Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 172 | Noviembre 1995



Nicaraguan Youth: What Do They Want and What Are They Like?

Nicaraguan young people want to live in a better country. They are not interested in politics and are fairly unorganized. They know their rights, but not so much their duties. Above all, they want to work, and they aspire to good professional training.

UCA San Salvador

Nicaraguan youth, "the muchachos," led the challenge to the Somocista dictatorship during the 1970s. They were at the forefront of the revolutionary project and its civic and military defense in the 1980s. Those peasants who risked their lives opposing this project were also young.

Nicaraguans between 15 and 24 years of age are today a third of the national population and will be a sixth of the voters in the 1996 elections. What do they think? What do they hope for? What do they believe in? What do they feel about their country?
In August, the Central American University (UCA) did a representative poll (using methodology for a sample with an uncertain margin of error) of 1,572 youths between 15 and 24 years old in 22 municipalities of Managua, Masaya, León, Matagalpa and Chontales. The results, extensively summarized here, can contribute to an improved understanding of the nation's reality and a more adequate formulation of alternatives so that together we can transform this reality.

Three quarters of those polled live in urban areas, the majority in Managua; 791 are male and 781 female; 43.3% are 15 18 years old and 56.7% are 19 24.

Education and Religion

With respect to education, 19.4% finished primary school, 57.4% went on to high school and 16.6% have some higher education, although only 21 of the 262 at this level have finished their studies. It is important to point out that 1.3% stated they were illiterate. Adding to this the 11.3% who did not complete their primary school studies brings us to 12.6%, which could be considered an approximate functional illiteracy index among youth today. The percentage is somewhat higher in rural than in urban zones, and there is barely a difference between men and women.

Of those polled, 87% said they are religious, 82.8% of them Catholic, 15.4% Protestant and only 1.8% belong to other religions. The majority of the 13% who belong to no religious group are urban males. A high percentage of rural youth and women in general are believers.

Work and Study

A significant number of those polled (37.7%) study exclusively and 20.4% work exclusively, while 19.2% do both and 22.7% do neither. The latter is a significant number of youths excluded from the right to both study and work. Male youth are more economically active than females.

Of those who work, 30.2% do so in the informal sector: 20.4% as vendors and 9.8% as merchants. Urban and rural wage laborers make up 23.9% and 25% do technical work. A significant number, 64.3%, say they have permanent jobs, 27.1% temporary and the rest (8.76%) occasional.

The 357 who neither study nor work abandoned their studies at different levels, in which economic reasons appear as the determining element for over 50%: 24.3% to support their family economically and 13.1% because they could not afford the school fees Other economic reasons included not having money for books, school hours that affected their work, and preferring work over studies. More young men gave these reasons, while the women tended to have more personal reasons: they got married, had children, had to take care of their children or do household chores.

Family Structure

A large number of the youths are relatively evenly divided between small and medium sized families: 42.1% in families of 5 members or less and 45.7% in families of 6 to 9 members. The other 12.1% live in families with over 10 members.
A significant 43.7% live with both parents, and 28.4% with only one 3.6% with the father and 24.8% with the mother. Another 11.7% 184 youths live with their partner.

Given the family structure above, it is interesting that 20.1% of the youths say they have children, implying having engaged in sexual relations at a young age. Of those, 55.3% have one child, and 16.8% from three to five.

The following family situations were listed as affecting the lives of the youths polled: excessive parental control, physical abuse, disunity. Adding the percentage of youths who consider that older people have little confidence in them to those who feel they have no confidence, the total is 79.1%. A great majority feel unappreciated or undervalued by adults. In the reverse case, the youths' confidence in older people: 51.2% said they felt little trust and 42.3% great trust.

Free Time

Between 47.4% and 60.7% of those polled participate in obligatory activities such as housework, helping parents and studies, depending on the case. Among the activities with acquired commitment (religious, social organizations), religious activities predominate with 38.4%.

The most strongly preferred free time activity is listening to music and the radio (81.2%), followed by watching television (76.1%), talking with friends (70.6%) and sleeping (58.8%). Of the 38% who responded that they engage in some kind of sport, more were men (56.3%) than women (19.5%).

Although the general statistics for liquor consumption in our country are high, drinking as a free time activity only appears among 11.3% of those interviewed, with a higher percentage among men (18.3%) than women (4.1%) and among the urban sector (12.2%) than the rural (8.7%). Only 2.1% of those polled, 33 youths, said they use drugs.

