman, who has examined the views of 1,500 young people.

"These are a group of young people who are caught between these positions," he says.

These youngsters are aware of the advantages of their better-off middle class counterparts, he suggests, but have diminishing expectations of gaining them for themselves.

And it is particularly the young men rather than young women who have the bleakest expectations.

"They have skills and ambitions - but they have a fatalistic sense that there are barriers that make it pointless to try in the first place," says Prof Chapman.

Only 30% of these young men ever expect to own their own home in their lifetime - compared with 39% among their counterparts in poorer families.

Even at this early stage in their working lives, almost a quarter of these young men expect never to have a fulfilling job - a much more negative outlook than their female counterparts.

Almost a third of these young men say they "feel unhappy" when they think about their future - much more than women.

Prof Chapman describes these youngsters as coming from "respectable" families with "strong aspirations" - but now facing increasingly insecure job prospects.


These youngsters face the loss of jobs for skilled and semi-skilled industrial workers and an increase in temporary, service-sector jobs.

If these youngsters also have poor qualifications, it makes it even more difficult for them - facing the downward pressure from expanding numbers of graduates, who will occupy more sought-after jobs.

Prof Chapman says that these disaffected youngsters are from the type of families of skilled workers who might have had more optimistic expectations in the 1970s and 1980s.

But he says that many such families, outside the fringes of the middle classes, now face a more fragile economic future.

"They're not on the bread line, but they're vulnerable to misfortune. If the car goes or interest rates go up, they have little to protect them."

The Youth Matters survey tracks young people's opinions and attitudes.

While it revealed this group of disgruntled young men, the bigger picture showed a more optimistic view of social mobility.

More than half expected to earn more than their parents.

Among those who were optimistic, a significant factor was the perceived opportunity created by digital start-ups. Almost three-quarters identified the internet as helping to create more chances for their careers.

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