BAB 037/20: Rural youth and sustainability

Initial situation and objective

In the project Youth in the Countryside and Sustainability, it was planned to investigate the attitudes towards ecological conditions of adolescents and young people in the countryside with regard to the Fridays for Future movement. In view of the serious social changes due to the Covid 19 lockdown measures, the focus on social and psychological problems of young people became more urgent from spring 2020. These will now be addressed in advance as part of the project. At the same time, the attitudes of adolescents and young people towards the ecological situation will be examined and questions asked about motivations, what they would need in order to want to live in rural areas. The latter question aims to reduce the migration of young people to urban areas.
This study will examine the impact of social conditions on adolescents and young people in rural areas since March 2020, characterised by great uncertainty, fears, restrictions and bleak future prospects. General guiding questions, which will be specified within the framework of the project, are: How do young people, who are undergoing profound physical and psychological change processes, fare when the external social circumstances are burdensome and threaten their health, even for adults? What support do adolescents and young people need to cope with their fears? What advantages did adolescents and young people living in rural areas have in times of lockdown compared to those living in cities? What were the disadvantages of living in the countryside? What role did social media play? How did and do they deal with the widespread fake news? What do youths and young people in rural areas see as the greatest challenges for their future? What questions do they have about their future in rural areas and what do they need to be able to shape it? What are their ideas of a sustainable lifestyle that makes it possible to avoid the adverse effects on the life systems of the rural area? What are the needs in terms of sustainability so that the basic needs of adolescents and young people in rural areas can be met? What expectations do different groups of young people have of policy-makers in terms of healthy lifestyles that include opportunities for personal fulfilment? The conditions, strategies, structures and values that are necessary to achieve ecological goals and to support young people in rural areas to develop sustainable lifestyles will be examined.

Special attention will be paid to communication. The culture of conversation in our country as well as in the entire western hemisphere has experienced massive restrictions in the past decades. Children and young people are confronted with bullying and slander in schools when they express their own views. It seems as if there is a "linguistic restricted area"
(Rainer Mausfeld) that no one is allowed to enter. Transgressions of this prohibition are punished with ostracism and even character assassination. What do young people need to develop the courage to express their opinions, to discuss with people of different opinions and thus grow into mature, self-determined citizens who form a healthy basis for democratic conditions? These are especially in demand in rural regions, where the behaviour of subservience seems to be more pronounced than in urban areas, both for cultural reasons and due to social control measures. In this context, the question is also explored to what extent social and intellectual confinement, village imperialism, the command to obey and the limited opportunities to develop oneself motivate young people to leave their life in the country behind and move to a city in the sense of "city air makes you free". On the other hand, the question will be addressed as to which social framework conditions youths and young people expect/hope for in order to be able to shape a life in the countryside according to their own wishes and ideas. Last but not least, this study will deal with the concrete fears of youths and young people and how these can be countered.

Justification of the need

The term "fit for grandchildren" demonstrates that the issue of sustainability is inextricably linked to youth, future generations and thus to the future. We cannot solve our current problems with the same mindset that created them. New ways of thinking and new approaches are needed to deal with the environmental, social and economic crises. A main thesis of this study is that young people already have new ways of thinking that can be incorporated into new approaches and policy proposals.

Status of the project

In 2022, literature and internet studies analysed how precarious the situation was due to political decisions against the background of the Covid-19 lockdown measures. As in 2021, there were increasing reports of young people in particular being admitted to hospitals and psychiatric wards after suicide attempts or actually taking their own lives. The physical state of health among young people is also alarming. Accordingly, it is assumed that in 2020 as well as in the following years 2021 and 2022, mental and physical illnesses, suicides and suicide attempts will have increased in Austria due to lockdowns and other measures, and that especially adolescents and young people in rural areas will be affected by fear of the future and destabilising conditions.

Work 2023

Qualitative interviews and workshops with adolescents and young people will be conducted to find answers to the variety of questions. In addition, adolescents and young people will be asked to write an essay or blog post about how they fared in the period from mid-March 2020, what difficulties they had to overcome and what support they would wish for under comparable circumstances. In early 2023, workshops are planned with young people, educators and caregivers to look back on their experiences during the lockdowns and other measures to find out how young people in the country can be offered support in coping with the additional burdens caused by social conditions and restrictions.
The results will be used to test the thesis that people generally deal with the conditions of nature in a caring way when they themselves have experienced care. In this way, the issue of sustainability is explored after analysing the social conditions. In deep ecology, the devastating ecological conditions are seen as a consequence of social neglect. Therefore, the approach chosen in this study was to first analyse the social and psychological conditions of adolescents and young people in rural areas before dealing with their attitudes towards ecological conditions and their needs for a rural area worth living in. In this way, the thesis is tested that if parents, educators and policy-makers in rural areas create caring conditions for children and young people to grow up in, they will be more inclined as adults to live in the countryside and to treat the people in their social environment as well as the natural habitat with care.


Project start: 01/2020
Project end: 08/2023

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Project Status


Project Leader

LOIBL, Elisabeth Elisabeth LOIBL

former employees



Agricultural, Environmental and Food Systems
TAMME, Oliver

M.Sc. Oliver TAMME

Mountain Areas Research and Regional Development
Dietrichgasse 27
1030 Wien
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