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Most Young People Care About Issues—But Not Enough to Take Action, Studies Find

According to recent studies, millennials spend more time talking about political issues online and less time protesting compared to previous generations.

by Kimberly Lawson
Nov 17 2016, 10:02pm

Photo by Marija Mandic via Stocksy

According to the recent results of an informal survey, only a third of millennials actually do something about the issues they're most concerned about beyond writing about them on Facebook. A survey of 1,000 18- to 25-year-olds from The Body Shop's #INOURHANDS campaign found that "[w]hile 68 percent of young adults talk about issues such as animal cruelty and human rights both online and off, 36 percent took action and even fewer, 23 percent, have taken to the streets to protest," The Independent reports.

That lack of action described certainly played a role in this year's election. According to analysis from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), a nonpartisan research organization at Tufts University, about half of the number of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 showed up to the polls last week.

The Millennial Impact Project, an on-going study on millennials and their involvement with social causes during the presidential election cycle, confirmed the The Body Shop survey's findings. In its latest report, published before the election, researchers found that "[m]illennials still consider themselves activists, but without showing a strong affinity for direct action in support of or opposition to an issue."

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Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, the agency that conducted the research for The Millennial Impact Project. He says the vast majority of the general public wants to create social change, but oftentimes we get in our own way. "The brain is always at work for the path of least resistance," he tells Broadly, "which means always trying to do something at the most economically way possible to satisfy a quick need. The brain might say, 'Show others that you care, but maybe you don't need to go out and volunteer.' It's like, how can I lose weight without actually exercising?"

Social media, he explains, allows people "to at least do something rather than nothing."

It's not that young people don't care about the greater good, Feldmann says. "In all of our studies, everybody indicates 'Yeah, I want to do good, I want do something, I want to be a solution for something bigger and better than who I am,' but they're not acting."

When humans are at the center of helping other humans, we find participatory behavior happening.

In order to get beyond "passive forms of support" and into more activist roles, Feldmann says, young people need to be presented with the next step. He believes nonprofits and other organizations need to meet people halfway by presenting them with actionable opportunities. While of course people should take initiative when it comes to enacting social change, he says, not everyone has it in them to become a hard-core activist right after realizing the importance of an issue. As humans, he says, "we need to be led at times to go and act next and do things."

When asked if millennials are really the most apathetic generation in recent years, Feldmann laughs. "I'm sure every generation has apathy in it in some way. But for the most part, humans are empathetic, and when humans are at the center of helping other humans, we find participatory behavior happening."