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A closer look at the lost generation

A new study highlights the plight of young Spaniards – and their attitudes.


Spain's angry youth.

Spanish youth: out of work and angry.

On a day when Spain’s unemployment figures have once again broken records, I was drawn to another set of data which may be equally bleak, but which offers a more subtle insight into how the country functions.

A poll commissioned by Cadena SER looks at the attitudes of Spaniards aged between 22 and 30, the so-called “lost generation” who, we have been repeatedly told, can’t find a job, can’t buy a house and hate their politicians.

All of that is confirmed in this study, but a breakdown of the figures makes for fascinating reading. The most shocking finding for me was that only 38 percent of young people live exclusively off their own revenue; 21 percent survive with the help of family or friends, 19 percent combine their salary with family help to get by. Another 13 percent get by on a mysterious category called “other help”, and eight percent live off unemployment benefit.

This obviously ties in with the well-documented lack of independence of young Spaniards and the poll goes on to show that half of them would like to stop being dependent but can’t. A quarter say they would like to have children but can’t, also for financial reasons.

Attitudes to work were also telling. Roughly equal numbers of interviewees expressed a preference for having a salary (47 percent) and having their own business (44 percent). “The enterprising spirit is quite common among young people,” remarks Cadena SER.

Or is it? A preference for having your own business if given the choice isn’t the same as starting your own business. A recent article by Smart Planet took an in-depth look at this aspect of Spain’s business world, drawing the conclusion that there is a massive entrepreneurial deficit among young people.

The sons and daughters of the post-Franco world aren’t living to make ends meet, but are simply waiting for their ideal job or are opositando, the truly Spanish phenomenon of studying for the highly competitive civil service exams. Many, on their parents’ dime, study nine hours a day, six days a week for these exams, for one to five years at a time, while some of these jobs-for-life can see 1,000 applicants for only three spots.

As one entrepreneur at a networking event recently said, “You’re 23 years old with your whole life ahead of you and all you can dream of is to be a public servant?”

All of which may sound a little tough on the “lost generation”. But the article does pull out a stunning and disturbing fact to back up its overall theory that young Spaniards have the entrepreneurial spirit squeezed out of them throughout their formative years: a head of the MBA program at the Complutense University explained how students’ “entrepreneurial behaviour” was actually higher when they started the course than when it finished.

“The university was deterring them from starting their own business,” the program head said.

As Spain’s politicians, business leaders, academics, teachers, parents and youngsters survey today’s unemployment figures, and a jobless rate of over 55 percent for the under-25s, they might all consider what can be done to change this tragic situation.

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Published: Mar 4 2013
Category: Iberoblog, Featured
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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2 Comments for “A closer look at the lost generation”

  1. Interesting article. I’d say there’s a lack of entrepreneurial spirit and ambition, which isn’t helped by an overly-didactic education system that basically feeds information to students. Sitting round and waiting for the dream job, meanwhile, seems to be a phenomenon affecting many of that generation, regardless of nationality.

    • The government doesn’t exactly help with Spain’s entrepreneurial spirit and ambition either, it’s near on impossible for startup businesses and to be 100% honest – I’m surprised any form of business can perform and survive. The government needs to make it easier for companies in Spain then I’m sure we would see a marked improvement in employment figures.

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