Young people say religion remains gap for community relations: Young Life and Times survey 2015
by Sophie AUMAILLEY for Northern Ireland Foundation
20 September 2016
As part of the T:BUC Engagement Forum, Dirk Schubotz presented his work as director of the annual Young Life and Times survey.
The poll analysed young people’s attitudes to community relations, with a particular interest in cross-community contact, sense of belonging, and identity.
The Young Life and Times survey (YLT) has been carried out since 2003.
Its main aim is to monitor views of young people about their lives in Northern Ireland.
As it delivered annual results since twelve years, the survey allows the observation of changes in attitudes and opinions over the past decade in Northern Ireland.
Moreover, results from the Young Life and Times survey can be compared with the same study carried out on adults, the annual Northern Ireland Life and Times survey (NILT), which was established in 1998.
The YLT survey is based on a random sample of 16-year-old people, responding anonymously by postal survey.
Dirk explained that this method presents the advantage of reducing self-censorship.
Indeed, face-to-face interviews could produce compliance with what researchers expect young people to answer.
The survey shows three principal findings.
The first main result highlighted that young people have more negative views than adults.
For example, when 52% of adults in the NILT survey think that community relations are better than five years ago, only 47% of young people said so.
Likewise, only 38% of young people believe that community relations will be better in five years time, while 46% of adults are optimistic about it.
Dirk interpreted these results as the lack of direct experience of young people with the conflict.
Another woman pointed out that family history can weigh on young people’s views, pushing them towards loyalty to people who have died before.
Interestingly, Dirk indicated that surveyed people usually feel that their own views are more optimistic than the views of the others in the society.
The second principal finding was that there is a narrowing gap in attitudes to community relations between Catholics and Protestants.
Statistically speaking, no difference can anymore be found between the two groups.
Finally, the survey tested the impact on communal attitudes of teaching young people about their rights.
What it showed is that rights education involves more positive attitudes and a better sense of belonging to Northern Ireland among young people.
When educated about their rights, young people also tend to have a greater feeling of their importance in the community and in wider society.
One lady noted here that it is regrettable that there has been no additional funding for this teaching anymore.
Overall, the survey displays quite pessimistic results.
In fact, it shows very little changes since 2003, and even fewer transformations of attitudes towards national identity.
On a more optimistic side, the survey reflects really slow but gradual progresses over time.
Level of contact appears to have improved.
There is good evidence in the survey that young people tend to mix more and build more cross-community friendships.
Also, attitudes towards community divisions are gradually changing.
For example, when 86% of young people in 2003 would say religion will always matter in community relations, it has dropped to 78% today.
However, three quarters still think the religious division is a wide gap for community relations.
In the end, the YLT survey and the presentation of Dirk Schubotz show that the way towards peaceful community relations is a progressive and slow journey that still requires much effort.