Young people's strategies for social and economic integration in rural areas

Paper to the Nordic Theme Conference, Vaasa, Finland, 4-6th October 2001;
"Children and Youth in Rural Areas - Nordic and European Perspective"

by Ingrid Machold and Thomas Dax
Bundesanstalt für Bergbauerfragen, Wien

Rising unemployment and depopulation trends in peripheral rural areas turned the attention of policy analysis to limited opportunities experienced by young people living in rural areas. The results presented are drawn from the EU-project "Policies and Young People in Rural Development" under the 4th Framework Programme (FAIR6 CT-98-4171) where different aspects of economic and social integration and exclusion of young people in rural areas have been analysed in seven European countries.
Following the qualitative methods applied in the project the paper focuses on young people's views of what they perceive as reasonable options under the various regional contexts. The paper starts with a short presentation of main project findings, concentrating primarily on the situation in the Austrian study area. This includes the views of young people both on educational and labour market conditions and on their involvement in the regional social system. Analysis suggest that there are mainly three strategies young people use to cope with their situation of limited opportunities living in a peripheral rural area: mobilisation, adaptation and out-migration. However, the variety of nuances in between these options is large and must not be underestimated. Beyond that, the decisions are not just affected by opportunities but influence how and what young people realise as choices. Personal assessment, early life experience in family and the value system in a close society shape the capability to retain and accept specific choices or to refuse them as being adequate.

 

1. Introduction

Policies and their influence on opportunities of young people in rural areas have been of major interest in the EU research-project "Policies and Young People in Rural Development (PAYPIRD)" where seven European countries (Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, UK and Austria) analysed different aspects of economic and social integration and exclusion of young people.

While pathways young people actively or passivly choose are contingent upon specific situational and structural factors, most young people are by and large fairly conventional in their behaviour, most of the times and their way of action has to be seen within the circumstances of the dominant culture in the region (Wyn and White 1997).

This paper provides some background information about the local education and labour market situation and conditions of participation in society in a specific rural area in Austria. The focus is on the views of young people, it tries to give some insight into the strategies young people perceive as useful and essential considering their personal future in or outside the region.

2. Methodological aspects

The empirical study is primarily based on qualitative research elements, i.e. semi-structured individual interviews with young people between 16 and 25 years (including a short questionnaire) and subsequently focus group discussions of the same age group. Interviews and focus groups were carried out between December 1999 and March 2000. The methods were selected as appropriate research instruments to gain sufficient insight into and comparability between various groups of young people.

Given the nature of the study, the qualitative approach was central to the interview design to allow young people express their experiences and attitudes and elaborate on aspirations and prospects. In addition, a series of experts' interviews has been used as information source and interpretive element for the analysis of the regional context report, to add their viewpoint to the understanding of rural youth problems and existing realisation of relevant policies and actions.

Each member state selected a study area following the typology of the EU-commission, reflecting the diversity of rural areas conditions across the EU. In the Austrian case the empirical study was carried out in a peripheral mountain region, the study area of Murau, Styria. This region is particularly characterised by its remoteness and low population density and a weak performance of almost all economic sectors. In relation to other comparable regions the situation seems to have even deteriorated over the last decades. Up to the last decade (1981 - 1991) the high birth rate made up for the persistently negative migration balance, but as population scenarios point out, the share of young people will considerably decrease from 16.4% in 1991 to 10.6% in 2021.

Murau is off the main transit routes and hardly connected to the train network, which has had a restrictive effect on industrial development. The lack of regional dynamics is revealed through a rather slow shift of economic activities from primary (and secondary) sector(s) to service activities. It thus is one of the few Austrian regions with still a considerable share of agricultural labour force (20% in 1991), on the other hand tourism is still of minor importance than would be expected in such a mountain region.

3. Education and labour market conditions for young people

With regard to the educational and labour market conditions one can refer to Murau as an area of rather restricted opportunities for young people. Though the employment situation is not marked by obvious problems of outstanding urgency there are some significant developments worth to take a closer look.