Organizational Involvement

Just over 43% said they belong to at least one organization. Women participate less than men (54.7% vs. 59.1%), and the rural sector less than the urban sector in a similar proportion.

Religious movements (18.4%) and sports clubs (11.3%) are the "organizations" with greatest participation. Few of the youth said they belong to student movements (9.6%) or youth movements (6.6%), and even fewer (4.5%) to political parties. In the latter case, participation is lower among women than men (3.7% vs. 5.3%), and practically equal in rural and urban areas. A significant 77.6% consider youth organizations interesting, although they do not belong to them.

Under 4% said they belong to cultural, environmental, peasant or community movements or health brigades. Unions, womens' organizations and the ethnic movement had the least participation, with under 2% each.

Views on political parties were almost evenly divided between the 34.4% who give little importance to belonging to parties, 32.6% who think it very important and 33% who give parties no importance at all. Belonging to a union is very important for 41%, of little importance for 33% and has no importance for 26%.

Among those who participate in at least one organization or movement, the highest acceptance rate (88.4%) is for organizations that are voluntary. Other reasons for participating (tradition, obligation, personal interest and others) have lower percentages.

Participation and permanence in an organization is largely motivated by credibility, clear objectives and goals, and work styles and methodology that are coherent with those goals. Of those organized, 49.5% said their organization takes them into account in decision making.
The importance that those interviewed gave to participation in organizations and social movements is indicative of their appraisal of those same organizations. Social, union, religious and athletic organizations are considered important by the youth, with percentages ranging from 64% to 89.4%. Health brigades are in first place as the most important organization to belong to.

Those who said they participate in no organization or movement gave various reasons. The primary one was lack of time (50.3%), which could be interpreted as a certain disposition to participate if they had the time. Other reasons were: they don't like to (43.3%), they prefer doing something else (15.5%), they are not interested (17.6%) and it is a waste of time (2.9%).

Rights and Responsibilities

The rights the youth believe they should have include studying (99.3%), jobs (98.6%) and recreation (98.2%). These rights are recognized in similar percentages by men and women and by both rural and urban youths.

Only 29.2% expressed knowledge of some of their responsibilities, while a significant 70.8% did not answer this question. The main responsibilities recognized were: respect and support the family (32.9%), study (30.8%) and work (13.2%). To a lesser degree was helping society (5.2%). It is very significant that only 0.8%, 11 youths, consider it their duty to obey the country's laws.

The Country's Major Problems

The youth were asked their opinion about problems they consider to be affecting the country. They pointed to unemployment as the greatest problem (42.2%), followed by economic problems, specifically the high cost of living (32.9%), and lagging far behind in third place, crime (7.7%). Health and education were in fourth and fifth place and political problems in sixth (5.2%).

The three causes of the country's problems the youth listed are, in descending order of importance: current government policies (80.2%); constant strikes and unrest (75.8%); political instability (75.3%); administrative corruption (74.5%); the past war (63.4%); low educational quality (58.8%); armed actions in rural areas (53.1%); the previous government (51.9%); and people do not want to work (30%).

Social problems were generally considered very important and were ordered as follows: bad health service (92.7%); bad education service (85.3%); rape (84.7%); drug use (83.3%); AIDS (79.3%); gangs (78.7%); bad drinking water service (78%); sexual attacks against youth (77.3%); unsafe conditions at night (77.3%); bad energy service (77.3%); prostitution (73.3%); and bad transport services (64.7%).

In terms of the country's economic problems, the youth were presented with a series of propositions they were asked to categorize as very important, of little importance or of no importance. The primary problems noted as very important were: the lack of jobs (95.7%); low salaries (92.7%); high cost of living (87.7%); having to drop out of school (80.3%); and the lack of financing for production (74.9%).

Politics, Parties and Politicians

The youth split 80% to 20% on the issue of political participation. Of the 20% who said that they are interested in participating in politics, 61.8% are men and 72.3% live in urban areas. Of the 80% not interested, 52.5% are women and 71.4% live in urban zones.

The 20% who expressed interest in politics gave various reasons, the most common of which were to help people (33.8%) and to help change the country (18.6%). The main reasons given by the 80% who are not interested in politics are that they do not like or believe in politics (53.4%); politics are dirty and corrupt (11.2%); and do not help anything (7.6%).

