Tunisia’s population comprises more than 2 billion 421 million youth between the ages of 15 and 29. Looking forward from the current social and economic crisis in which the country is mired, how do these young people envision their future? A study entitled « Youth in Tunisia » by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation set out to answer these questions.
Published on October 3, the study was carried out by the university professor and researcher of social sciences Imed Melliti. It focuses on three main themes in relation to Tunisian youth:
- relationship to politics and institutions,
- perception of the economic situation and relationship to work,
- personal plans and prospects for the future.
1,002 youth were surveyed for the purposes of the study, including 487 women and 515 men between the ages of 16 and 30. 17% of respondents were from rural areas, 22% from small cities and 61% from large cities.
The education level among those surveyed was varied. 8% had a low education level (completed primary school or knew how to read and write), 51% had completed middle school, and 40% had graduated high school (taken the baccalaureate exam). Slightly less than one-third were unemployed and not participating in any internship or training. 40% were pursuing studies and approximately one-third had a job.
« Given the critical context in which Tunisia finds itself today, it is vital to survey young people in order to discern what their experience tells us about Tunisian society as a whole and to understand their expectations, as well as what they envision and apprehend about the future. It is also important to question them to know if there is anything left of the social momentum and hopes inspired by the Revolution », writes Melliti.
While two-thirds of those questioned complain of not having money, 36% feel « lucky » or « privileged » in comparison with others. Close to one-third indicate their « indifference » to disparities between themselves and others, and only one-third admit to feeling « frustration ». How to explain this paradox? « Many youth protect themselves, asserting that comparing themselves to others doesn’t interest them », the author observes.
The vast majority of youth (over 80%) identify as middle class. Only 10% describe themselves as « poor », including 6% of young women and 15% of young men.
« Respondents’ tendency to try and preserve whatever they can of their self-esteem, along with mechanisms of social comparison focused on those closest to them within their social microcosms, brings them to believe that they occupy a more average position than is really the case », Melliti explains.
In terms of their relationship to work, 44% of those interviewed affirm that they keep their jobs only because they have no other options. Some offer other reasons, such as the need for security or the importance of keeping a job.
Nevertheless, half of those surveyed also evoke other, less material, pursuits such as « doing something that is meaningful to me », « having the sense of accomplishing something », « having the sense of doing something useful for society » and « the possibility of seeing my ideas come to fruition ».
This dimension is not always present among rural and disadvantaged youth. As Melliti notes, « This is not at all surprising given that the importance of self-expression is widely recognized as a « luxury » which can only be taken into consideration if one’s needs are already being met ».
Regardless of motives, those questioned are not really satisfied with their work. Only 35% affirm being very satisfied. Dissatisfaction is greater among disadvantaged and less educated youth, a category for which the proportion of individuals who express being satisfied with work is nearly 0%.
In spite of their precarious economic situation, youth contribute to household expenses. 40% financially support their families. The percentage is higher among males (47% of men versus 30% of women). However, Melliti notes that women’s participation in household expenses is growing over time.
« Although by and large we remain attached to this traditional representation of the male role in which economic responsibilities within the family are only a question of age, it is also pertinent to note that young women are no longer entirely exempt from this responsibility. Other studies show that parents’ economic expectations for their daughters increase when they have invested significantly in their education », Melliti remarks.
Optimistic against all odds
The country’s young people oscillate between optimism and pessimism. Most feel that not all Tunisians enjoy the same rights within society. This is notably the case among inhabitants of small cities. The vast majority (70%) nevertheless appear confident about the possibility of achieving their career ambitions. More generally, over half indicate that they have an optimistic outlook on life. However, this fact is to be considered in context; the rate of youth who feel certain that they will be able to achieve their career ambitions dropped ten points from data recorded in a similar study in 2016.
Still, such optimism remains largely intact. Melliti attributes this to age. Optimism is a result of one’s « position in the cycle of life: it is difficult to assume a pessimistic attitude at an age when a great deal of energy is needed to propel us forward in life, » he writes.
Although economic security is important to them, youth place great deal of value on life’s less material aspects. These include enjoying a stable and healthy family life, finding a trustworthy partner and living in a safe environment.
On the other hand, most respondents (55%) are not quite so optimistic when it comes to the future of the country. They are particularly concerned about food shortages. They fear hunger and insecurity, as well as the poor management of public establishments. Other, more general concerns that weigh upon them include the impact of the economic crisis and environmental issues. 69% of rural youth are worried about the environmental crisis.
Prospects for the future
In response to the question, « To change your life, what would you be willing to do? », 52% said that they would leave their families for a better professional situation. According to Melliti, this response can be explained by the lack of professional opportunities within their family environment.
31% of respondents (37% of men and 24% of women) indicate that they would not dismiss the possibility of marrying someone who is older or of a different faith. That rate is a significant jump up from 2016, when only 8% of those surveyed would have considered this possibility.
Another option: migration, which has become the new norm among young Tunisians. Only 10% of those interviewed see the emigration of family members as a personal loss. Others benefit from this migration, with 34% reporting that they receive money from these emigrants.
Many (46%, including 50% of men and 41% of women) are also tempted by the prospect of leaving the country. This possibility is a greater draw for youth living in cities (51%) than for those in rural areas (30%). It also appears to appeal more to youth with lower education levels (50%) than to those with higher education levels (42%).
The destination most frequently evoked among those interested in emigrating is Europe. 63% hope to settle in a European country. This percentage is even higher among the youngest age brackets (70%), the least educated (78%), and denizens of small cities (71%).
« While data shows that Tunisian youth are generally optimistic and don’t easily give in to feelings of frustration and defeatism, many nevertheless express their concerns about the deterioration of the political situation, poor management of public institutions and the increasingly difficult economic circumstances in which their families have found themselves », Melliti points out.
As the author concludes, « Although these youth remain confident, there are an especially high number who express their desire to leave the country, probably believing that their salvation and success depends upon it ».