In the 1970s Austria has shown strong efforts to increase the educational level of rural areas through a significant and rapid extension of school infrastructure at that period. In many respects this policy reached its aim by diminishing the gap between urban and rural educational levels. In particular, education for women has increased - but unfortunately until now this had not the same consequences on the women labour market.

However, later the participation of young people aged 15 - 24 in education has not continued to progress at the same speed and even stagnated over the 1980s. In Murau only a proportion of about 20% young men and of 28% young women are in education, which is quite modest in an international comparison.

There are two types of high schools in the district of Murau which lead to the qualification certificate enabling to study at the university: Professional high school for domestic education and the general high school, both located in the capital of the district. Other types of schools are located in the neighbouring regions and in the next province of Carinthia (such as gymnasium, technical high schools, commercial high schools). This limited regional school offer is determining the choice of schools for the interviewees. Like it is an unquestioned behaviour in such a region to attend the nearest compulsory school, interviewees orient themselves along regional offers for secondary schools, attaching a decisive role to the possibility of reaching schools.

"Well, I would say, the opportunities of education are really restricted in our district. Because with us there is only the general high school, there are no other schools like commercial or technical high schools. You have to commute to another district or to the capital of styria. I think this is the main problem. (…) I have thought about it to attend a highschool outside the district, but if I have one hour or one and a half hours driving time every day, I attend the high school in Murau." (Konstantin, 18 years, male)

Besides the regional school offer traditional aspects influence young peoples' school decision. For example most farms are handed over to their male heirs, so primarily males are visiting agricultural schools, while school education for women is characterized mainly by domestic schools (9th class level) and professional high schools for domestic education. These qualifications don't seem to help significantly in job search in the district, as it will be pointed out below.

In general participation in education and vocational training is characterised by gender specific patterns and attitudes. Women are more involved in formal higher education, men tend to participate in dual vocational training and thus take advantage from a better integration into the regional labour market. Only a third of young women can manage to find a place of apprenticeship in the study area, while about 60% of young men participate in apprenticeship and thus take advantage from a better integration into the local labour market.

In addition gender specific patterns appear when analysing the offered and selected apprenticeship placements. About 53% of male apprentices concentrate on 10 professions, whereas 78% of the female apprentices account for the 10 most often selected professions, which are moreover of a rather similar kind and mostly in service branches. The division between the male sphere of craft and the female sphere of services has perpetuated for a long time and there is still very little change in gender patterns. Although there are complaints about the shortage of apprenticeship places in general, the situation for young women seem to be even worse. In traditional female professions training places are rare, in traditional male professions female aspirants get no access, even if they show an interest in that kind of work. The separation of the labour market by gender has been addressed by some young women, but usually is immediately pushed back as awkward view where no acitivities could be taken within the region.

"Interviewee: … And Bricklayers, for example, they almost take no girls.

Question: Did you apply for (such an apprenticeship)?

Interviewee: No, I did not. But my father is bricklayer and he said, they don't take girls, because there is simply not the output there." (Susanne, 16 years, female)

Others even have tried to enter such branches, with no success:

"For example, the last time I wrote an application for becoming a paintress; there I received immediately a negative reply, it did not even take two days. And a boy friend of mine has also written (to them), then it was said, yes, he should come for an interview with the company. I find that sort of …" (Evelyn, 16 years, female)

Labour market characteristics are, moreover, rather unfriendly for young people. This goes hand in hand with low paid jobs in the region. Besides jobs in agriculture, forestry, craft and some jobs in the service sector and tourism, the demand, especially for young people with higher education, is rather small. Work experience is of great importance at the job search, thus young people can not rely on high education to secure adequate jobs in the region. In their opinion high school education doesn't help very much in finding a job in the district, employers tend to prefer apprentices.

The rather tight situation of the local labour market can also be derived from the high (and still increasing) number of commuters in the region. Young people have to take up jobs increasingly at a distance where daily commuting is not feasible. In Murau the share of non-daily commuters has reached about 30% in 1991 and for young people between 16 and 25 years it is significantly higher with almost 39%.

