Do young Swiss believe they will have a better life than that of their parents? Aged between 16 and 25 years old, they are the technicians, doctors, politicians and artists of tomorrow. They trust in the future, yet are also very pragmatic.
In Bern, the sun is shining. It is lunchtime and on the lawn of the Grosse Schanze, a leafy park abutting the university, young people are gathering for casual picnics.
Chatter and laughter can be heard amongst the small groups. The terraces of the park’s restaurant are completely packed. But for young people under 25 years old, restaurants are still an out-of-reach luxury.
Standing on your own two feet
“When you're young, money flows like water through your fingers," jokes Gerber, an 18-year-old apprentice watchmaker from Basel. “I want to move out, because I don’t have a great relationship with my parents. But I need to have CHF1,000 ($1,113) more per month in order to live independently,” he explains. At the moment he only has CHF800 per month at his disposal.
The extra cash would make it possible for him to rent an apartment together with his girlfriend and a friend. Gerber knows there is no way he will be able to earn that amount in the coming year so is considering an extreme option, namely, "getting into debt ... so I can move out".
According to Federal Statistical Office data from 2013, there are 1.1 million Swiss residents between the ages of 16 and 25, in a total population of about eight million.
The Youth Barometer 2013, a survey carried out by the Credit Suisse bank and the GfS Bern polling and research institute, states that almost seven out of ten young people in Switzerland have trust in what the future will bring.
For young people in the United States, the “American Dream” is just a dream, and today home ownership and following their own dreams are equally top priorities. For the Swiss, pursuing their own dreams is the top goal, and then an ideal work-life balance.
Political scientist Lukas Golder of the GfS Bern institute says Swiss society offers a high degree of safety as well as an environment in which people are able to realise their individual dreams and at the same time achieve economic prosperity.
“They know that this is not a problem as long as you do some kind of training or go to university. And it is also clear to them that it isn’t necessary to earn millions to live well. That’s why they don’t try to pursue unattainable goals. This is positive, but a consequence is that there are fewer entrepreneurs and daredevils in Switzerland than in other countries."
Corinne, a medical student from Lausanne and future surgeon, says: "Young Swiss are pragmatic, they want to earn money and be independent. Whereas some choose a long period of study, others do a shorter apprenticeship,” the 24-year-old continues.
“Regardless, it’s clear to everyone that education is important. I only know a few people who have chosen careers as artists. Maybe there aren’t that many dreamers anymore - at least among the people I know.”
Not affected by crisis
Golder ascribes the optimism of these young people to the advantages of the dual track education system, which is comprised of university education and apprenticeships. “This makes it possible for 17 or 18-year-olds to find an apprenticeship and already have a relatively comfortable job when they’re just over the age of 20," he explains.
But their confidence also has to do with the fact that while the last world economic crisis jolted the banks and companies in the country, it "hardly touched young people", says Golder.
Francesca Poglia Mileti, professor at the University of Fribourg, is currently engaged in research about the relationship of young people to money. She views the situation differently.
"Sure, you can say that Switzerland is not affected by a major economic crisis, on the other hand, today it’s particularly difficult for young people with little education to find a job," she says.
Making ends meet
Regardless of their future profession, most young Swiss start learning how to manage money in childhood.
“Even as children they get monthly pocket money from their parents and decide how they want to spend it. If they want to buy something more expensive, they need to think twice before they spend their money on sweets,“ says 25-year-old Stefan from Zurich. He works at a research institute and is an active member of a political platform for Swiss youths.
“This is how they learn to save. I find teaching children how to manage money a very good idea,“ he says.
During the first year of an apprenticeship, at around 16 to 17 years old, earnings are typically between CHF500-800 per month, of which about two-thirds is spent on health insurance and entertainment.
“It seems right to me that children and young people learn to be responsible. You have to learn that someone has earned the money that you spend. Everything costs ... the apartment, the food. During an apprenticeship you don’t give your entire paycheck to your parents, but definitely a part of it," says 20-year-old Lisa from Bern.
She has a part-time job at a fast-food chain and is taking a preparation course for a secondary school diploma. Although she is not yet sure what career she would like to have later on, she is already economically independent. She rents an apartment together with two other teenagers and knows she has to avoid superfluous spending in order to make ends meet.
"I think it's very good that parents are strict and children have to contribute to the household budget," says Olivia. The 20-year-old lives with her parents in Bern but pays for her mobile phone and public transport costs, as well as a portion of the family budget.
Olivia works at the Swiss Federal Railways and wants to finish the school diploma so she can study languages, business administration, or marketing at a university of applied sciences.
Do these young Swiss believe that they will have a better life than their parents? The interviewees are convinced that at a minimum, the means to do so will be at their disposal. And if not, they also see a solution.
"You just have to spend less. People who earn CHF8,000 per month can maybe go on more holidays or have more luxuries than those who earn CHF6,000. But in the end you don’t lose anything really essential. Money alone can’t make you happy in life," says Stefan.
According to the Youth Barometer 2013 only 4% of young Swiss currently have any outstanding loans. In the US and Brazil the figure is six times higher.
"From the culture here, the Swiss are accustomed to saving. Families adjust their budget to their means. Parents do not go into debt as in the US in order to finance their children's education," explains Golder.
Four out of the five youths randomly stopped and questioned by swissinfo.ch were against going into debt and definitely against doing so in order to buy an automobile or technology.
Poglia Mileti agreed that debt as a consumption pattern is frowned upon in Switzerland. But she also pointed out that her research was finding that young people of foreign descent get into debt more easily, as they often have lower levels of education, which are reflected in lower earnings.
Swiss educational system
Compulsory education consists of six years of primary or elementary school and three years of secondary school, which imparts a solid general education in languages, mathematics, history and geography. The second, non-compulsory cycle is divided into vocational or academic training, which is completed by 90% of young people.
Seven out of ten young people do apprenticeships, which combine school with work at a company. The rest attend gymnasium, an academic high school, and do finishing exams, the successful completion of which allows them automatic access to a university.
By Andrea Ornelas, swissinfo.ch
(Adapted by Kathleen Peters)