Generation Y – Comparing Germany and China

Event: Society and Politics

How do young people in China and Germany want to live? What values and traditions are important to them? How do they want to work? These questions and many more were raised at a series of events of FES Shanghai on the topic “Generation Y in China and Germany” from May 24th to May 27th.

The term Generation Y refers to the group of people born between 1980 and 1995, today aged between 20 and 35 years. They are believed to hold opinions and values that greatly differ from previous generations. With new opinions on work, leisure, consumerism and relationships, they have the potential to change existing patterns of work and question old values. To discuss this potential, possible changes and challenges with both a young audience and various partners of the foundation, FES Shanghai invited two German experts in this field: Prof. Dr. Jutta Rump from the Institute of employment and employability at IBE Ludwigshafen, an expert on the issue of the future of work as well as Kerstin Bund, a journalist from Die ZEIT and author of the book “Glück schlägt Geld – Generation Y: Was wir wirklich wollen” about Generation Ys values and how this generation shapes the workplace.

In order to involve exactly this generation in the discussion, FES Shanghai, in cooperation with Tongji University and CDHK, hosted an open-to-the-public panel discussion at Tongjis German Library where the two German experts were joined by Prof. Yu Hai, a sociology professor from Fudan University and expert on the Chinese Post 80-generation, as well as by Ms. Liu Chang, a Tongji student and chairwomen of the Chinese-German student union “Chinesisch-Deutsches Fenster”.

To get things started, Ms. Bund and Prof. Dr. Rump both gave a short input. Ms. Bund started by characterizing Germanys Generation Y as getting a lot of attention from their parents, having a seemingly unlimited supply of options to choose from and always being online. She went on to highlight various value shifts, like the popularity of sharing instead of owning, valuing the meaning of work more than the status symbols attached to it and their need for a work-life-balance as well as family friendly practices at the workplace. Ms. Bund also pointed out that all of this is happening in the wake of an affluent society and post-materialism, as well as more equal relationships between men and women.

Kerstin Bund writes for the German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” and published the book “Glück schlägt Geld” (Happiness beats money) which was also the central message of her presentation.
Kerstin Bunds central message is “happiness beats money”

Prof. Dr. Rump layed the emphasis of her speech on Generation Y and the workplace. She explained how achievement orientation, expectations regarding leadership, team work, hierarchy and work-life-balance have changed. Individualization and flexibility have gained importance and the line between work and private life is becoming blurrier and blurrier. Due to the demographic change and the resulting shortage of skilled workers, this generation has the power to make such demands in the first place.  She illustrated the changed expectations regarding leadership and hierarchy by telling the audience about one of the job interviews she has held. At the end of the interview the candidate produced his own list of questions to evaluate her as a potential boss and eventually telling her, she did quite well and he would consider to work for her. He finished by asking when he would be able to take his first sabbatical. While Mrs. Rump admitted to being taken aback by this behaviour, to her it was the clear manifestation of Generation Ys new attitude towards work and authority. For the curious reader: The applicant ended up being offered the job and taking it.

After the discussion, speakers and participants could continue their talks with some snacks and a drink. 6. On the 26th of May, Kerstin Bund held a presentation at the USST on the changing values of the Generation Y in Germany.
During and after the discussion, the audience was very engaged with the topic

During the panel discussion itself, further light was shed on these topics and various others from both the Chinese and German side. A lot of aspects and concerns appeared to be similar but influenced by a different context. Chinese and German young adults share quite a few characteristics but for example the influence of the one-child-policy is apparent on the Chinese side as emphasized by Prof. Yu Hai, who also repeatedly voiced his wish that the younger Chinese generation would show more interest in social commitments. On other issues differences with the German Generation Y were obvious: Due to the different economic circumstances, Ms. Liu Chang explained that jobs are being chosen mainly for their career prospects and not their meaningfulness while of course everyone would like to have a meaningful job. A controversial discussion ensued regarding the topic whether father or mother should stay at home to raise the child. Different opinions were held by Prof. Yu Hai and Ms. Liu Chang and a member of the audience who picked up the topic again during the open discussion.

On the 26th of May, Kerstin Bund held a presentation at the USST on the changing values of the Generation Y in Germany.

That the whole discussion really hit a nerve with the mainly young audience showed both in the number of attendees and the issues raised during the open discussion, which ranged from mobility, family and the development of work towards questions about how to reconcile values of the older and younger generation in China. Even after the event a lot of students stayed behind to discuss these topics further with both the experts and fellow students.

The topic of Generation Y and changing attitudes concerning life and work was also further discussed during two lecture events at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology (USST) and the Shanghai Academy of Social Science (SASS).  At both institutions Ms. Bund gave a presentation on the Generation Y in Germany and afterwards engaged in a fruitful exchange with researchers and students about issues and challenges faced by the young generation in Germany and China.

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