The extremely high pressure on young people to commute to jobs outside the study area has a detrimental impact on the job and life perspectives of young people in the greater region.

4. Participation in public life

From the outset of the study aspirations and decisions of young people have been seen as an outcome of economic and social aspects. The empirical work thus tried to enlighten some elements of the social dimension, which tend to be overlooked when addressing exclusion issues. Hence, one of the central issues of the study was the investigation of participation of young people in rural areas in community life. It became clear quite soon that participation has to be understood not in a strict, limited sense of local/regional action but in various kinds of more general participation in different aspects of local society.

The recognition that public activities are heavily influenced by social factors, shaped to a considerable extent by family and social networks influences, had an impact on the analysis: It tried to look also on specific general societal forces, and particular features and attitudes of groups of young people.

One of the most outstanding findings is that the interviewees are considerably fond of the region, despite the economic weakness and remote location. The experience of a "pristine" nature is widely taken as attribute for good health, landscape scenery and sports facilities. Young people are conscious of living in a very special environment and they are mostly proud of it, also in the case when planning to leave the region.

The other dominant impression is a wide-spread feeling of warmth and security and high degree of confidence provided through the fact that "everyone knows everybody". It is an attitude as common that it can be interpreted as a "cultural" trait and common resentment against the anonymity in cities. The intensity and reliability of social contacts within a community is perceived very positively - on the one hand. But the positive image of small communities can easily turn into a disadvantage when young people feel restricted and hindered by the strict forms of social control.

Importance of local associations

When asking for local community activities everyone is immediately addressing the existing local associations and various groups at local level in rural areas (such as the local music association, voluntary fire brigade, rural youth movement, catholic youth movement, different sports clubs, etc.). Associations are of great importance integrating young people in local community structures and traditions (Böhnisch and Funk 1989), thus local opinion leaders have an interest to reach young people in order to tie them to their traditional structures and to secure continuity in community life.

Accordingly local community activities are heavily based on traditional tasks, and activities are similar from one association to the other. Associations are marked through a strong hierarchical structure, where adults - and mainly male adults - decide what's going on. Young people - if they take part in these associations - take these structures as a given fact and join them as they have learnt to do from former generations, being greatly induced to do so by their socialisation process. Thus, it is no surprise that the activities in the local institutions are not seen explicitly as "participation" but as part of everyday life in their rural area.

In particular the "rural youth" movement has an important task as youth organisation in perpetuating local ways of living. So it is not surprising that almost all kinds of cultural manifestations seem to be still rooted in local, traditional sources and reflect traditional culture ("Brauchtum"). Numerous young people of the conservative "rural youth" movement and also others apparently cling to those cultural expressions and are barely attracted by modern, world-wide trends.

"Traditional activities like folkdance and "Schuhplattln". It's simply fun. And that's it. As long as I've fun and moreover I can do it together with my friends. That's what we can do by ourselves for example in the rural youth group." (Franz, 22 years, male)

The rather personal access to the institutions, their development of objectives and rules over time, means an increase of difficulties for those with a traditional distance to these groups. Young people, who have not been "introduced" to the existing organisations by their parents, might regard themselves (and indeed be regarded) to some extent as outsiders and have to overcome psychological barriers to enter the groups and feel accepted. There is a marked correlation between community involvement and social class, gender roles, employment status, territorial aspects etc. This means that a small group of young people is firmly integrated in local networks and striving for a kind of "leadership" role while others feel that they are not accepted by "adults" and their activities would not matter at all. According to the interview sample these are primarily unemployed young persons, those in training schemes and other groups (like lone mothers) being in exceptional situations in comparison to the norm of young people.

Young people's influence in local decision-making

Extending a little bit on the involvement in youth organisation, there appears a lack of specific meeting points and differentiating institutions. Young people don't feel in the least encouraged to take the initiative to organize themselves, it is more likely that there is quite a considerable reluctance towards youth groups not fitting into the local forms of organisations. Again mostly young people who already left the study area talk about "monumental" problems if somebody wants to organise a youth event.

