Historiska förändringar av ungdomars engagemang i civilsamhället – en demokratifråga?


  • Johan Vamstad
  • Anders Kassman


Historical changes in youth participation in civil society organisations – a matter of democracy?

This article contributes with a nuanced picture of the importance of civil society for young people’s democratic socialisation and opportunities for influence, by studying public statistics on changes in membership rates in national youth organisations. Young people have long been given a special status in society and they are often perceived as either a threat or a promise. Young people’s special status is based on the fact that they do not really belong to the rest of society. They depend in different ways on others for their immediate livelihood, socialisation and for risk protection. But they also have the potential to contribute with new perspectives and change to outdated institutions. Because of their age, young people have been considered to need both democratic schooling and opportunities to find a context to express their commitment. Engagements in associations among young people has therefore been actively encouraged and supported by the state since at least the beginning of the 20th century. The results of this article show that until sometime in the 1970s and 1980s, participation in most types of national youth organisations increased, but that membership numbers subsequently decreased more or less drastically in organisations based on traditional popular mass movements, while others have increased or maintained their membership numbers.

We interpret the historical overview as evidence that the state subsidies since long has survived their purpose. The original mass movement organizations are declining in memberships, despite the efforts and those that are growing often follow the democratic procedures more to live up to the rules of the state than because of the desire to be governed by the will of the members and to change society.