Global Trends 2020

Reactions to uncertainty and inequality

Despite continuing improvements in health and quality of life worldwide, anxiety about the future pervades in many countries. Seventy-eight per cent of people agree we live in an increasingly dangerous world and 52% expect a global conflict to erupt in the next 25 years. Concern about the speed of change is another trigger; eight in ten say the world is changing too fast. This feeling of a lack of control is higher among those living in emerging markets such as Turkey (95%) and Mexico (92%) who have seen a great deal of social and economic change in their lifetimes.

This trend also encompasses some of the key reactions to this ‘loss of the future’ – namely a strengthening of tradition and populists who claim to represent traditional values. Common reactions include seeking certainty in traditional views on religion, gender roles and the nation state, among others. Half (46%) feel it is important that people from their country remain ‘very different’ to all other nationalities, including three-quarters of Turks (74%) and two-thirds of Chinese citizens (64%). Meanwhile, 62% feel very proud of their country overall, and there are only four countries where less than half agree with this statement (South Africa, Italy, Belgium and Germany).

While just over half (54%) feel their religion or faith is very important to them, this varies dramatically across the world; between 94% in Indonesia and 18% in Japan. Those living in big cities are more likely to agree (58%), reflecting the importance ascribed to religion and identity in the cultural clash fostered by megacities, and where the global megacities are (Asia, Africa and Latin America).

Taking a closer look at traditional gender roles, since 2013, roughly four in ten have continued to believe that the role of women in society is to be good mothers and wives. A reminder that increasing equality in developed and European markets is not a worldwide trend. Gen Z are less likely to agree than older age groups (34%), and this may signal a liberal shift in attitudes in the future driven by generational replacement, as has been observed in research in Europe and America.54

Four in ten globally still say that the role of women is to be good mothers and wives

The search for comfort in a more secure and appealing past is in part driving populism, the revolt against the elites who are seen as responsible for the current state of things. Around the world, more than half of citizens (55%) say they want a strong leader instead of their current government – including 78% of Romanians, 67% of Britons and 49% of French citizens. Support is higher still among the lower-middle classes, with six in ten of those on medium incomes agreeing (58%). However, there are signs that 2016 may have been the high-water mark of populist sentiment, at least in Europe. For example, the proportion who agree we need guides and mentors more than politicians fell by nine percentage points in Spain and eight points in Italy between 2016 and 2019.

Along with capitalism’s turning point, this trend looks to continue long into the 2020s, as western societies remain deeply pessimistic about the opportunities available to their younger generations. As we noted in 2016, this looks completely different in Asia, of course, where optimism is much higher.

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