Municipalities are primarily led by men of older age groups, which causes much criticism by young people. In many cases it is referred to that the present local actors are stubborn, older persons with no understanding and interest for the problems of young people.

"Because basically it's the municipality who decides about everything what's going on. And in the municipality there are some pigheaded men, especially some old ones. I think, that's the problem. They are old established. In fact, they're not very much interested in the problems of young people. >>They should behave, the youngsters. It's okay for us.<< That's how it is." (Konstantin, 18 years, male)

Young people also experience very little tolerance towards new ideas and experiments. The fears of sanctions suppress almost every community based activity because nobody wants to take responsibility and be blamed for it, if something goes wrong. The deficiencies of the youth organisations are so evident that many young people have internalised the problem, putting forward primarily excuses why this situation could not be improved. "Young people are so little interested in everything" is the common expression regarding youth participation.

At any rate, there is a wide-spread opinion that efforts for more intensive participation are more or less senseless since most young people will either have to leave or to commute because of educational or vocational reasons.

Influence in decision making processes, if it takes place at all, is mainly to be realised through traditional youth groups such as rural youth groups (with some exceptional starting initiatives, like co-ordination of further education, drug prevention, etc.). But even young people strongly involved in rural youth movement admit that there is little influence of young people in local decision making processes. Only few act like one very active young man - involved in a series of community activities - who plans to candidate as youth representative in the municipality council aiming to push forward youth relevant issues. But it is more likely that the low acceptance rate of proposals and views brought forward by young people deepens the attitude of being in a "waiting position". It is expected that action by government institutions at different levels, by the big relevant regional organisations and by local prime-actors is bringing about improvements to their situation. This view is best visualised by the concentration at the local level on the dependance from the mayor, representing the hope for changes in the community. Influence is measured by personal impact on this key person.

"Well, to join in. I've a good line to the mayor; that works. When I introduce an idea, he's listening." (Christian, 21 years, male)

5. Strategies of young people

This section considers the question how young people try to cope with the narrow range of regional opportunities in the fields of education, labour market and social participation. Analysis suggest that there are basically three strategies young people use implicitly and/or explicitly to handle the situation of limited options in a peripheral rural area. In short they could be formulated as follows: adaptation, mobilisation and out-migration. However, the variety of nuances in between these options is large and must not be underestimated.

For young people interviewed in the study area the weak position and the assessment of labour market(s) are central and of primary importance for their perspectives and personal decision of staying or leaving the region. But this straight forward economic orientation only appears in the foreground as the only deciding line of consideration for this dimension. Options for young people are often explicitly tied to their near personal future, e.g. with regard to live with a partner or with influence of their social network. Moreover the high attachment to the area and the attractiveness of nature and life quality in the area underlines that there is a whole set of other factors equally relevant for young people's decisions.

According to the interviewees the impact of major factors on individual future plans are gender related. While young men put forward mainly economic reasons for staying or leaving such as taking over parents' farms, building houses, and job opportunities, young women mainly stress social aspects concerning family and boy friend. E.g. females decision upon school education is influenced to a significantly larger extent by the wish to stay in the area and by the expectations of family or friends compared to males.

The following section tries to take a closer look at what it actually means for young people to adapt themselves to local/regional opportunities, to mobilise or to out-migrate.

Adaptation

Young people living in a peripheral area are mostly conscious of limited opportunities especially in education and labour market. But those of the young people who want to stay in the region tend to expose "rural life" as their deliberate choice of life strategy, like a dream of life. In respect of the limitations (see above), they develop some sort of pragmatism. On the one hand they focus on the positive sides of rural life (clean environment, close community, peace and silence, etc.). On the other hand adaptations to rural aspects and exigencies are seen as regional norm: Consequently, young people don't express wishes which are not accessible anyway, and they try to argue in such a way to find support for their decisions oriented at regional opportunities.