In relation to the youths' confidence level in government institutions and branches of the state, the category "great confidence" was always under 50% for each of the institutions. The government institutions enjoying the greatest confidence are the Education Ministry (34.5%) and Labor Ministry (21.9%). The Supreme Electoral Council is the branch of state with the greatest confidence (16.4%); the National Assembly received 12.6% of great confidence and the Supreme Court 11.5%. Youths demonstrated less confidence in the army (13.3%) than in the police (17.8%). Only 7.2% of them have great confidence in the presidency, while 26% have great confidence in their mayor.

Why do the youth have a negative vision of those who govern the country? The reason in first place is that they live in luxury (88.7%), followed by the opinion that they abuse resources (75%); are corrupt (65.5%); and do not care about people's problems (47.3%). Those who gave favorable opinions put them in this order: they are workers (38.3%); they work for the people's good (26.5%); they are simple (22%); and honest (13.2%).

The youths notably expressed little confidence in the country's laws. Only 17.6% said they had great confidence, while 39.1% said they had no confidence.

The level of knowledge about the country's main political parties was tested, as was knowledge of the parties' respective programs and statutes. The FSLN is the party most known by its acronym (82.3%), its name (79.3%), its leaders (66%), its program (15.3%) and its statutes (10.6%). The PLI and PLC occupy second and third place for knowledge of this information. Confidence levels in political parties appear in table 1 on the following page.

Confidence in social organizations like the Student Movement (42.5%) and the Community Movement (25.1%) is greater than in the parties, although this does not mean that the youths belong to these movements.

Among social actors, the Catholic Church enjoys the greatest confidence. More than half of those polled (52.9%) said they had great confidence in the Catholic Church; 22.8% little confidence and 24.3% no confidence. Almost a quarter of the youths (24.4%) have great confidence in evangelical churches, 33.1% little confidence and 42.4% no confidence.

To identify youths' opinions about national leaders, they were asked to mention the names of the three people in the country they most admired. A high percentage mentioned their parents or relatives. Significant percentages mentioned Cardinal Obando, Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Alemán. In some cases the youths responded with names of friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, or historic figures (see table 2).

Priorities in Life

Asked about their priorities in life, the majority said their greatest one was having a job (89.2%). This was followed by being healthy (88.3%); being able to live in peace with God (87.8%); being a professional (86.6%), having security in the country (86.2%); having a good salary (85.1%); being free to live (84.7%); being able to form a family (83.5%); having a trade (80.2%); having fun (71.7%); and having land to work or for a house (66%).

To find out youth's expectations, they were asked to mention their hopes for the future. Far more than any other, they noted having more work (29.3%) and having a profession (20%). Having a family is the first aspiration of only 7.4%.

The great occupational dream of Nicaraguan youth is to finish a university career and become a professional: is 59.5% want to be a professional, 19.7% want a technical career and 20.8% aspire to more short term studies. One way or another, their general desire is to be technically or professionally prepared, because they consider that this will put them in better shape to face life. They believe that Nicaragua's development will basically be measured by the preparation of its youth and job opportunities for them.

On the Country

When asked what they considered a useful way to change the country's situation, the majority opted for stability: more dialogue (89.6%) and civic dissent (74.6%); a near unanimous 91.9% rejected violent protest. They also exclude, or at least do not make explicit, the structural problems that decidedly influence Nicaragua's reality. A question about what they personally can do to improve the situation was open, for them to answer as they wished. Study more (37.1%) and work more (21.8%) were the most common opinions.

A full 88.8% said that they like living in Nicaragua and the other 11.2% were clear that they do not. When those who like living in Nicaragua were asked why, the predominant reason given was that it is their native country (58.3%). In a distant second place was that they love their country (9.3%).

Among the arguments given by the 181 youths who said they do not like living in Nicaragua, 40.8% said it is a country with many problems. This was followed by lack of employment (28.4%), it is a dangerous country with lots of violence (18.3%) and they see no future for their lives (12.4%).

When the youths were asked what country they would like Nicaragua to be like, 18.8% did not know or did not respond. Of the 81.2% who responded, 52% wanted it to be like the United States, 31.7% like Costa Rica, 4.5% like Cuba and 11.7% like "another country."

Finally, when the 1,572 youths were asked how they imagine Nicaragua in the next five years, 95.4% answered 49.9% imagining it better than now, 27.8% worse and 22.3% the same. This means that half of our youth sees no hopeful future for our country.

By Researchers of the Vice Rectorship of Graduate Studies of the Central America University (UCA) of Managua.

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