Lost in Translation – What about young people's understanding of values today?

Value Atlas Bavaria: Results of a recent study on the understanding of values of young adults in Bavaria, prepared by the Brunswick Group and the Stiftung Wertebündnis Bayern.

Summary of the results

Assumptions about the decline of values in society and especially among young people are not new. Lately, however, these voices have become louder. If one follows current discussions, one can easily get the impression that value orientation and thus moral behaviour of young adults is decreasing. Together with the Stiftung Wertebündnis Bayern, Brunswick took a deeper look and analysed this topic. In a representative study, young adults between the ages of 16 and 25 in Bavaria were asked about their understanding of values and the relevance of values.

The current study does not confirm the global prejudice that values are declining. The results clearly show that values and value-oriented behaviour are still very important in the lives of the interviewees. However, the significance of individual values and corresponding behaviour is very strongly described in individual, situation-specific contexts. To a lesser extent, this significance refers to society as a whole and is causally associated with rather low socio-demographic characteristics, such as social background and educational level. An in-depth analysis provides explanatory approaches that can be traced back to social megatrends, such as fragmentation, pluralism and an increasingly observable ego-centrism of people today.

The effects of these trends can be seen particularly in the language used in terms of terminology. Young adults already find it difficult to explain the word "values". There is no uniform understanding of the generic term "values" and the respective individual values. The use of these terms no longer resonates with young people based on their experiences and perceptions of their own worlds.

A further observation is an increasing ego-centratism in our society. This is reflected in the present study by the fact that values have a higher relevance in the personal context and, above all, lived by the individual in their environment. Personal advantages and the protection of one's own peer group, based on value-oriented behaviour, are more important than positive effects for society. This perception is reinforced by the fact that less than 40 percent of respondents state that they are actively committed to ensuring that values are upheld in our society.

Finally, the study examines the question of how values are created. The family with its central orientation function is very important but supporting social institutions (e.g. schools) are not exploiting their potential to its fullest. With regard to the effectiveness of projects to increase the awareness of values, but also with regard to the communication of teaching content, there are reasons to be optimistic. The professional environment is also considered to be of great importance with regard to one's own understanding and awareness of values. Values are primarily anchored through "experience". Values are not formed cognitively, but rather through experiences and emotions. At present, communication of values on the part of institutions, especially politicians, is not sufficiently target-group oriented and thus fails to be effective. Institutions, such as companies or even the church, cannot reach the younger generation if they do not manage to empathize with the individual values of their target groups.

In summary, one can say that clear communication that is as individually focused as possible for the recipients is particularly important, if values are to be more consciously and firmly internalized. It is possible to show the target group the benefits of internalizing values by showing them a direct benefit. Values can be conveyed more effectively in the individual context, e.g. via images or contextualised stories, emotions or experiences, than by means of general terms and explanations.

Read more details (in German) about the study here or contact

Katrin Meyer-Schönerr

Nadja Rappold