By adapting their strategies towards the regional labour market young people try to escape the threat of unemployment. The tendency is that they orient their education and skills towards the jobs available in the region. Higher education, like university studies, are not recognised as desirable by young people, at least the statements are rather negative, even if their would be overt interest for it. On the other hand, all young people opting for a university study or some sort of higher education are aware that this is a deliberate choice and chances to come back to the region to get a job are minimal.

"Question: Do you know of jobs here in the area?

Interviewee: You have to work towards it. (…) If you do a university study … I mean, you probably will not find a job here with us. Then you have to go somewhere else, that's clear. You have to adapt somehow to the area. Either (become) electrician, plumber, bricklayer or working in construction branches. Well, because there you get the job." (Heidrun, 23 years, female)

A large number of interviewees stress that the decision which path they want to take after compulsory school was all done by their own. It seems to be an important issue for them to point out, that the job decision mainly has been based on their interest in the special profession. But later on during the interviews the relevance of parents and other persons in this decision making process becomes obvious. Within the family both discussion and the example of parents and other relatives stir up and strengthen the interest for a certain education path or apprenticeship. It doesn't mean that this leads necessarily to adaptation but the probability increases. In particular, the example of the parents has a decisive effect on those males inheriting their parents farm. One male heir therefore is arguing about his decision for apprenticeship in the following way:

"Well I mean, I've been helped, let's say … my father, well, my parents a little bit, and the decision, yes, I've decided on my own practically.

Question: Why did you choose exactly this apprenticeship?

Well, firstly, because I'm, it has been made up for a long time, that I'll inherit the farm and I've always been interested, I've always been an enthusiastic farmer, so it has been the closest to learn mechanic of agricultural machinery." (Georg, 22 years, male)


Another male who chose the same profession as his father:

"Yeah, because it was the most familiar, it was the most interesting thing. I was interested very much. You see, my father, he has always taken me with him, and it has been most interesting. I didn't have to do it, it was my own interest. That's why I've learnt it." (Peter, 24 years, male)

It has to be mentioned that an orientation towards traditional gender related structures and corresponding education and labour market conditions leaves especially young women in a struggle of competing desires. While young women are still caught in (traditional) societal structures, they increasingly reflect changing life-aspirations: Many of them have the ambition of getting a vocational training which fits and pleases them. So, profession and gaining personal satisfying skills is an aim in itself. They envisage their future firstly in their profession, and esteem the wish to set up a family secondary and as a rather distant future plan.

This makes them susceptible to the constraints of labour market. While desires and aspirations of girls concentrate on job, job and vocational opportunities have not changed much. For girls there are still only a small range of choices in the region available. As Wyn and White (1997) conclude: "the system of vocational training has not served in the best interest of women, locating women in the traditional trades of hairdressing, retail and clerical work, and in the lower status and less paid traineeships" (ebd. p.103), this seems to be the case also in Murau.

"For women it is much more difficult, because everything is overcrowded. Like hairdresser, saleswomen and like this. These jobs are all taken. And I really think, girls do have more problems finding an apprenticeship." (Rosa, 22 years, female)

Young women are left on their own with this insufficient situation and furthermore have to cope with the common attitude that when a child is born it is no question that the mother has all the responsibility. But these expectations are in contrast to the actual situation where low wage on the one hand and young mothers being lone partners on the other hand often are forced to look for employment with the need to support a family.

Traditional attitudes about appropriate motherhood and the lack of affordable childcare provisions, which probably reflects the prevailing attitudes, often 'lead women to withdraw from the labour market or to regard their employment as secondary to their family responsibilities' (Shucksmith et al. 2000). Feeling that there is no escape (if they don't leave the realm of this society) the women in our sample don't complain about this with all the detrimental consequences for their job perspectives. ("My family is very important to me and my job will absolutely have to fit to my family life." Anna, 24 years, female, one child)

Mobilisation

As adaptation seems to be a limited strategy to cope with the restriction of a rural area, indeed most of the young people who want to stay in the region try to enhance their opportunities through different forms of mobilisation. The follwing section refers to the importance of mobility in a territorial sense as well as in a more social and professional respect.

