Millennials more disillusioned with democracy than any generation in a century, study finds

Wealth and income inequality is main issue for youths but former communist countries still report boost

Florida resident Valentine Lugo casts his mail-in ballot at the Winter Garden Library polling station as early voting begins ahead of the election in Orlando, Florida, U.S. October 19, 2020.  REUTERS/Octavio Jones
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Young people are less satisfied with democracy and more disillusioned than at any other time in the past century, especially those in Europe, North America, Africa and Australia, a study by the University of Cambridge has found.

Millennials, people born between 1981 and 1996, are more disillusioned than Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1980, or baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, and the interwar generation of 1918 to 1943.

"Around the world, younger generations are not only more dissatisfied with democratic performance than the old, but are also more discontented than previous generations at similar life stages," the study found.

Protests around the world 

Dissatisfaction is highest in the US, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, France, Australia and the UK.

But satisfaction has increased in Germany, South Korea and many of the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

The main reason behind the disillusionment with democracy among young people was inequality of wealth and income, the report said.

It cited figures that show millennials make up about 25 per cent of the US population but hold only 3 per cent of the wealth.

Baby boomers held 21 per cent of the wealth at the same age.

"This is the first generation in living memory to have a global majority who are dissatisfied with the way democracy works while in their twenties and thirties," said Dr Roberto Foa, lead author of the report.

"By their mid-thirties, 55 per cent of global millennials say they are dissatisfied with democracy, whereas under half of Generation X felt the same way at that age.

"The majority of baby boomers, now in their sixties and seventies, continue to report satisfaction with democracy, as did the interwar generation."

The study suggested the populist challenge to mainstream establishment politics could help to improve democratic engagement by shocking moderate parties and leaders into reversing the decay.

The Cambridge Centre for the Future of Democracy delved into data from more than 4.8 million respondents from 160 countries between 1973 and 2020.