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Study says too many choices make life decisions hard for the young

Young adults are not lacking responsibility. They just face situations that previous generations never had to deal with.

For five years, psychologists from Masaryk University have been studying young Czechs — a generation often accused of laziness and of lacking responsibility. However, it turns out that the reason for this lies elsewhere as these young adults face situations that previous generations never had to deal with.

All the participants are legally adult, as all were between 18 and 25 when they entered the study. In previous generations, people of their age would already be building their careers and families. However, most of the participants were students or were just starting out with their careers. This is one of the conclusions of the study of a generation of adults who are often said to be “emerging adults”.

These people have not yet made the long-term commitments traditionally marking adulthood. Researchers now know much more about them and the study offers insights into their current demographic situations as well as useful information for employers.

This generation – often called Generation Y – is frequently accused of hedonism and an unwillingness to take on responsibility. But as the study suggests, maybe it is not really their fault. In the context of the Czech Republic, it is the first post-Communist generation to have almost limitless choices – and it struggles to choose from among them.

“Many options make you more uncertain and confused and it’s harder to pick one,” explains Petr Macek, the head of the Institute for Research on Children, Youth and Family at the MU Faculty of Social Studies. As he says, this is why it takes people longer to start work or get married. They simply need more time to make the right choice.

Marriage? Yes, but only with the right partner
The number of respondents was up to 1,600 at the beginning of the study and more than 500 during the final phase. Their answers to the survey questions reflect their concerns about completing their studies, finding a good and fulfilling job, and being good partners and parents. Their life goals actually turned out to be very traditional. For example, it is not true that they do not want to get married. Stanislav Ježek, another of the study authors, disagrees with this idea, “Even though they expect this to happen at a different time, they still want to find a stable partner, have children and own their homes.”

Young people are very careful about choosing their life partner, which is why several long-term relationships are not unusual. The most important thing for them is to have someone to lean on when they feel threatened.

“Other studies tell us that there are two perspectives on relationships. One says that a relationship can only work if two people fit together like two pieces of a puzzle by ‘finding the right one’. The other one assumes that a relationship is something you have to work on. Most of our respondents believe the former,” says researcher Lenka Lacinová. She finds it interesting that the myth of “the right one” survives into adulthood, even when people stop believing other myths from their adolescence.

Good career prospects are a must in a job
Respondents proved to be just as demanding when it came to finding a job as they were in finding a partner. They stressed that they felt immense pressure to perform well as students and later as employees. At the same time, however, they claimed to be highly independent decision-makers. For example, the vast majority asserted that they studied the programme of their own choice; only a very small percentage admitted the influence of someone else, such as parents.

In general, the data shows that the respondents study what they want to study, have side jobs that correspond with their interests or have already found a job that they find meaningful. Among other benefits of the study, mapping Generation Y can help employers understand how to approach their young workers if they want to retain them.

“Companies should not forget to offer these employees good prospects and ask them if they can see themselves working for the company in the future or if they are looking for another job. They can now expect an honest answer. Twenty years ago, admitting that I was looking for other options would have been unthinkable and would make the employee seem unreliable. These days, the opposite is true: it is important to ask this question,” says Stanislav Ježek.

However, both Ježek and his colleagues stress that the one defining feature of the studied generation is that the results of the study cannot be generalized and should not give rise to expectations that all the people in this age group will have the same preferences.

In the UK, for example, psychologists have already warned that this can be a significant obstacle for people who want to start a family or a company in their early twenties. Jobs with long-term prospects simply are not offered to people this young any more, since nobody expects them to stay for long. Another disadvantage is that these jobs often pay very little and sometimes nothing at all.