The increasing interrelation of different spheres of economic and social life between local, regional, and national and global attributes has an enormous impact within local communities in peripheral rural areas, too. The orientation of rural inhabitants alter from the particular local emphasis on their villages to a more regional perspective and especially young people have extended their action room to the whole region. To begin with, most young people have to commute if they want to attend a high school or further education institution, also leisure time opportunities (for example skiing resorts, sport activities or diverse pubs) are spread over the region and beyond. Not to mention the need to be mobile to reach an apprenticeship place or a certain job. As described above the commuting rate of young people increases and has reached the average of 39% of young people between 15 and 24 years (42% of young males).

As public transport is weakly developed and expensive, it has never been a serious alternative to individual transportation not even to people who need not stick to a strict timetable. Thus, people in rural areas take having private cars for granted and most of the interviewees were striving for a private car if they had not bought one already or were not able to use one regularily. "Without having a car you are lost. If you've to rely on public transport you are lost" was the more or less unisonous statement of the interviewees in respect of territorial mobility.

The strategy of mobilisation can also refer to the attitude of personal flexibility to cope with unfortunate conditions. This attitude is widespread among young people, too. In respect of gaining a vocational training place or a job it stands for the willingness to accept chances wherever they appear, even if they don't fit exactly to the own intentions. This includes the willingness to commute, to accept a low paid job or a low skilled job, to retrain and ultimately to leave the region. Flexibility can therefore also be seen in its territorial and thematic dimensions. For example young people might shift from local labour market to the regional and national labour market (see also Shucksmith 2000) or might accept to change to take up jobs with different qualification criteria. At the extreme, young people are willing "to take everything" (Susanne, 16 years, female), at least for some period.

Flexibility seems to be of certain importance, also among young farmers (or future heirs of farms). On the one hand young people being committed to take over their parents' farm stress their satisfaction to be in that position and increasingly turn their attention to previously neglected activities like forest work, direct marketing of farm produce and partly organic farming. However, reluctance to this "new" fields of activity is widespread and the positive image presented seems to be restricted to those farmers being involved in the new strategies and taking advantage of recent farming support and rural development schemes.

On the other hand young farm heirs rely far less on the profession of their parents. To be on the safe side a second education besides agriculture is estimated very useful for nearly all farm heirs, too, in case farming proves to be less and less profitable. Moreover most appreciate the choice to take up an off-farm (seasonal) job to improve their personal income substantially and to decrease their dependence on their parents' payments which has to be taken from farm income. This implies that nearly all young people try to secure off-farm income as this is regarded as their personal income. In comparison with other young people they realise that this is the only way to raise their living standard and to take part in consumer society, e.g. through car ownership etc. Even for young people from bigger farms it is therefore rather appealing to take up at least occasionally off-farm work to dispose of own money and to keep pace with comparable young people of their region, friends etc.

Out-migration

Analysing qualitative interviews in development issues is tightly inter-related with the issues of personal future perspectives, aspirations and strategies, and opportunities provided and shaped by various contextual aspects. As has been pointed out repeatedly, the region of Murau and its young people are particularly torn between limited prospects and regressive evaluation of perspectives of the region and the need to adapt to changes and to learn to know the outside world. Though the number of young people who emigrated from the district of Murau has gone back since the sixties (28,2% of the economically active people for 1961- 1971 and 12,9% for 1981-1991), the number of young people who migrated into the district of Murau decreased also, thus the balance of immigration and emigration is again negative (-170 young people in the period of 1991-1991). In addition the high number of non-daily commuters underlines the rather severe situation of the region.

Interviewees have been asked about their assessment on reasons for unemployment of young people in the region. Almost all interviewees have to concede that the lack of jobs in the area is the main reason for unemployment. Similar attitudinal patterns as above reveal that the contextual, structural difficulties are mentioned in the first place and the more personal reasons are estimated as being less important. With the overarching impression of the weak regional economy this attitude seems very reasonable and it points also to the need for young people to readdress their strategies for job search. It makes it understandable that a great share of young people only can conceive of opportunities in other regions.

In many cases leaving the region is not as determined as it seems to be, but rather a processual development. Most likely out-migration starts with further education (university, advanced technical college, or other educational institutions) in a neighbouring city. During the time of education regular or at least occasional visits of the region to see parents and friends seems to be normal. But because of limited job chances particularly for higher educated people, young people will probably try to get a job elsewhere with some of them still having the intention of coming back to the region in the near future, then provided with practical workplace experience.

Decisions are not just influenced by opportunities, but on the other hand, are themselves having an impact on what young people realise as choices. Personal assessment, early life experiences in family and other social networks shape the capability to retain and accept specific choices or to refuse them as being inadequate. In this respect, it is no big surprise that those young people having emigrated to Vienna ("external group") state that they "had the wish to leave the region since their childhood", and that they "had always wanted to see the world".

Some young people declared that they don't feel at all at ease in the region and that they plan to leave the region as soon as possible. In some cases the desired anonymity of cities and attractiveness of urban life were presented as main reasons to this attitude. They feel restricted and hindered by the strict forms of social control. It is not only that "everyone knows everybody" but it is a fact too, that "everyone knows everything about everybody". In particular, such a critical assessment has been experienced by the "external" group of young people. Their views shed light on the feelings of those young people who dislike the traditional closeness and who don't feel integrated in the regional networks. As they are not any more exposed (permanently) to criticism of the local community they could formulate their views and critiques more openly.

When every action is being watched and discussed in the community it is often experienced as very unpleasant and restrictive by young people.

Question: In the long term, do you have the feeling, you would like to move to a city?

Interviewee: Yes, definitely (…) it's the way of living. Each year I spend some weeks in Munich (Germany), it's already the way of living. There are more chances for children, too, when you only look at the education possibilities. I would like it anyway, it's much more anonymous, and these small towns (like Murau), that's terrible." (Elisa, 24 years, female, one child)

Thus besides a narrow range of regional opportunities and the lack of anonymity, also patriarchal elements are still deeply rooted and have expelled numerous people from the region, unsatisfied with the situation and looking for alternative experiences of life. For the remaining people the situation is consequently even deteriorating, reducing population and "critical mass" in the region. Some perceive the region as rather closed community with persistent economic and social difficulties and constraints. They cannot detect any (positive) change for the near future, taking the extreme position that there is "no development in the region at all". It is important to underline that the development approach addressed here is not limited to economic, but encompassing social development as well.

"How things develop, Murau is going to be a weekend-region, because everybody has to commute to work places. There are just few people, who find a job in the region. Although lots of people are building houses here at this time. That people are going to leave the region for work, that's the minor problem, but (they stay here) only at the weekend. And that's, unfortunately, the sad fact." (Herbert, 25 years, male)

On the other hand, things start to change and to be expressed openly by more and more (young) people. One of them put it like this:

"Well, you can try it, but it's like that: most things are getting blocked. They are so pigheaded, they just go their way, don't looking right or left. But it's getting better now. We have a new mayor now and everything new. More and more is picked up, but previously it really was like that, …. " (Marianne, 17 years, female)

6. Perspectives

Young people of the region experience the tensions of the weak local labour market and limited choices in the region. In their responses in the interviews, and particularly in the focus group discussions, they tended to take the extreme positions and to raise excessively either their positive or negative feelings toward the region's future. Most young people (still) living in the area have developed a high degree of identification with the region, despite of the limited choices available. Others who have decided to leave the region or who have left the region already impulsively refuse to believe in the future of the region and express their disregard by labelling the region negatively. It is seen "as lying behind the woods", "a boring region where nothing happens" and "no development at all" takes place. Both attitudes neglect barriers to development or actual developments going on in the region, or having started just recently.

Changes under these circumstances are possible only step by step and require a lot of "side-aspects" to be taken into consideration. The pace of change has to be seen in tight correlation to the development of participation and the recognition of active citizenship in rural communities. This process has also to include the discussion of regional problems and arrive at some kind of priorities. As problem assessment can not be objective and different groups experience different problems a wide participation has to be sought. Young people would bring a specific dimension into this debate and have to acquire a specific role in the process. It's important to note, that young people not just have to be regarded as target group for their role in the region in the future but should be seen as people capable to contribute presently to community development.

The interviews interpretation reflect the situation at the interview period in winter 1999/2000. However, youth development is particularly susceptible to actual development. Hence we can see recently rising concern about exclusion of specific groups of young people and regional and provincial initiatives addressing the situation of young people. In particular, in May 2000 Austria's largest project for youth initiatives has been started in Styria (nex: it 2000) and more than 500 small-scale projects have already been submitted for support since then and 152 projects were selected. One of these projects for example is about drug prevention in the study area of Murau and explicitly tackling some burning issues of social exclusion of young people. Together with other local initiatives it seems that a few actors in the region have gained sufficient support to start similar initiatives and thereby hope to change the general feelings towards the future of the region.

It has to be said, however, that the national political situation also affects youth policies and it is feared by labour unionists that the amendments are not oriented towards the education of young people but aim at higher economic profitability of vocational training schemes. At the extreme, this position concludes that "the government does not provide any option for young people" (ÖGB-Nachrichtendienst 2000). It will have to be seen which of the contrary movements will have a greater impact on young people in the study area of Murau: the current policy of austerity or the rising awareness of the need for local community involvement.

7. References

Arkleton Centre for Rural Development Research (2001), Policies and Young People in Rural Development (PAYPIRD), Final Report for the European Commission, Aberdeen, http://www.abdn.ac.uk/arkleton/paypird.htm

Böhnisch, L. and H. Funk (1989), Jugend im Abseits? Zur Lebenslage Jugendlicher im ländlichen Raum, Weinheim und München, 285pp

Dax, T. and I. Machold (2001), Assessment of rural development programmes to enhance youth integration, paper for the 41st Congress of the European Regional Science Association, ERSA, 29th August - 1st September 2001, Zagreb

Dax, T., Machold, I. and C. Meisinger (2000), Policies and Young People in Rural Development (PAYPIRD), National Report, Study Area Murau, Austria, Bundesanstalt für Bergbauernfragen, Wien

Dax, T., Oedl-Wieser, T. and G. Wiesinger (1999), Policies and Young People in Rural Development, Interim-Report for the European Commission Research, DG B.I.2, chapter 4, Young people in Murau, Austria. Edited by the Arkleton Centre for Rural Development Research, Aberdeen 1999, pp.131-154.

Der Standard (2000), Jugend arbeitet in Gemeinde mit, Graz übernimmt deutsches Partizipations- und Ausbildungsmodell, 14. November, Wien, p.14

Machold, I. and T. Dax (2001), Youth participation in rural society, paper at the XIXth Congress of the European Society for Rural Sociology, ESRS, 3-7 September, Dijon

Nex:it (2000): Jugendzukunftsfonds Steiermark, www.nexit.at

Santigli, E. (2000), Gesundheitsbericht 2000 für die Steiermark, im Auftrag des Gesundheitslandesrates, www.stmk.at/verwaltung/fagw/gb2000/inhalt.html

Scheer, G. (1998), Vom alten zum neuen Regionalismus, in: RAUM, Nr. 31, Wien, pp. 20-23.

Shucksmith, M. (2000), Exclusive countryside? Social inclusion and regeneration in rural areas, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 63 pp.

Strauss, A. and J. Corbin (1990), Basics of Qualitative Research. Grounded Theory, Procedures and Techniques, SAGE-Publications, Newbury Park, London, New Delhi, 268pp.

Wyn, J. and R. White (1997), Rethinking Youth, SAGE-Publications, London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, 169pp.




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